Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, First Edition
She learns how to read and write, learns marketable skills from other inmates and gets a job outside the prison to an elderly rich businesswoman, Mrs. Clennam is the other character in the novel whose life is shaped by religion. Little Dorrit is sometimes sad, but she is capable of being happy and she does nothing to make herself unhappy. His father has died, but not before saying something that causes Arthur to believe there is some sinister family secret that Mrs. Clennam is hiding.
He tries to befriend Little Dorrit. The Circumlocution Office is staffed largely by a family called the Barnacles, whose avowed purpose is to prevent change by frustrating people who want to do things. At the Circumlocution Office, Arthur runs into a frustrated inventor named Daniel Doyle and forms a business partnership with him. About halfway through the book, William Dorrit comes into an inheritance that frees him of debt and makes him rich.
He spends the rest of his life traveling, mainly in Italy, insisting on his upper-class status and hiding the fact that he ever was poor, in debt or in prison. Fanny and Edward continue as they did before, but on a higher level of society. An evil Frenchman, Rigaud Blandois, discovers Mrs. Clennam repents.
Merdle, who has a reputation as a business genius, but is a swindler along the lines of Bernie Madoff. He falls into a state of what we would call clinical depression, from which he is rescued by Little Dorrit. Daniel Doyce has meanwhile had a new successful career as an engineering project manager abroad. Arthur and Little Dorrit acknowledge their love for each other, which has taken them the whole novel to get around to doing.
They get married, have children and live happily ever after. Still others are embodiments of a single character trait, although that trait is shown realistically. Arthur Clennam is a true-to-life example of a well-meaning but passive and ineffectual adult who has been emotionally deprived in childhood. Tite Barnacle and the other Barnacles in and around the Circumlocution Office, on the other hand, are satirical characters, almost like cartoon characters.
Amy Dorrit is unconvincing as a character, not because she is too good to be true, but because her goodness is unexplained. Even saints and heroes confess to struggle and doubts, but she seems to have been born good, and never being tempted to be anything but good. Her character is the equivalent of a great athlete who never had to train or practice. People in real life, who have to take on the role of parents at a young age, without having had real parents themselves, pay a mental and emotional price for this in later life. But Amy is unaffected by all of this. Another thing that is unrealistic about Little Dorrit is that, despite her origins, she speaks and writes grammatically correct standard English.
Would Charles Dickens have regarded her as a suitable mate for Arthur if she had been just as noble and capable as she was, but spoke with a lower-class accent and with bad English? Would we the readers have thought her so? The markers of social class have great power.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens - Penguin Books New Zealand
The evil characters are completely convincing. Evil people exist, and they are different from merely bad people. An evil person is someone who actively hates the good. One of the evil characters is a Miss Wade, who is eaten up with resentment, who interprets every kind action as a slight and who devotes herself to getting even.
Clennam had a distorted view of the world, but it is Miss Wade who is the mirror image of Amy Dorrit. Miss Wade is influenced by the painter Edward Gowan. He lacks the commitment or the talent to become a good artist, and so consoles himself by talking about art as if it were a racket, good artists as if they were fakers and bad artists as praiseworthy because they understand art is a racket.
That is hatred of the good. It may be as well, even on this account, that I should step over there, and look him up in a friendly way. Then again, here's Mother foolishly anxious and yet naturally too about Pet's state of health [during pregnancy], and that she should not be left to feel lonesome at the present time. It's undeniably a long way off, Arthur, and a strange place for the poor love under all the circumstances.
Let her be as well cared for as any lady in that land, still it is a long way off. Just as Home is Home though it's never so Homely, why you see,' said Mr. Meagles, adding a new version to the proverb, 'Rome is Rome, though it's never so Romely. The Meagleses OK, and the Plornishes are probably our best example in the novel of a reasonably normal, loving family. Even so, Pet needed to escape from their doting care.
Now they're about to follow her to Italy. Ironically, it is his very financial dependence on his father-in-law that makes Gowan dislike Meagles so much and want to break up the warm family feeling. All rights reserved.
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