I have a really close friend - let's call him Charlie. Charlie began college at 18, like most of us did. Then he sort of started drifting, and his friI have a really close friend - let's call him Charlie. Charlie began college at 18, like most of us did. Then he sort of started drifting, and his friends began to suspect he wasn't sitting his exams. The years went by, and gradually they began to realize he wasn't even enrolling. He just avoided the issue, or made such an elaborate pretense of being terribly busy during exam season, they tacitly left the whole thing alone. To this day, he hasn't officially quit university or laid out any alternative plans for his life - he's just frozen. But he's made such a good job of obliterating the issue, he firmly believes he's eventually finishing law school. He's 30 now. We talk on an almost daily basis, and I have never discussed this with him.
I thought a lot about Charlie while reading Little Dorrit.
I'm not going to dwell on the main themes in this novel. Firstly, because I have nothing to add that hasn't already been covered in the previous reviews. The imprisonment motif, the dysfunctional families, the criticism of Victorian society and of government incompetence - they're all there, and they're probably what the novel is about, mostly. But they didn't exactly surprise me - rather, those are topics one can always count on Dickens for covering in his, at the same time, sarcastic and empathic style. In this respect, the book delivers better than almost any Dickens I've read to date. The whole subplot concerning the fictional Circumlocution Office is borderline Kafkian, and the family melodrama gets dark. Like, really dark.
But that is not the novel I have read. Which is embarrassing, because it's the novel all of the scholars have read, and all of GR's reviewers too. Meaning what I'm going to say now is going to sound, really, really pretentious. Okay, here I come: that's not what Little Dorrit really talks about. *ducks*
I don't know if it was intentional on Dickens's part or just a result of his criticism of Victorian society, but if you pay close attention to the character development, you'll realize what I mean. Almost every main character in this novel (and a good portion of the secondary ones as well) are bent on deceiving themselves as methodically as possible. Sure, there are a couple of people here and there who pretend in front of other people, but they aren't believing their own lies. Still, pretty much everybody else is investing so much energy on self-deception, and making such a point of believing their own lies, I sometimes felt exhausted just watching them.
There's of course the Dorrit family, with their airs of self-importance and wounded pride, overcompensating for the fact that they've been penniless for the last 25 years. Flora Finching insists on behaving like the 15-year old she once was, in the hopes that her old lover will propose to her again. Arthur insists on shutting off his feelings for Minnie Gowan, even after it becomes obvious that he's feeling deeply disappointed - the whole subplot is told in the third person, in a way that strongly reminded me of a depersonalization episode once recounted to me by a schizophrenic patient. And on, and on, and on.
Of course I'm not claiming to know Dickens's mind better than the Harold Blooms of this world. But trust me - if you're at all interested in why people do what they do, you'll find Little Dorrit isn't just about bureaucracy and poverty. In fact, it might be that it's about the power of the human nature for believing its own lies, and how everyone else is just too polite to tell you to shut up. ...more
This is a book that features a bunch of awesome characters. There's a French governess with radical Communist views, a blind girl with weirdly racMeh.
This is a book that features a bunch of awesome characters. There's a French governess with radical Communist views, a blind girl with weirdly racist tendencies, a set of twins (one of whom has blue skin), a peculiar German oculist who won't wash and is named Grosse (tee hee hee). There's even a five-year-old girl who runs away from home at every opportunity and stands against robbers if they laugh at her.
This is typical Wilkie Collins material - charming, interesting characters against a background of mistaken identities, recovered eyesights, dashing against-the-clock rescues, and unrequited love.
The only problem is, for the first 300 pages, NOTHING HAPPENS. (How is this even possible? There is so much great material there!). Just looots of buildup.
Then something happens.
Then nothing again, then some more buildup happens, then everything happens on the last 30 pages. Then done.
They call them sensation novels for a reason, you know?...more
I'm giving this 5 stars because it may become "the book that ended the Non-Fiction and History Curse". For a proper review though, you'll have to waitI'm giving this 5 stars because it may become "the book that ended the Non-Fiction and History Curse". For a proper review though, you'll have to wait until I've read more history and can compare. Or until Alex reads it, whatever happens first. For now, I just thought it was awesome....more