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Dorrit from prison. Arthur becomes a debtor himself and falls in love with Little Dorrit, but because their financial circumstances are now reversed, he does not ask her to marry him.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

This circumstance leaves Little Dorrit and Arthur free to marry. You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. Little Dorrit.

Little Dorrit

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See Article History. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Two great novels, both involved with issues of social class and human worth, appeared in the s: Great Expectations —61 and Our Mutual Friend — His final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood …. Presenting a remarkably inclusive and increasingly sombre picture of contemporary society, they were inevitably often seen at the time as fictionalized propaganda about ephemeral issues.

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Allowing for exaggeration, the Circumlocution Office and its policy of "How not to do it" epitomises the delays of office, anywhere, in any time. I'm calling to mind my current correspondence with the Inland Revenue. Mr Merdle, a fraudulent banker whom society lionises as a repository of rock-safe investments, is a recognisable predecessor of Mr Robert Maxwell and the directors of Enron. Still, it's not Dickens the journalist, or Dickens the social satirist, but Dickens the poet who best rewards close attention today.

Don't ask Dickens for novels of manners. Little Dorrit is essentially a morality play, an allegory of the imprisonment and ordeal of Everyman, who sets forth on a journey whose ultimate end is freedom of the spirit through disinterested love for Dickens, the only salvation.

Images of incarceration fold into one another throughout the story like Chinese boxes. It begins in an actual prison in Marseille, where the devilish Rigaud later, Blandois is being held for murder. The Everyman-like Arthur Clennam, returning from another kind of imprisonment in China, encounters in the same foreign city a random group of travellers who later affect his life. The scene then shifts to a dismal, decrepit house in the City of London where Arthur's mother, stern, cold and power-obsessed, has physically and mentally imprisoned herself in the guilt of her secret past.

Every person and object associated with the symbolically paralysed Mrs Clennam speaks of her Old Testament hatred, which has blighted the life of her dead husband and her presumed son. Arthur elects to leave the family business and start a new life, but while he is tidying up the accounts he encounters a diminutive seamstress who comes by day to work for his mother.

arthur/amy - a thousand years

His interest awakened, he follows her home to discover that she lives in the Marshalsea debtor's prison the presiding emblem of the book where her father, William Dorrit, has been shut away for 23 years. The first book, "Poverty", chiefly contrasts the willed imprisonment of Mrs Clennam with the necessitous vanity and self-deceit of "The Father of the Marshalsea". His daughter Amy Little Dorrit darts between the two prisons like a ray of hope. For the fable demands that Little Dorrit be as much its good angel as Blandois its evil genius. Other characters are ranged between them in a colour code of vices and virtues, extending from the inky black and blackmailing villain through shades of murky grey Mrs Clennam, Mr and Mrs Merdle, Mr Caseby, Mr Flintwinch, Miss Wade through a lighter, gradually brightening, region the other Dorrits, Flora Finching, the Meagles family, Mr Pancks, Daniel Doyce to the pure white, saintly figure of Amy.

On any other terms than those of allegory, angelic Amy would be squirmingly hard to swallow.

Dickens and the Business Cycle: The Victorian Way of Debt

As it is, her goodness is indispensable to the story. Born in the Marshalsea, she is the only character whose wishes are wholly unselfish and whose unbreakable will to love and be loved frees her metaphorically from every prison, literal and social. All the other major characters excepting the artist-engineer, Daniel Doyce are imprisoned by discontent, by poverty, by ignorance, by personal ambition, even by ill-judged kindness; but most conspicuously by an insatiable desire for money, power and status.

The principal targets of the satire are even more seriously imprisoned after they gain their ends. For in the second book, "Riches", Mr Dorrit, through the efforts of Clennam and Mr Pancks, is discovered to be heir to a large fortune. He removes with his family and a vast entourage to Venice and Rome where, abetted by his selfish older children, he endeavours to bury his ignominious past, abandon his former friends and embark on a brand new life as a Gentleman in Society.

Only Amy realises that Society is no more than a richer, grander Marshalsea prison - to which, in that most famous scene in the novel, Mr Dorrit's diseased mind at last returns when he addresses Mrs Merdle's dinner guests as his fellow "collegians", requesting from them the customary "pecuniary testimonials".

Because the allegory in Little Dorrit has been woven into a typically Dickensian plot, parts of the novel - particularly its denouement - read like an over-manipulated detective story. And of course Dickens delights in working up storms of melodrama or sentimentality where a novelist today would avoid over-writing.


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Sexual attractions and repulsions, though hinted at, are pretty well papered over, and there are a few chapters in which the master's invention flags. On the whole, though, the writing is so brilliant that flaws can be overlooked. Unlike Shakespeare, who lets his plays speak for themselves, Dickens, the journalist-poet, never lets us forget he is the story-teller. His views appear everywhere; we see every detail through his eyes; we know what he feels about every moral issue he so vigorously raises.

Yet Dickens the man, as opposed to Dick ens the showman, is curiously invisible. After finishing the novel, I had a dream in which I was explaining to a class that Dickens had created an entire universe in his head - an earth-centred universe that represents reality only in exaggerated essentials.

Having put himself in charge of his own stars and constellations, he found it expedient, like Ptolemy, to embellish his plots with epicycles. Little Dorrit is rich in epicycles: here a little flourish of Barnacles or an orbit for Mr F's aunt; there a moon called Bleeding Heart Yard; and, just over there, a minor planet on which Mrs General drives the proprieties in the form of elocution lessons for genteel young ladies "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prisms".

Few of these epicycles my dream's translation of episodes are integral to the plot, but how Dickens must have chuckled to himself as he wrote them. The novel no doubt had its origins in the psychic wound he had suffered as a boy when his father was for a few months imprisoned in the Marshalsea, and that wound may well be reflected in the sombreness of the book's setting and hero. At the same time, Little Dorrit is a wonderful read - a tragical-comical-satirical-poetical mystery story that turns out to be an allegory of love.