Little Dorrit

Walmart # 9781438515328

Little Dorrit

Walmart # 9781438515328
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Paperback, Book Jungle, 2009, ISBN13 9781438515328, ISBN10 1438515324
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Little Dorrit, published

Little Dorrit, published in 1855-1857, is often described as Dickens' creative re-imagining of his experiences at the Marshalsea Prison, where his father was imprisoned for debt in 1824 when Charles was twelve. The Marshalsea looms over this story in various forms; sometimes it feels ominous and other times it is congenially familiar. The characters are wonderful, as is usual with Dickens. I think John Chivery is my favorite. He proves that heroism doesn't have to be dashing. More often than not, it's humble. I also love the Plornishes, especially Mrs. Plornish's linguistic abilities. Flora is also so much fun... I know people just like her, who never use punctuation in either their speech or writing. She drove me crazy at first, especially with her constant silly references to her previous love for Arthur. But she grew on me and I started to enjoy her scenes. Dickens can be so funny! Little Dorrit herself is so sweet and selfless that she is a little hard to believe, though most people will be able to empathize with her when she is walked over by her family. She is a character that I would seek to emulate, rather than immediately identify with. I don't know anyone in real life who would be so patient with selfish, thoughtless family members; I know I couldn't! The villains are as varied as in real life. Rigaud Blandois, that "gentleman," is insufferable. His speeches of self-justication and self-satisfaction are just sickening. Miss Wade is simply mesmerizing... so much of what she says *could* have a basis in reality, but is so twisted. Is it really okay to adopt an orphan and raise her to be a servant to one's own daughter? But it's all in the interpretation of reality, and her bitterness is clearly wrong. It's the same with Mrs. Clennam, that merciless, religious woman. She is legalism personified. And who could forget Mr. Merdle! I knew we were setting up for a big fall when Dickens was hyping him so much, but I didn't suspect what actually happens. Other "public" villains include the family Barnacle, who cling stubbornly and uselessly to the ship of State, and also what Dickens is pleased to call the "Circumlocution Office." This is his name for all the bureaucracy in English government that ever stifled good sense and public well-being - and he is not kind to it. Unfortunately for this novel, I have been reading it since May (it's now August), due to various life circumstances and general busyness. I usually read very quickly and it's unusual for me to spend over two months in one book. And so I felt that this story dragged, and my emotional involvement with its characters was less than it might have been. I have enjoyed many of Dickens' books and am used to his sprawling plots, but this one had so many subplots going in so many different directions, it rather faltered at the end. So much was left unresolved. It isn't that everyone has to have a happy or at least satisfying ending. They just need to have an ending, period! Also, the plot device by which Little Dorrit becomes possessed of her fortune is so convoluted. I was shamefacedly thankful for the breakdown in my Penguin Classics copy which explained all the events that transpired before the story started. Arthur Clennam's intuition that there was some dark dealing in his family's past that wronged the Dorrits was also a little too precipitate; how could he have known? There were moments when I was overtaken by the mastery of Dickens' storytelling, like when the businesslike Pancks betrays a fondness for the happy little Italian, Baptiste Cavalletto. It is also very poignant when Arthur keeps trying to convince himself he is not in love with Pet and when Mr. Meagles tells him about Pet's dead twin sister. I was rather in awe of Dickens right there; it was perfectly put. I felt so much for the Meagles and for Arthur at that moment. However, despite its great characters and moments of genius, Little Dorrit is not one of my favorite Dickens novels. In fact, it's probably my least favorite thus far. That isn't to say that I did not enjoy it, but it just didn't have the overmastering, unifying idea that it needed to bring everything together at the end. It was just about too many things. Sometimes it was about the asinine abuses of the Circumlocution Office; sometimes it was about feminism and the unspeakable insult of charity; sometimes it was about financial devastation by swindlery; sometimes it was about the deterioration of personality brought about by imprisonment. At the end, I felt that I was left still holding the strings of some of the subplots. I wasn't sure how to put them down and Dickens did not gently take them from my hands and lay them to rest. This is a good novel, but flawed. I would not recommend this as one's first foray into Dickens.

I just finished Little Do

I just finished Little Dorrit and feel that it speaks to our contemporary social, political and moral problems. This novel seems to me to be quite different from so many of Dickens' novels; the main character is introduced not as a child but as a middle-aged man. The main female character is not vapid, but an interesting person. The writing seems to be even more symbolic than usual. Of course one might consider the main characters to be the Office of Circumlocution and the Marshalsea Prison. Both of these institutions represent the class-bound corruption of England. The Office of Circumlocution is, of course, the corrupt civil service system. It was supposedly reformed in 1855, but in reality the senior civil service remained in the hands of the upper classes. Dickens called them the Barnacle and Stiltstocking families. Their power was later illustrated in a novel, and then mini-series, entitled A Very British Coup. One important part of Little Dorrit is that the English aristocracy had little interest in, and actually opposed, the progress of invention in England and indeed tried to stifle it. Dickens was prophetic when he has the engineer Doyle begin to work for a foreign power (obviously Germany) from whom he received many honors. Germany, with its Realschulen and technische Hochschulen and emphasis in engineering and other practical matters (such as the health and education of its citizens) moved ahead of Britain by the end of the century. The Marshalsea Prison also illustrates the power of the wealthy in that it was run for profit and clearly favored the well-established. The article about the Marshalsea in Wikipedia is quite enlightening. The brilliance of Dickens is shown in how he parallels the lives of the prisoners of Marshalsea and the prisoners of Society. Of course Dickens indicated this duality by dividing the novel into two books: Poverty and Riches. I was very much taken by how this novel speaks to our present condition; the English and increasingly the American senior civil services seem to be reserved for the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings. The disregard for progress in engineering is certainly prevalent in the U.S. and probably England. In today's CBS News Money Watch section on the internet, there is much information about the banks' loan modification programs which seem to be run by the Office of Circumlocution. The character of Merdle appears again regularly in the news media. Suicide is no longer required. Of course we must remember that the reason we read Dickens is that he always has a compelling story; I became quickly involved in the affairs of Arthur Clennam and Little Dorrit and fascinated again by the great eccentric characters always present in a Dickens novel.

This is a dark, even cyni

This is a dark, even cynical look at 19th century British society in general and the effects of imprisonment on the soul. The first two reactions I had upon finishing was that no one should try to read it in its entire version, get an abridged copy. It was originally puplished in 19 monthly installments, and to read it in the complete version all at once is as nauseating as eating an entire chocolate cake at one sitting. Dickens belabors every point and over emphasizes most characteristics. After the 100th time Rigaud's moustache went up under his nose and his nose came down over his moustache I found the characterization rather like nails on a chalk board. As cute as Flora's rambling stream of consciousness monologues were, we didn't need quite so many to get the point. My second observation was that perhaps if Mr. Dickens had been able to see both halves of humanity as being equally human he wouldn't have been so imprisoned in his own bigotry and perhaps would have been less cynical. There's not a fully realized, psychologically healthy woman in the whole 895 page (Penguin edition) book. There's the Good Mother, Mrs. Meagles(who serves no other purpose), the Bad Mother, Mrs. Clennam - imprisoned in her unrelentingly, impersonal Calvanism; the romantically deluded Minni Meagles; the haughty Fanny, imprisoned though not at all unhappily, by her social climbing; the pitiful Affery imprisoned by both class and sex; the Strong Woman - Miss Wade - very accurately depicted as a pre-Freudian paranoid; Mrs. Merdle, The Boosom; and the poodle-named Tattycoram who could have been whole, and would have been had she been an adopted orphan boy named Fido, but as a mere female needed only to fight the temptation to consider herself anyone's equal. Oh, and let us not forget Little Doormat herself. One sentence from the book gives a complete description: "Little Dorrit yielded willingly." That she did, to everyone in everything. There's not an ounce of self preservation about the little woman. The interplay of the need for self preservation and the urge toward altruism makes for human drama. There's no drama in this character, because she has no self, only the urge to be of service. If one is willing to overlook Dickins' sexism, as one must overlook other authors' racism, we can appreciate the book as excellent social commentary and for the perfect construction of the Circumlocution Office - the epitomy of bureacracy, and a wonderful foreshadowing of our financial collapse and the effects of Bernie Madoff in the person of Mr. Merdle.

It was a happy day when I

It was a happy day when I, for whatever reason, elected to sample Charles Dickens. Having read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, I digressed to more popular fiction (Michener, Clavell, McMurtry, King, Grisham), as well as periods of science fiction and even non-fiction (Ambrose, McCollough for example), before making an effort to upgrade my reading list. I read some Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck and Hemingway with mixed success before reading Great Expectations. I liked it enough to read David Copperfield, and I was hooked. A Tale of Two Cities followed and then Oliver Twist (not my favorite), Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, The Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son before taking on this door stop of a novel. Many of Dickens's works tend to be lengthy and excessively wordy, perhaps due to their nature of having been serialized prior to being printed in a single volume. Truth be told, after having read Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Tale of Two Cities I confess to being disappointed with several of the following Dickens novels, particularly Bleak House, Martin Chuzzlewit and Dombey and Son. This novel however restored my faith. While Dickens is certainly famous for character development, and I've found no one better, the novels that I've truly enjoyed have been those that also feature an advancement of story line and this one is no different in that regard. It is simply an outstanding story, with all of the outrageous characters that you've come to expect in any Dickens work. As in other Dickens works, a period of acclimation is required to become comfortable with the vocabulary and social conventions of the era. Having read almost all of Dickens's work, I would have to rank this as my third favorite, after David Copperfield and Tale of Two Cities.

Corruption; inept officia

Corruption; inept officialdom; capitalism, the pretensions of social class and status: few elements of Victorian life seem to escape Dickens' scrutiny in Little Dorrit. Published in monthly instalments between 1855 and 1857, first reactions from the critics were not very favourable. They completely overlooked the social critique element and focused their attention instead on what they considered an unnecessarily incoherent plot and insubstantial, two-dimensional figures. Fortunately the mid twentieth century saw a revival of interest in the novel and a significant shift in attitude. In fact attitudes shifted so far that George Bernard Shaw claimed Little Dorrit was a more seditious text than Marx's Das Kapital while George Orwell declared that "in Little Dorrit, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached." Much of Dickens' ire in Little Dorrit is focused on government bureaucracy. He brings it to life with the wonderfully imaginative invention of the Circumlocution Office. It's a government department run entirely it seems by the incompetent and the inept (ring any bells???). Its sole purpose is to frustrate and obstruct anyone who has the temerity to ask for information or assistance. Forms need to be filled in just to request permission to fill in more forms to ask for an appointment.(the Soviets learned a thing or two from the Circumlocution Office methinks). Some of his greatest anger is directed at debtors' prisons such as the notorious Marshalsea in which people who owed money were imprisoned until they repaid their debts. It was an impossible situation because they were not allowed to work so had to rely on family or friends to help pay bills and to provide food and clothing. Such becomes the fate of William Dorrit who moves his entire family into the Marshalsea when he becomes a bankrupt. His youngest daughter Amy (the Little Dorrit of the title) is born within its walls, becoming a true child of the Marshalsea. But even in prison the appearance of gentility and the gradations of class and status must be maintained. The Marshalsea inhabitants refer to themselves as "collegians" rather than prisoners; Papa Dorrit pretends ignorance about the fact his daughters go out to work every day to put food on the table, and openly solicits financial gifts from visitors, masks their true nature by calling them "tributes" and 'testimonials'. As his status within the prison rises and he becomes the longest-serving resident, so his consciousness of his status increases, going into orbit when he is released upon discovery that he is in fact a very wealthy man. What Dickens shows is the personal cost of such esteem for one's position in life. Mr Dorrit is so blinkered by his sense of his own importance that he fails to connect with the one person who loves him without question - his daughter Amy. Though she has loved him without question for decades, cared for him and undergone personal suffering so that he would be spared, he does not recognise the debt he owes her. Instead he subjects her to criticism over petty mistakes and castigates her when she doesn't wholeheartedly welcome and adopt the trappings of the family's new-found wealth. Does he repent on his deathbed as characters do in so many novels? I won't spoil the plot by disclosing that; you'll just have to read the novel yourself. The Dorrits are a far cry from the epitome of the happy loving families found in Dickens's earlier works. None of the families in Little Dorrit actually fit that particular description being neither loving nor happy. They're all rather dysfunctional in fact. When Arthur Clenhome, one of the book's good guys, returns to London from China where he ran the family business for twenty years he gets as much of a welcome from his mother as if he'd just returned from a weekend in Brighton. Like most of Dickens' big novels, the plot does require attention to keep all the threads intact but this book isn't anywhere as complicated as Bleak House. It also relies on a remarkable series of coincidences - the first two characters we meet in a prison in France not only turn up again in London many many chapters later and somehow manage to play key roles in the plot. But it wouldn't be Dickens without coincidence would it. Nor would it be Dickens without a wildly extravagant female character. Just as Dombey and Son has the dippy Miss Lucretia Tox, and Martin Chuzzlewit has the drunken nurse Sarah Gamp, in Little Dorrit Dickens serves up the garrulous Flora Finching to entertain with her gushing and breathless simpering talk of nothing in particular. A brilliant invention. So in case you haven't twigged by now, yes I did enjoy this book. And yes I would definitely read it again.
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