Tag Archives: Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit – Charles Dickens

From extreme to other; Janet Evanovich and then Charles Dickens!

I read this because it was the book for my Victorian Literary Society meeting.  I had recently watched the latest BBC adaptation (with Clarie Foy) and so was quite keen to read the novel.

It is very long – my copy went to 900 pages.

Here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia …

The novel begins in Marseille with the notorious murderer Rigaud informing his cellmate that he has murdered his wife. Also in the town is Arthur Clennam, who is returning to London to see his mother following the death of his father, with whom he had lived for twenty years in China. As he died, his father had given Arthur a mysterious watch, murmuring, “Your mother.” Naturally Arthur had assumed that it was intended for Arthur’s mother Mrs. Clennam, whom he and the world supposed to be his mother.

Inside the watch casing was an old silk paper with the initials D N F (Do Not Forget) worked into it in beads. It was a message, but when Arthur shows it to harsh and implacable Mrs. Clennam, a religious fanatic, she refuses to reveal what it means, and the two become estranged.

In London, William Dorrit, imprisoned as a debtor, has been a resident of Marshalsea debtor’s prison for so long that his children — snobbish Fanny, idle Edward (known as Tip), and Amy (known as Little Dorrit) — have all grown up there, though they are free to pass in and out of the prison as they please. Amy is devoted to her father and through her sewing, has been financially supporting the two of them.

Once in London, Arthur is reacquainted with his former fiancée Flora Finching, who is now overweight and simpering. Arthur’s mother, Mrs. Clennam, although paralysed and a wheelchair user, still runs the family business with the help of her servant Jeremiah Flintwinch and his downtrodden wife Affery. When Arthur learns that Mrs. Clennam has employed Little Dorrit as a seamstress, showing her unusual kindness, he wonders if the young girl might be connected with the mystery of the watch. Suspecting that his mother played a part in the misfortunes of the Dorrits, Arthur follows the girl to the Marshalsea. He vainly tries to inquire about William Dorrit’s debt at the poorly run Circumlocution Office and acts as a benefactor to her father and brother. While at the Circumlocution Office, Arthur meets the struggling inventor Daniel Doyce, whom he decides to help by becoming his business partner. The grateful Little Dorrit falls in love with Arthur, much to the dismay of the son of the Marshalsea jailer, John Chivery, who has loved her since childhood; Arthur, however, fails to recognize Amy’s interest. At last, aided by the indefatigable debt-collector Pancks, Arthur discovers that William Dorrit is the lost heir to a large fortune and he is finally able to pay his way out of prison.

William Dorrit decides that as a now respectable family they should go on a tour of Europe. They travel over the Alps and take up residence for a time in Venice, and finally in Rome, carrying, with the exception of Amy, an air of conceit at their new-found wealth. Eventually after a spell of delirium, Mr. Dorrit dies in Rome, and his distraught brother Frederick, a kindhearted musician, who has always stood by him, also passes away. Amy is left alone and returns to London to stay with newly married Fanny and her husband, the foppish Edmund Sparkler.

The fraudulent dealings (similar to a Ponzi scheme) of Mr. Merdle who is Edmund Sparkler’s stepfather leads to the collapse of Merdle’s bank after his suicide, taking with it the savings of both the Dorrits and Arthur Clennam, who is now himself imprisoned in the Marshalsea. While there, he is taken ill and is nursed back to health by Amy. The French villain Rigaud, now in London, discovers that Mrs. Clennam has been hiding the fact that Arthur is not her real son, and Rigaud attempts to blackmail her. Arthur’s biological mother was a beautiful young singer with whom his father had gone through a ceremony of sorts before being pressured by his wealthy uncle to marry the present Mrs. Clennam. Mrs. Clennam had agreed to bring up the child on condition that its mother never see him. After Arthur’s real mother had died of grief at being separated from her child and its father, the uncle, stung by remorse, had left a bequest to Arthur’s mother and to “the youngest daughter of her patron”, a kindly musician who had taught and befriended her—and who happened to be Amy Dorrit’s uncle, Frederick. As Frederick Dorrit had no daughter, the legacy goes to the youngest daughter of Frederick’s brother, who is William Dorrit, Amy’s father.

Mrs. Clennam has been suppressing her knowledge that Amy is the heiress to an estate. Overcome by passion, Mrs. Clennam rises from her chair and totters out of her house to reveal the secret to Amy and to beg her forgiveness, which the kindhearted girl freely grants. Mrs. Clennam then falls down in the street—never to recover the use of her speech or limbs—as the house of Clennam literally collapses before her eyes, killing Rigaud. Rather than hurt Arthur, Amy chooses not to reveal what she has learnt, though this means that she misses her legacy.

When Arthur’s business partner Daniel Doyce returns from Turkey a wealthy man, Arthur is released and his fortunes revived, and Arthur and Amy are married.

Like many of Dickens novels, Little Dorritcontains numerous subplots. One subplot concerns Arthur Clennam’s friends, the kindhearted Meagles. They are upset when their daughter Pet marries an artist called Gowan and when their servant and foster daughter Tattycoram is lured away from them to the sinister Miss Wade, an acquaintance of the criminal Rigaud. Miss Wade hates men, and it turns out she is the jilted sweetheart of Gowan.

The novel is split into two books and I found the first book interesting and compelling, but got completely bogged down in the second. Both books needed editing (can I say that about Dickens?), but the second seemed full on unnecessary padding.

In the BBC adaptation Andrew Davies shifted some of the events around in time and it all seemed much less muddled. I guess when you write it as a series of installments you can’t go back later and change the order of the events.

And what about the will? Leaving money for the second daughter of the brother of the benefactor (if the benefactor doesn’t have children) thus linking Amy and Arthur – all seems a bit far fetched to me.

Next up on my Dickens reading Bleak House (I hear it’s very bleak!)

Here’s someone else’s thoughts …





Filed under Recommended, Serious