Sunday, December 02, 2012

I Read Dickens: Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit is big novel named after a small woman. It is about family, debt, bureaucracy, parasitism in public service, social standing and it's relationship to money, imprisonment, fraud, women who hate men, and, of course, love. It ranges over England, France and Italy. A few exotic elements of the European countries are introduced but mostly we are involved in English society, from the lowest (the debtors prison) to the highest (Peers and the great government institution of the Circumlocution Office).

Amy Dorrit, called little Dorrit due to her being small and having an elder sister, Fanny, is born in Marshalsea debtors prison. She is devoted to her father's - an inmate -  well-being. Later the family fortune is restored and Mr Dorrit becomes very eager to conceal their history of poverty. He insists on servants doing what she previously did for him. In case it's not clear, this is Dickens pointing out that money don't buy class, no sir, and insisting on respect hurts those who love you. Noticeably it makes respectable society respect him. Heh.

One character has a useful invention. To get it patented and in service to the country he applies to the Circumlocution Office. After years and expenditure, they tell him that the previous decision cannot be reversed. He tells them that there was no previous decision. They tell him to start again. There is some decent satire going on here. Thankfully reforms to the British Government mean this kind of thing doesn't happen any more. No, not at all. Never.

There's a lot going on here. I liked it quite a bit. The mysterious inheritance twist so beloved of Dickens I can for once believe to have been kept a secret, mainly because it is so convoluted and strange that trying to explain it to the following generation would have been extremely difficult. The fraud is not explained as clearly as in Martin Chuzzlewitt, and is a familiar twist on the one committed there, but still of interest.

Read This: For satire on society and bureaucracy, along with proper villains, noble self-sacrificing heroes, some Dickens women who make decisions to take action rather than having it forced on them, as well as the usual soap-operary twists and turns.
Don't Read This: My usual Dickens caveats - long, windy, old-fashioned prose; many characters defined entirely by two or three characteristics; melodramatic twists and turns. If these aren't your bag, shop elsewhere.
Available Online: A number of places including here.

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