“Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens

“Little Dorrit is a classic tale of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical, while Dickens’ working title for the novel, Nobody’s Fault, highlights its concern with personal responsibility in private and public life.”

“Dickens’ childhood experiences inform the vivid scenes in Marshalsea debtor’s prison, while his adult perceptions of governmental failures shape his satirical picture of the Circumlocution Office. The novel’s range of characters – the honest, the crooked, the selfish and the self-denying – offers a portrait of society about whose values Dickens had profound doubts.”

This was one of five books that we read in 2012 as part of the Dickens bi-centenary celebrations.

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  1. michelebbc

     /  July 9, 2012

    Plot, People, Prunes & Prisms, Places, Process and Points!

    Belper Book Chat met recently and discussed their reading experiences of Little Dorrit under the above headings. Here are some of the group’s thoughts and comments.

    When it comes to themes and the language he uses in Little Dorrit, Dickens divided opinion in Belper Book Group. In fact, the one thing we all agreed on what that his writing is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.
    Those who were more enthusiastic about the novel said one of the main themes was rags to riches, and the characters were used as devices to illustrate his points. Most of the main characters were taken out of their comfort zones during the course of the story and yet many also found that in the end they had travelled full circle and returned to where they had started.
    It was suggested that Dickens’ many characters work by giving every reader at least one person they can identify with.
    Another big theme was time – the marking of time and daily routines, killing time, and how the passage of time altered circumstances and personalities. For some characters time lagged as a penance, while for others it passes too quickly and changed their lives irrecoverably. Some had “gone to seed” over time.
    Those members who were more critical felt that many of the themes of Little Dorrit, such as social issues and class, the infrastructure of society, poverty and abuse, had been repeated in his other novels. And some even suggested they blurred with our previous Dickens book, The Old Curiosity Shop, too closely.
    Linguistically, the group agreed that there are moments of brilliance in Little Dorrit. We all liked Flora’s dialogue and his powerful descriptions of London that brought buildings and places to life.
    However, while some characters were “written really well” others did not strike such a chord and many were simply the same stereotypes that Dickens has wheeled out in other novels.
    Some members felt there were too many characters and places, “too much plot” and quite simply too many words. One member, who works for our local newspaper, felt that Little Dorrit would have been much better it if had been subject to the rigorous editing process that modern day novels and other published works face.
    Another member felt that Dickens’ style was more fitting to that of an on-going script or soap opera than a novel. And another suggested that Dickens “rambles and ambles” in a style that is much too long-winded.

    For some it ended well: Arthur (employed and married); Amy (married, a mother and monied -did she get the 1,000 guineas?); Doyce (renowned and successful); Sparkler (honoured, employed, married to a girl with no nonsense about her, and parenthood); Cavelletto (happy, employed and at home in Bleeding Heart Yard); Maggy (returned to the bosom of ‘little mother’); Tattycoram (reconciled with the Meagles in their cosy cottage); Flintwinch (moneyed in Antwerp); Mrs Merdle (still with her bosom, still supported financially, still in demand socially); and the Plornishes (popular entrepreneurs with devoted customers and more security, in spite of cash flow problems).
    For some it ended badly: both Fanny (dissatisfied and aspiring) and her brother (dissatisfied and reckless), neither of whom attended Amy’s wedding; Pet (married to a delusional waster); John Chivery (left to a lonely life of dedicating tombstones); Miss Wade (alone with her shoulder chips in Calais); Mr. Casby (humiliated and exposed); Flora (stuck with Mr. F’s Aunt, stuck without Arthur, though not too down-hearted I’ll be bound); Mrs. Clenham (exposed, homeless and stroke-affected)
    For some it just ended: William and Frederick Dorrit; Fintwinch’s twin, Ephraim, and Rigaud-Blandois; Mr. Merdle; and Lion, Henry’s dog – all dead.
    And some just carried on as usual: Mr Chivery (still on the lock); Pancks (puffing for Doyce and Clenham); Affery (still serving Mrs Clenham); Henry Gowan and his mother (still self-important and self-obsessed); Mrs. General (still practising her prunes and prisms); and the Barnacles (an unmoveable, intransigent institution).
    We’ve certainly got to know them all, and my favourites would be, in order: Affery (first), Flora, then Sparkler, and Mr. Merdle’s butler – the ones who made me laugh.

    Dickens published all his books (except the Christmas books) in instalments. The Wikipaedia entry, based on David Lodge’s Consciousness and the Novel, says:
    “The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback “
    Modern-day writers do something similar e.g. TV script writers, fairly comparable to Victorian series writers and also the modern day idea of new and aspiring authors publishing books online is an example where reader feedback can affect plot development.
    In order to try and imitate the reading experience of the 19th century, some members followed an instalments scheme suggested and devised by group members. This covered breaking the book down into 16 parts at approximately weekly intervals; a few members circulated comments by email each week, with a key member summarising the main points in the section last read and raising pertinent issues.
    One issue for some with this was that we began to get confused with characters from Tale of Two Cities and The Old Curiosity shop (e.g. confusing Little Dorrit / Nell / Lucie Manette). Some found this method was too ‘laboured’ and a bit like ‘homework’- out of the 11 at the discussion meeting, 6 had finished the book, of whom 3 had read by instalments in this way. Only two of the instalments-finishers really enjoyed the book.
    Several people used audio to some extent, again not exclusively ‘finishers’ or ’enjoyers’ So in this small group the method of reading probably didn’t impact on enjoyment / success dramatically.

    POINTS – the average score was 4.8 out of 10 for the reading experience (range 1 – 9)

    Compiled by Hilary Fender 4/7/12

  2. belperbookchat

     /  July 2, 2012

    A song to celebrate the end of Little Dorrit’s saga.
    For those unaware of ‘There is nothing like a dame’, from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific,

    then see what you think of

    There Is Nothing Like A Name:

    We’ve had Merdles on the Strand,
    We’ve had Meagles on the sea,
    We’ve had Dorrits and a Clenham in the good old Marshalsea;
    We’ve had Blandois, we’ve had Flintwinch,
    And the house on them did fall,
    Riches they had, now they have sod all!

    If there was someone I had to look masculine and cute for,
    Affery is the the one I’m most likely to put on my suit for:

    There is nothing like a name,
    In the Dickens world;
    There is no way you can shame
    An anomatopaeic name.

    They may look like their name,
    May be crooks (like their name);
    They may act like their name,
    Or react like their name.
    There aint a thing amiss with any of them,
    With Amy or Pancks or Arthur Clenham,
    So put your hands together and applaud all of L.D.’s

    from: Bill Taylor

  3. hilaryfbbc

     /  April 3, 2012

    Little Dorrit – read by Anton Lesser – audio CD – that’s the way to do it!
    His differing ‘voices’ add a nice dramatic touch to conversations – and, importantly for me, mean I don’t miss out on some of the nuances of long sentences that I might be tempted to skim over visually and miss. Although I am listening to it a good few chapters behind where I have reached in the actual paperback copy, I am hearing it afresh and it is really adding to the experience; (as some of you know it lasts 28 hours!) Perhaps because I have read each chapter just a few days ahead of listening to it (if you can follow this you’ll be fit to apply for a bureaucratic job in a circumlocution office) I am finding it really easy listening. I may have to buy a copy for my MP4 player.

  4. Please note that the above schedule is not a requirement for reading this book – just a suggestion to be followed in whole or part only by those who wish to do it this way.


  5. At the Classics Group meeting last night the suggestion was made of reading Dickens in installments as the original readers did.

    For Little Dorritt it’s not possible to completely copy the original experience since it was published in 20 monthly parts (with the last issue being a double issue of Parts 19 and 20). In order to read it by July 3rd, the date of the Classics meeting, it would be necessary to have an every-6-days schedule rather than a monthly read.

    Here is the original schedule of publication (instalment no., publication date, chapters covered) with the last date being the day I’m going to start reading the installment.

    Book the First: Poverty
    I – December 1855 (chapters 1–4) 8 Mar
    II – January 1856 (chapters 5–8) 14 Mar
    III – February 1856 (chapters 9–11) 20 Mar
    IV – March 1856 (chapters 12–14) 26 Mar
    V – April 1856 (chapters 15–18) 1 Apr
    VI – May 1856 (chapters 19–22) 7 Apr
    VII – June 1856 (chapters 23–25) 13 Apr
    VIII – July 1856 (chapters 26–29) 19 Apr
    IX – August 1856 (chapters 30–32) 25 Apr
    X – September 1856 (chapters 33–36) 1 May

    Book the Second: Riches
    XI – October 1856 (chapters 1–4) 7 May
    XII – November 1856 (chapters 5–7) 13 May
    XIII – December 1856 (chapters 8–11) 19 May
    XIV – January 1857 (chapters 12–14) 25 May
    XV – February 1857 (chapters 15–18) 1 Jun
    XVI – March 1857 (chapters 19–22) 7 Jun
    XVII – April 1857 (chapters 23–26) 13 Jun
    XVIII – May 1857 (chapters 27–29) 19 Jun
    XIX-XX – June 1857 (chapters 30–34) 25 Jun


  6. moirabbc

     /  March 1, 2012

    I started reading this about 18 months ago and got firmly stuck in the Circumlocution Office and lost the will to go on. Hopefully this challenge will enable me to move on. I know what you mean Michele as this part of the novel reminded me too much of being a CAB adviser trying to get answers to simple questions from banks and utility companies on behalf of clients.

  7. michelebbc

     /  February 27, 2012

    I’ve started listening to Little Dorrit on my daily commute into work. Initially I felt quite lost and bemused by the number of characters and threads of story lines. However things now seem to have settled down a litte and I’ve just been enjoying Arthur’s trip to the ‘Circumlocution Office’. If only Dickens knew! His important government office in which business is delayed by passing it through the hands of various different officials still rings so true and I’m sure he’d have a lot to say about those automated phone systems that pass you from pillar to post these days!


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