Friday, 12 July 2019

Starting Little Dorrit

After reading Plum Pie (and concluding that Wodehouse is my new favourite writer), I’m now reading Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit
There isn’t much to say at the moment, except that I do love Dickens’s rhythmic prose. 
“The day passed on; and again the wide stare stared itself out; and the hot night was on Marseilles; and through it the caravan of the morning, all dispersed, went their appointed ways. And thus ever by day and night, under the sun and under the stars, climbing the dusty hills and toiling along the weary plains, journeying by land and journeying by sea, coming and going so strangely, to meet and to act and react on one another, move all we restless travellers through the pilgrimage of life.” (Book 1, ch.2) 
“It was a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close, and stale. Maddening church bells of all degrees of dissonance, sharp and flat, cracked and clear, fast and slow, made the brick-and-mortar echoes hideous. Melancholy streets, in a penitential garb of soot, steeped the souls of the people who were condemned to look at them out of windows, in dire despondency. In every thoroughfare, up almost every alley, and down almost every turning, some doleful bell was throbbing, jerking, tolling, as if the Plague were in the city and the dead-carts were going round. Everything was bolted and barred that could by possibility furnish relief to an overworked people. No pictures, no unfamiliar animals, no rare plants or flowers, no natural or artificial wonders of the ancient world—all taboo with that enlightened strictness, that the ugly South Sea gods in the British Museum might have supposed themselves at home again. Nothing to see but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to breathe but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to change the brooding mind, or raise it up. Nothing for the spent toiler to do, but to compare the monotony of his seventh day with the monotony of his six days, think what a weary life he led, and make the best of it—or the worst, according to the probabilities.” (Book 1, ch.3) 
Have you read Little Dorrit?
There’s something slightly strange about the way Dickens introduces characters. I’m not complaining, but I missed Amy Dorrit’s 1st appearance. When I read that Arthur Clennam asked his mother’s servant Affery Flintwinch about the unfamiliar girl, I came back and reread several times the pages of his visit, and couldn’t find any line mentioning Amy’s presence. 
Where is it?* 
At the end of chapter 5, Dickens writes: 
“At last he resolved to watch Little Dorrit and know more of her story.” 
(He is Arthur). 
Then in the next chapter Dickens introduces the Marshalsea prison and tells the story of a debtor/prisoner that he does not name. The baby is born—Dickens doesn’t say what her name is, either. It’s only near the end of chapter 7, when she’s a grown-up, that we hear her name is Amy, and that she’s Little Dorrit.  
Interestingly enough, the copy I have is a Penguin Popular Classics one, and every other page has a heading. If you open the book, the heading on the left page is always “Little Dorrit”, but the heading on the right page is like a title or summary for the page. So on the page of the unnamed baby’s birth is the heading “Little Dorrit born in prison”. Do you have the same thing in your copy? This ruined it for me a bit. 
I haven’t mentioned the beginning—chapter 1 is about Monsieur Rigaud and John Baptist in Marseilles prison. How do they relate to the story? I’m on chapter 10, I have no idea. Probably one of them will turn out to be Arthur’s biological father or something. Then chapter 2 introduces a bunch of characters who are fellow travellers: the Meagles family and their maid Tattycoram; Arthur Clennam; and Miss Wade. We have several pages of the Meagles, then several pages of Miss Wade and Tattycoram. Then chapter 3 begins, and it turns out that the main character is Arthur Clennam.  
Will I see the Meagles again? Will I see Miss Wade again? I have no idea. 
Are these random characters who populate the book? Or false clues? Or will they have some significance later on?

*: Update on 15/7/2019: I have found it. 


  1. i read this in high school and liked it a lot. but that was 60 years ago... i think i'll download a copy and read it with you... i've forgotten what a remarkably good writer Dickens was...

  2. Oh that would be fantastic. I like a read-along.

  3. i'm about ch 22; am struck by the parallelism between Marshalsea and the London social order... Father=prime minister, etc. Flora is a horse of a different color! i think the exaggeration is purposeful, as well as probably seeming more over the wall in today's world than it was back then... all in all, i'm more entranced by Dicken's skill than i thought i'd be... the Barnacles demonstrate D's familiarity with bureaucracy, possibly...

  4. You read a lot faster than me then. I'm on chapter 13.
    I've just written a new blog post about the book.