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Little Dorrit

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A novel of serendipity, of fortunes won and lost, and of the spectre of imprisonment that hangs over all aspects of Victorian society, Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit is edited with an introduction by Stephen Wall in Penguin Classics.

When Arthur Clennam returns to England after many years abroad, he takes a kindly interest in Amy Dorrit, his mother's seamstress, and in the affairs of Amy's father, William Dorrit, a man of shabby grandeur, long imprisoned for debt in Marshalsea prison. As Arthur soon discovers, the dark shadow of the prison stretches far beyond its walls to affect the lives of many, from the kindly Mr Panks, the reluctant rent-collector of Bleeding Heart Yard, and the tipsily garrulous Flora Finching, to Merdle, an unscrupulous financier, and the bureaucratic Barnacles in the Circumlocution Office. A masterly evocation of the state and psychology of imprisonment, Little Dorrit is one of the supreme works of Dickens's maturity.

1021 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1857

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About the author

Charles Dickens

8,941 books27k followers
Charles John Huffam Dickens was a writer and social critic who created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens's creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad's Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world." His last words were: "On the ground", in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down.

(from Wikipedia)

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Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,227 reviews · 1,026 followers
March 18, 2023
Little Dorrit is Charles Dickens’s eleventh novel, published in monthly parts between December 1855 and June 1857, and illustrated by his favourite artist and friend Hablot Knight Browne, or “Phiz”. We tend to give Dickens’s novels convenient labels, such as the one criticising the workhouse: “Oliver Twist”, the one criticising schools: “Nicholas Nickleby”, the one criticising the legal system: “Bleak House”, and the one criticising unions: “Hard Times”. This one could be thought of as “the one criticising government bureaucracy”. But it is much, much more than that.

By now Dickens had established himself as a literary phenomenon. He was an enormously popular novelist, but he was keen to sustain his literary status as well as entertain the crowds. Like “Bleak House”, this is an elaborate, very complex and occasionally creaky novel with many interwoven and seemingly inexplicable mysteries. In this, it seems more of a natural successor to “Bleak House”, rather than to the much shorter and more direct one which preceded it, “Hard Times” (although the vitriol of “Hard Times” is in evidence here too). Although Little Dorrit is set in about 1826, it was written only a few years after the great Crystal Palace Exhibition “of the Works of Industry of All Nations” in 1851. It is interesting to wonder whether this vicious attack on British institutions is in part a commentary by Dickens on Britain’s grand industrial and social advances.

Dickens was continuing to work at a frenetic pace — to “burn himself out” in the modern vernacular — and his personal life was equally frenzied. In these two years, he bought two new houses, including his dream house “Gads Hill” in Rochester, which he had admired since he was a boy. He lived in Folkestone, Paris, Boulogne and London, as well as travelling for speeches and business. He continued to write, edit, and give public readings, be involved in the lives of his children, and was as enthusiastic about the theatre as ever. He produced and acted in 6 plays and farces during this time, helped by his friend Wilkie Collins, although Dickens was very much the driving force behind them. And his letters reveal that he was approaching a domestic crisis, and increasingly frustrated with his marriage. He was preoccupied by the idea of freedom in all areas; freedom assumed a greater and greater importance to him, and he was increasingly impatient with the Victorian constraints of his time.

Little Dorrit is the novel which comes out of this state of mind. The themes of prisons and being trapped in various ways, both physically and psychologically, permeate throughout the book. Dickens certainly felt himself trapped, whatever others thought. He also felt a long-buried shame at his father’s incarceration in the “Marshalsea” Prison for debt. This is perhaps the novel most influenced by Charles Dickens’s early experience, and a sense of gross injustice prevails too. In fact the original title of the novel, for the first four issues, was not Little Dorrit but “Nobody’s Fault”.

The Marshalsea Prison was a notorious prison in Southwark, Surrey (although Southwark is now part of London), just south of the River Thames. It was one of London’s best known debtors’ prisons, and one with which Dickens was well acquainted. Of course, the irony was that the only way for those incarcerated to survive there, was by purchasing items to keep themselves fed and clothed. Getting out was well nigh impossible, as being incarcerated, they could rarely earn any money! It was very much like a village behind bars, and although it was 30 years since his father had been imprisoned there (and the prison had been closed down in 1842), Dickens had never returned to look at it.

Only when he came to write Little Dorrit, did Dickens nerve himself to visit the parts of it which were still standing. He notes in his preface, that this was in order to research the “rooms that arose to my mind’s eye when I became Little Dorrit’s biographer.” Yet Amy Dorrit (“Little Dorrit”) is not the main character in the book. If there is just one, it would be Arthur Clennam. Dickens may well have decided to name his novel after Amy, since she is one of the very few virtuous unaffected characters, always seeking opportunities for each of her family, and through sheer determination, working towards the best life they can all have. She may be small in stature, but her heart and courage are great indeed.

Amy was born in the “Marshalsea” Prison, surrounded by a family who all display the faults which can result from such a meanness of environment. Her father, William, is so pompous, so quick to take offence, and so socially conscious, that having the unofficial title “Father of the Marshalsea” conferred on him, is seen by him as a great honour. He is arrogant, selfish, and “all show”, continually bolstered up by Amy’s coquettish and patronising sister Fanny, a theatrical dancer, and her brother Tip, a roguish ne’er-do-well. William’s brother Frederick, a broken man, has been up to now, Amy’s only true friend.

We also follow the story of Arthur Clennam. On his father’s death, Arthur has returned from business abroad, and is at a loose end. Arthur’s mother is a grim, old puritanical woman, who is paralysed, and living in the gloomy, decrepit old family house. She is attended by Flintwinch, a malicious man, twisted in both body and mind, who has wheedled himself into being her business partner, and forced the family servant, Affery, to marry him. These three form a unholy trio. The scenes set here have a gothic unearthly quality, and Affery, with her terrified nonsensical babbling, comes across as some kind of wise seer. There is hatred and malevolence here; a deep-seated resentment, but we are not privy to its cause, and neither is Arthur.

There are myriad minor characters who make this novel sparkle, although it is a sinister sparkle, perhaps as in sparkly vampires. There is the avaricious Casby, with his flowing white hair and twinkly eyes, with a semblance of benevolence shining out of his bald head. There is his whipping-boy and rent-collector Pancks, a little chugging steam engine, busily screwing more and more money out of Casby’s tenants. There is Casby’s daughter, the widow Flora Finching, fat, flirtatious and foolish. Twittery, chattery Flora used to be Arthur’s sweetheart (a fact which now appalls him) and is determined that he will never forget that fact, much to Arthur’s embarrassment and chagrin. She now looks after an equally eccentic and hilariously impossible relative, “Mr F.’s aunt”.

Flora’s character is based on Maria Beadnell (later Mrs Henry Winter), with whom Charles Dickens had fallen madly in love, in 1830, when he was 18. Maria, like Flora, was pretty and flirtatious, and the daughter of a highly successful banker (similar enough to a property-owner). After three years, her parents objected to the relationship, because Dickens’s prospects did not look good. Dickens wrote to her, “I never have loved and I never can love any human creature breathing but yourself.” And it is clear from his letters to his friend, John Forster, that Dickens had felt completely heartbroken over the break-up.

He met Maria, now Mrs Winter, again in 1856, and although he knew she was a great fan of her work, he was devastated at how she had changed, although she had tried to warn him, describing herself candidly in a letter as being “toothless, fat, old and ugly”. Dickens found her talkativeness especially irritating, and quickly attempted to extricate himself from all but the most essential social contact with her — and always strictly in public. Dickens it now was, who rebuffed Maria’s flirtatious attempts, and he portrayed her here as the voluble and irrepressible Flora.

Perhaps an old affection did temper his pen, however. Although it seems a cruel, heartless portrait initially, Flora reveals herself to have a heart of gold, and hidden perceptiveness, as the novel proceeds. These characters who are so vociferous often prove to be the most multi-layered in Dickens’s novels. The silent ones are often more shadowy. But Flora is an appalling delight, and some scenes which feature her may well make you laugh out loud:

“Wanting the heart to explain that this was not at all what he meant, Arthur extended his supporting arm round Flora’s figure. ‘Oh my goodness me,’ said she. ‘You are very obedient indeed really and it’s extremely honourable and gentlemanly in you I am sure but still at the same time if you would like to be a little tighter than that I shouldn’t consider it intruding’”.

There is Mr Merdle, the financier and greatest man of his time:

“As a vast fire will fill the air to a great distance with its roar, so the sacred flame which the mighty Barnacles had fanned caused the air to resound more and more with the name of Merdle. It was deposited on every lip, and carried into every ear. There never was, there never had been, there never again should be, such a man as Mr Merdle. Nobody, as aforesaid, knew what he had done; but everybody knew him to be the greatest that had appeared.”

Dickens builds Mr Merdle up so much that we are tempted to suspect that everything might come crashing down! In fact Mr Merdle is based on a real life Irish financier and politician, called John Sadleir, There is Mr Merdle’s wife, always referred to as “the Bosom”, on which he displays all his jewels and worldly acquisitions. Mrs Merdle piques herself on being society, hypocritically professing herself “charmed” at the idea of being a “perfect savage”. She values her own status, money and etiquette above all else. There is her son from a previous marriage, Edward Sparkler, a chap of limited intelligence, whose highest praise of a woman is that there is “no nonsense about her”.

There is young John Chivery, the prison warden’s son, who is devoted to Amy, and has a tendency to keep imagining his own gravestone with appropriate new inscriptions, according to how he feels the wind is blowing with respect to her feelings about him. And the kindly Meagles family: the retired banker Mr Meagles, impossibly convinced that all the world should speak English, his wife, and their cossetted daughter Minnie, or “Pet”. There is Pet’s companion or servant “Tattycoram”, whose real name is Harriet Beadle. Tattycoram/Harriet is an interesting character, who is to play an essential part in the novel’s outcome. She grows greatly in character, but initially has understandable feelings of resentment. She was a foundling, who has ostensibly been adopted by the Meagles. They think they are being benevolent in this, but in fact she feels patronised, instructed to “count five and twenty, Tattycoram” whenever she shows her temper, and is treated more like a servant than a companion. These feelings are encouraged by another malevolent and manipulative presence in the book, Miss Wade, one of Dickens’s most evil creations.

We have a veritable panoply of characters then, full of energy and life, spilling from the pages, as always in a novel by Dickens — and there are many more I have not mentioned. And the dastardly villain of the piece? He is a true pantomime villain — “Rigaud”, alias “Blandois” — based on the hated tyrant Napoleon III — and we first meet him right at the start of the novel, in a prison, in Marseilles. For this novel does not start out in the dank gloom of the Marshalsea, but in an oppressive hellhole of a prison in the blistering heat of the South of France. We see Rigaud’s arrogant, evil, manipulative, swaggering personality straightaway, and although Dickens keeps up the mystery by rarely naming him, we can recognise him every time he enters the stage, by his malicious, devilish smile, when:

“his moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache”.

Mysteries abound in this novel. There are long-lost twins, both male and female, impersonations and doppelgängers, unsuspected marriages and dysfunctional relationships. There is truth, but mostly there are lies, and secrets. There is the collapse of an institution, both metaphorically and in a very dramatic literal scene. It is doom-laden, with delusions and dreams; mysterious creaking sounds are seen to be prophetic. There is a suicide — and a murder — and animal cruelty.

It is a novel of two parts, entitled “Poverty” and “Riches”. In the second part, there is restitution of a sort, and there is punishment. Debts are paid. Poverty is transformed into riches, and those who were kind to each other when they were poor, become more spiteful or selfish, considering such earlier behaviour to be humiliating. Starting in Marseilles, the action removes to London and then Venice — a crumbling, decaying edifice, reflected in the degeneration of the characters within it. In Little Dorrit any prosperity is almost a guarantee that the wealth will be put to bad use. Even that decidedly decent fellow Daniel Doyce, intelligent and kind, the inventor of an unspecified mechanical wonder, is unable to get a patent for it in the Circumlocution Office, and we fear for his future.

Nothing in Little Dorrit is what it appears to be. In many ways it is as much of a mystery story as “Bleak House”. Almost all the characters are self-seeking, and the message of the novel is a very bleak one indeed. For whereas the concerns of the novel are similar to those of “Dombey and Son”, in Little Dorrit it is not only business concerns which are corrupt. It has a far wider purview — Dickens here attacks the whole of British society. The novel Little Dorrit does not merely indicate a dark view of human nature, but is a savage indictment of the corruption at the heart of British institutions, and the effects of British economic and social structure upon every single individual. Dickens shows with this embittered novel that he believes British society to be rotten to the core, and riddled with deceit. There are only two refuges from the all-pervasive “Circumlocution Office”, either exile, or prison.

The very name “Circumlocution Office” is a challenge, and with the monstrous “Barnacle” family, Dickens once more thumbs his nose, by naming the family after a limpet-like marine animal, which lies on its back and attaches itself to anything solid, such as a ship forging ahead and destroying everything in its path. This is another metaphor for that great destroyer of originality, the Circumlocution office. It is a self-serving system of sinecures; a place where all the employees learn “how not to do it”, where all innovation, creativity, individualism and enterprise are efficiently stifled and ultimately quashed.

Together with the Stiltstalkings, the Barnacles infest both government and society, going around in circles, spewing red tape, and accomplishing nothing. They ensure that no business which might promote the common good is ever done, crushing both originality and initiative, and rendering all relationships false. This damning satiric representation of the Civil Service draws on Dickens’s view of the recent government’s bad decisions during the Crimean War (which they expected would take 12 weeks, but in fact took twelve months, three major land battles and countless actions resulting in loss of life on a massive scale) coupled with the leftover cynicism from his own days as a young parliamentary reporter. Dickens was well placed to comment on the Civil Service, and his view was savage, waspish — and also very witty. Chapter 10: “Containing the Whole Science of Government” is possibly the funniest thing Dickens ever wrote — and that’s really saying something!

The extraordinary achievement of Little Dorrit is that such a devastating and dour indictment of British society and institutions can be so very readable, so topical, yet at the same time so current, in its description of the never-ending wheels grinding on in the Civil Service — and to contain such delightful characters. Dickens’s characters can be recognised in any age; he knew how to write about the familiar types of people we all know.

I can see Mrs Merdle with her “Bird, be quiet!”, and the awful spectacle of Mr Dorrit with his airs and graces, posturing, hemming and hawing “hem — hah — ah”. I can see the heart-rending picture of an over-large child, Maggy, Amy’s mentally disabled friend with her “large features, large feet and hands, large eyes and no hair”, devotedly following her diminutive friend Amy round like a little dog, with an inner conviction that if they all go to “’orspital” everything will be all right. I can see timid beaten Affery, worrying about “those two clever ones” always plotting.

I can see the appalling “varnishing” of the smooth-tongued Mrs General, employed as a tutor to Fanny and Amy, with her insistence on reciting “Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism” at every opportunity, in order to keep the lips in the desired pouting positions:

“[her] way of forming a mind was to prevent it from forming opinions. She had a little circular set of mental grooves or rails on which she started little trains of other people’s opinions, which never overtook one another, and never got anywhere”.

And now I can see the final scene in the book open up before my eyes. The two characters we have been rooting for most, come out of the church of St George the Martyr, in Southwark, and are swallowed up in the roar of the city:

“[they pause] for a moment on the steps of the portico looking at the fresh perspective of the street in the autumn morning sun’s bright rays, and then went down. Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness ... into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed.”

Curiously enough, in the church of St George the Martyr now, Little Dorrit herself is still to be seen. If you approach the altar and look up at the left panel of the magnificent stained glass window behind it, you will see the figure of St George, see that his foot is resting on a piece of parchment. Directly beneath this is a much smaller, kneeling figure of a girl, whose hands are clasped in prayer, and whose poke-bonnet is dangling from her back. This is “Little Dorrit”:

Dickens always provides us with neatly tied up endings, in which mostly the evil characters get their just deserts, and our heroes achieve some sort of happiness, or growth. We have that here, but we also have a deep sense of doom, or foreboding. Their destinies lie heavily shrouded in the ether; the fug of the city.

George Bernard Shaw considered Little Dorrit to be Dickens’s “masterpiece among many masterpieces”. I cannot think of a more apt description.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews · 55.9k followers
October 11, 2021
Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit is a novel by Charles Dickens, originally published in serial form between 1855 and 1857.

It satirises the shortcomings of both government and society, including the institution of debtors' prisons, where debtors were imprisoned, unable to work, until they repaid their debts. The prison in this case is the Marshalsea, where Dickens's own father had been imprisoned.

Dickens is also critical of the lack of a social safety net, the treatment and safety of industrial workers, as well the bureaucracy of the British Treasury, in the form of his fictional "Circumlocution Office".

In addition he satirises the stratification of society that results from the British class system.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم ماه نوامبر سال 1974میلادی

عنوان: دوریت کوچک؛ چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: محمد قاضی، رضا عقیلی؛ تهران، جاویدان، 1343؛ در 364ص؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 19م

عنوان: دوریت کوچک؛ چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: فریده تیموری؛ تهران، ماد، 1370؛ در دوجلد؛ جلد دو در 288ص؛

عنوان: دوریت کوچک؛ چارلز دیکنز؛ مترجم: فریده تیموری؛ تهران، سمیر، 1388؛ در727ص؛

چکیده: داستان این رمان، نوشته ی نویسنده ی سرشناس «انگلیسی»، «چارلز دیکنز»، درباره ی رفتارهای موجود در ادارات دولتی آن روزگاران است، که در آنزمان، از نظر کندی کار، و تنبلی کارکنان، مورد اعتراض مردمان، بوده است؛ «ویلیام دوریت» در پی عدم اجرای قراردادی، که با یکی از ادارات امضا کرده، به زندان گزمه ها میافتد، و آنقدر انجا میماند، که به (پدر زندان گزمه ها) نامدار میشود؛ ایام حبس او، با فداکاریهای دختر کوچکش (امی) یا همان «دوریت کوچک»، تسکین مییابد؛ «آرتور کلن نم» نیز مردی است، که به خانواده ی «دوریت» یاری میکند؛ پس از مدتی «امی» به او علاقمند میشود؛ اما علاقه، نخست دوسویه نیست؛ با تغییر ناگهانی سرنوشت، «ویلیام دوریت»، وارث ثروت کلانی میشود، و «آرتور کلن نم» نیز، همان روزها، برای سفته های بی اعتبارش، به زندان گزمه ها میافتد؛ این موضوع رویدادهایی را، به دنبال دارد، که در ادامه ی داستان بازگو میشود

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 18/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 18/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Baba.
3,523 reviews · 785 followers
October 14, 2021
My favourite Dickens of them all, and this was just the first time I'd read this! I felt that this was Dickens' primary take on the tightrope that the masses tried to balance their lives on to survive, with the very real threat of possible and quick imprisonment hanging over them all. A grand tale of fortunes won and lost, that reveals so much about Victorian society.

Back from overseas, Arthur Clennan takes a kindly interest in his family's seamstress Amy Dorrit, and her father who's in a debtor's prison. Through these relationships Clennan (and I, the reader) get to see how the system doesn't work; and the significant impact debtors' imprisonment has not only on the families involved, but on society as a whole.

This was part of a journey I was undertaking to read most of Dickens work, but I was not prepared to find such a gem as this. A wonderful reflection of Dickens in his writing maturity, and hopefully a story for the ages. Splendid! 9 out of 12.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
450 reviews · 3,232 followers
September 2, 2020
Now this book is primarily a love story although in a convoluted narrative, containing fraud, murder, suicide
and hate, domestic violence...plenty of that, mystery, weird noises in a dilapidated mansion, the lopsided shaped edifice, inside an old recluse woman with bitter memories and a son which he and her the mother, dislike each other stating it mildly.... A evil man who likes doing evil things, however some think this is a comedy ....to each their own. Arthur Clennam the son after twenty years in China working with the recently deceased father in business comes home at the age of forty a virtual stranger in his native land of England...And the people old friends and particularly relatives unknown, they in reality are strangers . Mother, Mrs. Clennam cold, intelligent, unforgiving lady with dark secrets in a wheelchair for many years...her eyes show hatred and Mr.Clennam wonders why ? The parents were for a numerous time, estranged. In the same house a poor little woman of 22, Amy Dorrit a part time servant there that for obvious reasons Arthur calls "Little Dorrit," the timid girl doesn't mind...Her father William has been in debtors prison, Marshalsea for 23 years... still the amenable man becomes the leader of the inmates, surviving by accepting small gifts from the unlucky creatures, the poor giving to the poorer . But of course his daughter Amy lives with him in the ugly compound taking care of the wretch, the widower two other children envious Fanny , and Edward the drunk have shed the bad remembrances or tried to and live outside, not very well though. Arthur falls for Amy but being 18 years older is he entitled, feeling uncomfortable and sees various women, Flora a lady he almost married but the flame is out only Little Dorrit can lite . Starting a new business with Daniel Doyce a brilliant inventor lacking the ways of bookkeeping they are perfect until the troubles begin; money or not enough as it is everywhere. However the wealthiest man in England all say Mr. Merdle, has a get- rich- quick business proposition, Arthur is tempted. Then Mr.Blandois, not his real name for sure he has many, the evil man mentioned before, reenters the scene bringing gloom and destruction for those unable or unwilling to pay up, a mustached villain with a pointed nose the very image of mid 19th century, blackmail is his game. To anyone who has read Mr. Dickens will surmise the ending but the fun is taking the long log (obstacles ) road getting there. Little Dorrit is such a lovable girl which any person with a heart will love. The bad thing is they only exist in fiction.
Profile Image for Stas'.
3 reviews · 3 followers
July 20, 2007
A forgotten classic, hidden among so many other fine works that Chuck produced. I laughed, I cried and I nearly peed myself because I refused to put the book down.

It has been clinically proven that those who find Dickens too maudlin or sentimental are either emotionally stunted or full-on cold hearted sociopaths. Clinically proven.

Not suprisingly, Kafka loved this book what with the Circumlocution Office and the strange almost alternate reality of Marshalsea Debtors Prison. If you have never read Dickens, give yourself a good hard slap now and get started. Ah Charles, still the champion of the Big Engrossing Superbly Written Novel.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews · 2,952 followers
June 9, 2020
If only Dickens didn't almost always place at the heart of his novels the adored meek little girl woman. She's rarely the shining moral light he wants her to be. Because she's created with too much sentimentality. Sentimentality is his other problem. If only he had seen more worth in trees and less in pretty garden flowers. But his novels always end in a domesticated garden with pretty flowerbeds and trimmed hedgerows and lawns. I had to abandon David Copperfield because for me the onslaughts of whimsy ruined all the brilliant stuff.

That said, I had a whale of a time with Little Dorrit. Yes, I wanted to shake Little Dorrit herself at times and found myself more supportive of her flawed and not entirely nice sister but this novel is so brilliantly put together, features so many masterpieces of character study and is such a fabulous biting and very funny satire of the ruling class, the privileged elite, which has lost none of its bite and relevance, that it's a joyous read from beginning to end. I've fallen in love with Charles Dickens again.
Profile Image for Sara.
1 book · 461 followers
November 26, 2020
UPDATE: 11/2020

I have upgraded my rating to 5-stars and feeling quite different toward both Amy Dorrit and the other characters of Little Dorrit this time around. I read the book very slowly (one chapter a day) with full discussions in the Dickensians group, and my appreciation of it rose daily. I'm afraid one read is just not enough for this complex and profound novel. My hat is always off to Mr. Dickens, one of the greatest writers of all time.


Dickens built his novel, Little Dorrit, around the life of inmates of the Marshalsea Prison, and drew from some very personal experiences to do so. I did not find these characters as compelling nor his plot as tight as usual, but still a worthy read and much enjoyed. Amy Dorrit (whose moniker of “Little Dorrit” aggravated me), is a bit too perfect, sweet and unselfish for my tastes; Arthur Clennam a bit too clueless about his own feelings and what was going on with others; and our major villain Rigaud a little too much like Snidely Whiplash, right down to the twisting of the moustache.

The loves and hates in this novel were also somewhat contrived. Of course, those emotions can be pretty arbitrary in real life. We’ve probably all known people who hate beyond the bounds of the offense they have endured and one person or another who has professed to love someone who was obviously a cad and below their worthiness. Mainly, however, I did not feel that the explanation for the mysteries at the heart of the novel really made good sense. So, not on a level with Great Expectations or Bleak House , but still...a bad Dickens is better than almost anyone else, it is the high expectations that cause the problem.

If you ever suffer from the idea that the problems of Charles Dickens’ world won’t have correlatives in our world, you ought to read Little Dorrit . Sprinkled amid the convoluted story of Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam is a diatribe on bureaucracy that felt far too familiar. Perhaps it is uniquely American (of course NOT) that people in government seem more interested in “not doing” than in “doing”, but I could so totally relate to the red tape approach to running off the petitioner, and I’m betting everyone else who has ever tried to deal with government can as well.

Hold up your hand if Mr. Rugg’s comments here ring true:

”If the money I have sacrificed had been all my own, Mr. Rugg,” sighed Mr. Clennam, “I should have cared far less.
“Indeed sir? said Mr. Rugg, rubbing his hands with a cheerful air. “You surprise me. That’s singular, sir. I have generally found, in my experience, that it’s their own money people are most particular about. I have seen people get rid of a good deal of other people’s money, and bear it very well; very well indeed.”

Oops, too many to count.

And, when I came across this passage, I could not help thinking of Bernie Madoff:

Numbers of men in every profession and trade would be blighted by his insolvency; old people who had been in easy circumstances all their lives would have no place of repentance for their trust in him but the workhouse; legions of women and children would have their whole future desolated by the hand of this mighty scoundrel. Every partaker of his magnificent feasts would be seen to have been a sharer in the plunder of innumerable homes, every servile worshipper of riches who had helped to set him on his pedestal, would have done better to worship the Devil point blank.

But what really struck me was that he was admired by one of the characters for pulling the deception off so universally, and I gasped because I had an acquaintance who actually made that statement about Madoff…"You have to admire him for his cleverness”, he said. NO, NO and NO. Would you not think people would have learned between 1855 and 2008? Apparently human nature thrives on the same errors repeated over centuries.

There is much that could be said about this novel and, like every Dickens I have read, it would make for a marvelous group read. If you want to know more and delve deeper, I strongly suggest that you take the time to read the review written by Bionic Jean, our resident Dickens guru, who never gets it wrong and always enlightens my reading.

I was afraid I was going to fail in my quest to read all of Dickens by culling two a year off my list. Thankfully, I have finished Little Dorrit just in time to satisfy this year. I read Hard Times as well. I have Martin Chuzzlewit, about which I know nothing, and The Old Curiosity Shop, a story I am very familiar with but have not ever read, slated for 2019. It would be lovely if I could up the ante and squeeze in a third! I must say I have enjoyed every single novel so far.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
1 book · 2,692 followers
November 10, 2020
What a book. One of Dickens's best - a truly fantastic, moving clever novel, and an absolute favourite of mine.
Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews · 3,328 followers
December 27, 2020
Emerging from Little Dorrit like Clennam from the Marshalsea Prison, after debts are paid and the story over, I feel a little bit like him as well!

How could you possibly leave a place like Dickens' Little Dorrit, once you were locked up with the characters? How could you possibly stray from the fate of the Dorrits and the Meagleses and the Merdles and the Casbys and Finchings and Panckses and Plornishes and Chiverys and Blandois-Rigauds?

When you are locked up in the dark corner of Dickens' late work, you don't have the freedom to take a walk in the bright sunshine of other books. You don't have the free air to breathe in a Goodreads review and send off some comments here and there, just for the easy-going pleasure of it. YOU HAVE TO STICK IT OUT! A thousand pages, a thousand feelings, a thousand worries to share. After a thousand pages, the paperback book will have a story of its own to tell: ripped and torn and smudged and folded and squeezed and cherished and stroked with the caring hand of Amy Dorrit, it will tell the story of the reader who dropped everything and forgot the rest to make sure that a house came crashing down on the evil spirit of Blandois and that Dorrit's riches wouldn't stay to prevent Amy's happiness.

Society - that Invisible Monster - came out quite unscathed, as always, but for Little Dorrit and her friends, and for Clennam and Doyce in particular, failing in the social and financial machinery will only make them stronger in pursuing what is truly happiness: community and friendship and love in the strangest of places.

Locked up or set free: hearts are never prisoners in the company of those they love.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
507 reviews · 386 followers
July 7, 2022
Little Dorrit is a dark tale written by Charles Dickens. It is dark in texture, atmosphere, and satire. The story begins in a prison and also technically ends in one. The prison atmosphere dominates the story even when it's not present. And as it happens, most of the other settings in London too, have a similar ambiance of confinement, gloom, and airlessness. It was at first puzzling why Dickens set such a gloomy tone to the story, but when it is understood that the setting is a necessary character to work on the dominating themes of the story, all felt into a pattern.

The main reason that induced Dickens to write this story is his need to expose the obstacles that operated to impede the forward progress of the country. He wanted to show what imprisoned the country, robbing it of its air, light, and freedom. Everything was confined and weighed down by government bureaucracy by their maxim of "how not to do it", and also by the false patriots who represent them as major contributors to the country's finances, boasting as saviors of the people when in fact they are nothing but a bunch of swindlers who squeezes and robs people of their hard-earned money. Dickens, with his dark satire, exposes this duplicity. Following the publication of Little Dorrit, Dickens was accused of exaggeration. Perhaps, he did, for the book was a creative art, but it also was evidence that the message has hit home.

The book consists of two parts - the first part is named "poverty" and the second part is named "riches". As the names indicate, the story is a comparison and contrast between these two ends. The exploitation of the poor by the rich is a common theme in many Dickens novels, and here he does it by exposing the shocking living conditions of the poor, living in cramped, dirty houses while the landlord's, from their comfortable houses, unmercifully demanded the due rents when the tenants were barely scratching a living to feed their families, and this too with no thought for the improvement of the place. This showed in whose hands the power laid. And then there is the condescending patronizing of the poor by the rich which was prompted not out from true kindness, but from their vanity and love to differentiate. Some of the literary critics have described this 11th book of Dickens as a 19th-century criticism of Capitalism. There is some truth in it no doubt, for otherwise, George Bernard Shaw wouldn't have declared that the book turned him to socialism.

Other than the social criticism, Dickens's personal views and experiences too have made strong contributions to the story, especially regarding a debtor's position. It was customary when a person is found in heavy debt and unable to meet his creditors for the creditor to execute a writ and imprison him in a debtor's prison (a similar situation was faced by Dickens's father). But Dickens seems to doubt the productivity of such action. Unless the creditors can be relieved by some friend or relative, meeting their demands, the debtor has no way to meet them as he is imprisoned and cannot earn. What benefit will the creditors reap by confining the debtor into a prison, except for a possible vengeance? These thoughts run subtly through the pages of the story.

Immersed in this social commentary and personal opinions is a beautiful story of courage, perseverance, and selflessness. The titular character, Little Dorrit, is the good angel, the loving heroine. With a quiet strength and an unusual forbearance, she labours for others both in their good times and in their affliction. She herself is steadfast equally in her poverty and her riches. Arthur Clennam, the center of the story, despite the title, is Little Dorrit's male counterpart. He comes to our story having passed his youth in toil for his family business. His youth was sacrificed for duty and he continues with this duty and many other duties he takes upon him in the course of his life, having resigned his own hopes of love and marriage thinking that his time for such pursuits has passed. Arthur is a new hero that I came across in a Dickens novel, one I cannot compare with, unlike Little Dorrit, the dutiful daughter, sister, wife, and friend who we have met in Dickens's novels before. I liked both these characters. They made me quite emotional. Their misfortunes, miseries, losses, and heartbreaks became my own too. That is the extent of closeness that I felt for them. I was happy that they were both rewarded at the end for the many sacrifices they've made.

Dickens's writing is rich and heavy, unusually so than other Dickens novels I've read. Reading was almost a battle in the field of his verbosity. There is always the debate when it comes to Dickens that he could have done with fewer words and it is because he had to stick to a certain amount of serial installments that so many words came forth from his pen. But it is also a characteristic of Dickens that if you do away with it, certainly it will lose the pleasure of reading him. What I found most fascinating in Dickens's writing in Little Dorrit, however, is the use of symbology to bring out different quirks of his characters. I don't know if I've missed observing this style in his other works, but since I observed it only here, its novelty was welcoming.

Reading Dickens is always a pleasant journey. It takes you to memorable places and characters you'll never forget. It also gives a good account of 19th-century Victorian society with its strengths and its flaws. I also like the fact that I'm drawn to that time through his writing and living the history of a memorable period in England. I experienced the same in Little Dorrit. Except in one, Dickens hasn't disappointed me so far, and that may be why I keep looking forward to reading him more.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews · 49 followers
February 18, 2012
Little Dorrit is a wonderful comic novel. Within these gentle pages are:
-a severely brain damaged woman who was beaten and neglected by her alcoholic mother
-a bitter old lady who just sits in a room for 15 years
-evil twin brothers
-an abusive husband who beats and torments his wife
-spoiled twin sisters, one who kicks it early and is replaced by a resentful orphan
-an innocent man rotting away in prison for years
-children who are born and raised in prison
-a suicide
-a murder
-in articulo mortis misery
-paralysis and stroke
-a dog beaten to death
-a catastrophic collapse of a building
-the Tite Barnacle Branch of the Circumlocution Office, a government agency that suggests Kafka and The Trial “It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer . . . it was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart.”
-a variety of themes, including imprisonment, incarceration, quarantine and detention. Also twins, doubles, and aliases.
Little Dorrit is a pleasure to read in spite of all the gloom & misery - *that* is Dickens’s power. The ending though, is rather hasty and muddled. If I weren’t so lazy I’d draw a chart which would clarify this mess, but suffice it to say that there is no incest.
Profile Image for Alasse.
179 reviews · 60 followers
June 2, 2011
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 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.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews · 3,640 followers
February 7, 2017
Wow, having disliked a lot of Dickens' novels in the past I'm surprised how much "Little Dorrit" appealed to me. While I was a bit confused as to the ending and the several characters and all their relations (I had to look up an analysis online just to make sure I got it all right), I still think that this is a really telling, humorous and interesting story.
What I liked the most about this 1000-page-novel was the story of Little Dorrit and how she was raised. I have never read of a character like hers before, and I found it hugely entertaining to dive into her story and also see how she develops over the 1000 pages.
I was also amused with the satiric paragraphs that are very typical of Dickens and which worked, in my opinion. It was funny and it was sarcastic, and I appreciated it a lot for that.
All in all, it's hard to cover all of the 1000 pages and all of the underlying storylines in just a few words. Let's just say that this is, in my opinion, one of Dickens' better works because it is more simple, original and overall very much entertaining and typical for the Victorian literary era.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews · 762 followers
June 23, 2016
Little Dorrit is one of the less reviewed Dickens, it is clearly not “up there” with Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and whatnot. I wish I could advance a theory as to why but I can’t because Little Dorrit really does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those acclaimed titles. Anyway, it’s been years since I read a Dickens and it is always nice to pick one up. I just get a kick out of his writing style, the way the prose occasionally switch into a poetic / rhythmic mode, the way every character seems to have their own distinctive speech pattern and catch phrases, and the characters and story of course.

I am fairly useless at deciphering themes from novels but if there is a single overriding theme in Little Dorrit that communicates itself to me I would say it is the virtue of modesty. The eponymous Little Dorrit (real name Amy Dorrit) is a young lady of twenty+, small in stature, unassuming in manner, without an atom of malice, kindly and virtuous to a fault. She is one of Dickens’ angelic girl stock characters. Yet the novel also shows that always being self-sacrificing, never thinking or doing anything for oneself can lead to a lot of unhappiness and being taken for granted by the people we are servicing. (TV Tropes.com classify this character type as “Incorruptible Pure Pureness”!). Sometimes I am a little resentful that Dickens expects me to love this shrinking violet of a character but her niceness does club me into submission after a while. If only real people could be like this.
“This is the way in which she is doomed to be a constant slave to them that are not worthy that a constant slave she unto them should be.”
Besides being a character study Dickens also has a lot to say about the bureaucracy, the class system of the time, debtors prisons and whatnot. I don’t want to go into details about such weighty matters but a special note should be made for the Circumlocution Office, a fictional government office which is a great bit of lampooning about red tapes.

Dickens’ prose is great to read as always, sometimes beautiful, sometimes sarcastic, and sometimes hilarious. The dialogue similarly ranges from silly to heartfelt and profound, it brought a lump to this throat a few times. A very rare thing while reading I assure you. I am more sedimental than sentimental.

In rating the book so high I am really cutting Dickens a lot of slack. His usage of deus ex machina at several plot points is a little outrageous. People become rich and poor at the drop of a hat, buildings fall on people just because they deserve it. Still, the way I see it a five stars rating does not indicate that the book is perfect; it just means that I like it a lot and am willing to forgive its flaws.

If you were made to read Dickens at school and have consequently been avoiding him like the plague to this day as an adult reader I would suggest you give him another try. Personally, I am always up for a bit of Dickens, my favorite Victorian author probably.
• This review is based on the audiobook version amazingly well read by Mil Nicholson (with voices and accents galore), available for free at Librivox.

The BBC adaptation is very good (they almost always are).
Profile Image for Anne .
436 reviews · 344 followers
December 25, 2020
This book has been reviewed so many times there is nothing new that I can add.

I read this book with the Dickensians group, one chapter per day for 70 days. This was a wonderful experience. Thank you so much to Jean for working so hard at moderating this group, providing summaries, interpretations and other information every single day. The experience of reading and understanding this novel was so much richer given all of your much appreciated hard work and knowledge.

I love Dickens writing, especially his satire which is brilliant. He is simply a joy to read. His satire of bureaucratic government offices and the men who run them was one of my favorite parts of this novel, perhaps because it is still so apt today, especially in the U.S..

The ending was beautiful and perfect. As my friend Violeta would say,
Profile Image for Cindy Newton.
617 reviews · 128 followers
October 1, 2016
Ah, Dickens and his paragons. I adore Dickens, but his paragons are no different from anyone else’s—they’re excruciatingly dull. They’re stuffed full of every high-minded, moral quality with nary an inch for any of the less-attractive, negative qualities the rest of us mere mortals possess. They face their trials and tribulations with gentle courage and purity, braving despair, degradation, and death, and they escape unscathed, as innocent as newborn lambs. I thought, at first, that Little Dorrit was going to be one of these angels without wings. Happily, I was not completely right.

Don’t get me wrong! She’s pretty darn innocent and pure. The difference is that, unlike some of Dickens’ other virtuous characters, we’re allowed a little more access to her mind. We see that she has fears, there are people she dislikes, and she recognizes some bad behavior when she sees it. Amy Dorrit (sorry, Amy—I prefer your given name to “Little Dorrit”), while mind-bogglingly forgiving of those she loves, seems a little more fleshed-out and real than I expected her to be when first introduced to her. And she only fainted once (or maybe twice). Still, that’s not too bad for one of Dickens’ ingénues, you gotta admit.

Little Dorrit follows the lives and adventures of Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam. They meet while Amy is working as a seamstress for Arthur’s very unpleasant mother, and he is taken by her air of gentle sweetness. She is in her early twenties, but looks much younger, so Arthur persistently views her as a child. He befriends her and also gets to know her family. Amy has the dubious distinction of being the first child ever to be born and raised in Marshelsea prison, where her father is imprisoned for debt. This part draws on Dickens’ personal experience of having his own parent incarcerated in this same prison for this same offense. Just as the Dorrit family did, Dickens’ own family joins their patriarch in the prison (Charles didn’t, but was no less humiliated about the whole situation).

Mr. Dorrit deals with his humiliation by affecting airs of gentility and lording it over the other prisoners as “a gentleman fallen on hard times.” Eventually, his arrogant attitude and his sheer longevity earn him the title of “Father of the Marshelsea,” and his air of condescension would have done a duke proud. Amy’s brother and sister are whiny, entitled (somehow!) brats who blame everyone else for their problems and generally bully their baby sister. Amy alone feels the shame of their position, but her loving nature forgives her family’s crass self-centeredness and ignorance.

This book follows the ups and downs of Amy’s and Arthur Clennams’s fortunes, and both of them experience the extremes of wealth during the story. There is so much going on in this book—mysteries and secrets, unrequited love and heartbreak, shady characters and innocent victims, blackmail and fraud . . . and money. Everything comes back to money. We go from the elegant salons of the uber-rich to the dank cells of the imprisoned impoverished . . . and sometimes these people trade places!

Dickens is at his satirical best here, as he skewers both the arrogance and pretensions of the upper classes, as well as the delusions of the power of wealth by the economically disadvantaged. Their comfortable conviction of their own superiority, their reverence for Mr. Merdle solely for his power to make money, and their embrace of Fanny, the former dancer, after she becomes wealthy lays bare their venality and hypocrisy. The Dorrits, meanwhile, bemoan their lot in life and their lack of means to support their station, but are no happier when they are suddenly in possession of the wealth they had long dreamed of.

And of course, there is the portrayal of the benevolent powers of government. This is a literary portrait of true beauty, and Dickens’ deft touch is sublime to behold. He presents us with the all-powerful, awe-inspiring Circumlocution Office (literally: talking in circles), which is mostly staffed by the members of a socially prominent family by the name of Barnacle (another jibe!), and the sole aim of this government office is to show how NOT to do things. They are very careful to never actually accomplish anything or help anyone—that would be beyond the pale! Dickens’ presentation of this institution is laugh-out-loud funny. There were SO many quotable lines that I just couldn’t include them all in my status updates, or it would have taken me twice as long to finish this book!

I’m not going to go into all the characters, sub-plots, and mysteries in this book: there are so many! It’s quite an entertaining read, and contains a host of Dickens’ trademark minor characters, such as Flora, Clennam’s ex, who speaks in stream-of-consciousness, and her slightly-addled bequest, known only as “Mr. F’s Aunt.” There’s Young John Chivery, the lovelorn turnkey, and Edward Sparkler, the brainless stepson of “the eighth wonder of the world,” Mr. Merdle. As with all of Dickens’ books, I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,007 reviews · 4,002 followers
September 22, 2012
Having not fallen fully under the sway of Dickens’s longest, Bleak House, we’re back to the savagely impressive corkers with this satirical and tender effort from the Immortal Blighty Scribe (IBS—unfortunate acronym). On a less grandiose scale than the preceding tome, Little Dorrit is much quieter, funnier, more powerfully affecting novel throughout than BH. In two parts, Poverty & Riches, the novel charts the progress of Amy Dorrit, (the token spirit of purity and goodness), and her family from Marshelsea debtors’ prison into a shaky life of infinite riches and never-ending Italian holidays. Central to the novel is her father William, who replaces his memories of destitution with violent hauteur, and whose mental collapse is rendered with masterful swings of wrenching drama. Clenham is the more complex, reticent hero, almost frustratingly dim in spots, but no less than impeccable on the moral scruples front. Apart from a sudden gallop into action-packed melodrama in the last 100pp or so, and a byzantine final-reveal sequence to out-Lost Lost, Little Dorrit goes straight atop the essential-Dickens pile, along with all the others. [And a final warning to Oxford World’s Classics: if you make your fonts any smaller, I will send in the midget assassins].

Recent Andrew Davies BBC version on YT
Profile Image for Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.).
480 reviews · 290 followers
July 10, 2009
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens is arguably one of the very best fiction books I've read in my entire life. I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone. It was captivating, engaging, and at times humorous, and at other times sad; with romance, mystery, and intrigue. Dickens' plotting is amazing, his characters intriguing, and his descriptions solidly place you in the midst of London in the Victorian Age in all social classes. The message and moral tone of this novel is so incredibly applicable to today's economic and social conditions. A fabulous book; and made even more fabulous with watching the sumptuous Andrew Davies screenplay brought to life in the multi-episode BBC adaptation that aired originally in March-April 2009 on Masterpiece Classics on PBS TV. I think that Little Dorrit is an important book, not only for our time, but anytime, and a book that I simply love to revisit every few years.
Profile Image for Sandra.
909 reviews · 241 followers
May 31, 2020
Prima di leggerlo ero tra coloro che pensavano a "La piccola Dorrit" come un romanzo sentimentale, melenso, con protagonista una bambina ingenua e sfortunata, come quasi sempre nei romanzi di Dickens accade ai protagonisti, insomma pensavo fosse una lettura più adatta ai ragazzi che agli adulti.
Invece mi ha sorpreso. Sì, è vero che Amy Dorrit, la protagonista, è una eterna bambina dolcissima, generosa, colma di tutti i buoni sentimenti del mondo; sì è vero che nel finale la vicenda diventa mielosa e termina in modo prevedibilmente felice; però il tema centrale è altro. Nel romanzo si legge una feroce critica alla borghese società inglese in cui l'apparenza scintillante di abiti, feste e ricevimenti mondani nasconde malaffari, intrighi e crimini , una forte critica alla burocrazia macchinosa rappresentata dall'Ufficio delle Circonlocuzioni in cui regna la famiglia dei Barnacle, per i quali il "non fare" è stile di vita.
Come, e forse più degli altri romanzi dickensiani, "La piccola Dorrit" racconta il lato oscuro di una Londra dell'epoca vittoriana, in piena rivoluzione industriale, tra progresso e conformismo, tra miseria e nobiltà. Ma non solo.
Il romanzo, spacciato per un libro per ragazzi, è tetro e segnato da una visione pessimistica della condizione umana: nessuno dei personaggi è libero, non solo perchè il fulcro della storia si incentra nella prigione londinese della Marshalsea, dove la piccola Dorrit è nata e vissuta per la maggior parte della sua vita, ma anche quando i protagonisti sono fuori dalle tetre mura carcerarie essi sono prigionieri comunque: prigionieri delle convenzioni sociali, prigionieri di legami familiari snaturati o alterati, prigionieri del proprio animo malvagio e masochista. Anche le vicende di Amy Dorrit e Arthur Clennam, gli unici personaggi positivi, nonostante il lieto fine, lasciano intravvedere nelle ultime righe una specie di "destino" già segnato nel mondo secondo la visione dickensiana in cui vivono.
Mi rendo conto di essere stata confusionaria nel commento, ma una certezza ce l'ho: non sarà il miglior romanzo di Dickens, ma va letto, fosse solo per sfatare un pregiudizio -che non credo di aver avuto soltanto io- e comunque per godere della miriade di storie e di personaggi che si intrecciano, che soltanto Charles Dickens è mirabilmente bravo a creare.
66 reviews · 6 followers
March 2, 2013
Good god, was this a snoozer. I love Charles Dickens like nobody's business, but this book was about 600 pages longer than it needed to be. If he was getting paid by the page, I'm not hatin', but it seemed to drag on and on and on without really going anywhere.

Little Dorrit herself is a really boring character because she is a meek little Mary Sue whose entire personality consists of being weak, submissive, and a pushover to everybody else.

The plot is kind of vague and poorly defined and goes off into weird tangents at times. I finished the book with a few things left unanswered, and the ending felt kind of anticlimactic and rushed (sort of ironic given how the pace dragged the rest of the way).

Where this book shines is in Dickens' wonderfully written secondary characters and his brilliant descriptions of an intentionally inept and horribly ineffective bureaucracy. His writing is witty and engaging, and he's quite good at writing memorable characters.

I just feel like that wasn't enough to make this book memorable as a whole, though, especially when Dickens has so many fantastic novels. I'd recommend this book to fans of Dickens, but for everybody else, pass on this one!
Profile Image for Teresa.
8 books · 767 followers
April 21, 2019
Though the title character is static, never wavering, by the end, she has transformed into a symbol. I was reminded of the title character in My Ántonia in that she too becomes a symbol by her book’s end—a symbol of an ideal American woman. In much the same way, Amy Dorrit is the symbol of ideal English womanhood, at least in the eyes of the time period: taking care of her difficult father, always with patience and love; sticking by her man, doing all for him, even when he’s not aware of it.

Though Little Dorrit is Duty personified—never drudging Duty, always loving Duty—she’s not submissive; and it’s rather amazing that Dickens does get this across, even to modern-day sensibilities. She’s even surprisingly forward at one juncture.

Because I am not of the 19th century, when I read this in the 20th century, I loved the character of the bitter Miss Wade. Her articulation of her anger at her lot in life drew me in. Now, in the 21st century, reading Miss Wade’s letter, I didn’t feel the same frisson; but she’s still my favorite of this bunch: a powerful psychological portrait by Dickens. Miss Wade is clearly not Dickens’ favorite, yet he doesn’t punish her as much as the time he was writing in might’ve expected.

The last page of the novel is exquisite, a perfect rendering of an oasis of peace amidst a world that will never shut up.

(A reread with the Dickens Fellowship of New Orleans)
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,663 reviews · 441 followers
November 21, 2020
"Little Dorrit" is a novel which was originally published in serial form in nineteen installments between 1855 and 1857. Charles Dickens was traumatized when he was sent out to work as a child during the time his father was in debtors' prison. Dickens incorporated the Marshalsea prison into this novel which has a strong theme of imprisonment. Mr Dorrit was a gentleman who had fallen on hard times. This resulted in a long stay in the prison where he was referred to as "The Father of the Marshalsea." Little Dorrit (Amy) had the distinction of being born in the Marshalsea, and was known for her warm, nurturing manner. There are many reversals of fortune during the events in the novel.

Other characters are emotionally imprisoned because they are bitter, or trying to meet the expectations of society. Some characters live for wealth and social position, but it does not make them happier. Deception is practiced to gain wealth or social status.

Another main character is Arthur Clennam who described himself as "the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything." His mother was a cold-hearted woman who lived in a Calvinistic manner. Arthur was still emotionally living under the shadow of his upbringing.

There is lots of humor in this novel, including the character names of the upper class Barnacles and Stiltstockings. They run the Circumlocution Office where there are mountains of red tape, citizens fill out multiple forms which only get filed away, and nothing gets done. Dickens does some wonderful satirical writing in the chapters about government bureaucracy.

"Little Dorrit" has many characters and multiple subplots. Although Dickens was writing the book in serial form, he managed to tie up most of the loose ends by the conclusion. He exposed some serious social problems while writing an entertaining story. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Tristram Shandy.
691 reviews · 197 followers
May 14, 2022
”When We Lived at Henley, Barnes’s Gander Was Stole by Tinkers.”

[There might be some spoilers in the following text!]

This is one of the few sentences that are uttered by Mr. F.’s Aunt, an intimidating old lady who has the habit of throwing enigmatic sentences into people’s conversations when they least expect it, and I must say that this is one of my favourite sentences in Dickens’s novel Little Dorrit, just as Mr. F.’s Aunt is one of my favourite characters. This sentence is wonderfully whimsical and, containing a world of unsolved questions – Who was Barnes? How did he bear the loss of his gander? Was it a valuable gander? Were the tinkers ever brought to justice? –, it is a brilliant example of the fertility of Dickens’s imagination. It has nothing to do with the major theme of the novel – at least, not as far as I can make it out – but it shows how Dickens’s vivid imagination can spark off his readers’ imagination.

Little Dorrit, like many of Dickens’s later novels, is a paradigm of literary wealth, abounding in sub-plots and a host of characters that are all, as will eventually become clear, linked with each other, and it shows how Dickens skilfully interweaves all these different odds and ends with each other. The story focuses on middle-aged Arthur Clennam, who has been staying in China with his father, and who, after the father’s demise, comes back to London, suspecting that his parents are hiding a dark secret in that they have wronged somebody. His Calvinist and Sabbatharian mother, however, indignantly disclaims this idea, which makes Arthur relinquish any connection with the family business as he cannot help thinking that there is some family guilt that even haunts his stern and self-righteous mother. Why else should she patronize Amy Dorrit, a timid seamstress, and actively refuse to make any inquiries about Little Dorrit’s family connections – as though she feared she would learn something she might not want to know. Does she not know that Little Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea, the infamous debtors’ prison, where her father William Dorrit has been locked up for years? Strangely intrigued with Little Dorrit’s self-forbearance, Arthur follows her into the prison and makes the acquaintance of William Dorrit, who enjoys dubious fame as the “Father of the Marshalsea”, due to the length of time he has been confined to the place and who lives on whatever the other prisoners leave him as “testimonials”. In fact, he is a self-important scrounger. Unable to take his fate into his own hands, Mr. Dorrit finds his circumstances change, though, when it comes to light that he is the rightful heir to a vast fortune. All of a sudden, Mr. Dorrit is keen on moving in “Society”, and his youngest daughter, who has been his only support in times of need, is now short of an embarrassment to him. But time will tell whether his newly-found wealth is as reliable as his daughter Amy.

In Little Dorrit, Dickens confronts his readers with a variety of prisons. The novel’s opening chapter is set in a French prison – the description of the depressing Marseilles summer not falling much behind the famous London fog scene in Bleak House –, where we make the acquaintance of Rigaud, a cold-blooded murderer, and the second chapter sees some fellow travellers in quarantine. Most prominent, however, is the Marshalsea Prison, in which Dickens’s own father had been put for debt, and whose corrupting influence is hauntingly described – Dickens coins the telling phrase “prison rot” – using the example of Mr. Dorrit’s slow moral deterioration over the years. There are also other forms of imprisonment, though: Mrs. Clennam’s self-deceiving moral arrogance is illustrated by the fact that she is wheelchair-bound and has not left her room for years, and then there is the Circumlocution Office – Dickens’s satirical jab at inefficient bureaucracy –, whose sole purpose seems to be to forestall things from being done, which makes the country a prison for innovation, creativity and improvement.

Even a release from prison does not necessarily lead to freedom, as is shown in the case of William Dorrit, whose ludicrously pompous behaviour hardly conceals his insecurity. Again and again, he suspects his servants of knowing about his ignominious past and to be making fun of him, and so he displays the constant nervousness and pretentiousness of the social upstart. He basks in the glory of being seen with the Capitalist Mr. Merdle, who will, however, prove a fraud of the meanest kind, and tries to justify his claim to respectability by offering marriage to his daughters’ governess Mrs. General, whose philosophy of Prism and Prunes simply consists in limiting your conversation to “pleasant”, i.e. insipid, subjects. Mrs. General is a master-veneeress, and therefore an example of the second major motif of the novel: Deception, and the will to keep up appearances. Little Dorrit is full of hypocrites and frauds. In fact, it presents High Society as a breeding ground for deception and make-belief. The fraudulent Capitalist Merdle is like a Golden Calf around which Society’s dignitaries perform their obsequious dance. His wife is described as a Bosom dedicated to the display of jewellery. The Barnacle clan, in whose hands the Circumlocution Office rests, are experts at proving the usefulness of their institution by pointing out all the paper it produces – as you might have noticed, Dickens addresses current problems with the Merdle and the Barnacle plots. Mrs. Clennam hides her spite and her revengefulness behind the mask of religion and duty as much as Mr. Casby, a real estate owner, hides his avariciousness behind a placid exterior. The arch-villain Rigaud constantly refers to himself as a true gentleman – and seems like a hammy actor when doing so –, and Mr. Flintwinch, the wife-beater, thinly disguises his atrocities with the phrase of giving his wife a dose of medicine. Flora Finching, Arthur’s puppy love, indulges in the luxury of pretending that there is some secret understanding between Arthur and herself. There are also more complex forms of self-deception, as in the case of Miss Wade, who misconstrues every act of kindness she received as a child as an attempt to snub her, or of Arthur himself, who is so diffident in his pursuit of Pet Meagles, with whom he is in love, that she will finally become the wife of the brutal artist Gowan.

In most cases, truth will out in Little Dorrit, but Dickens has undoubtedly become more pessimistic in the course of his life because we will not see everyone getting their just deserts by the end of the novel. He is also more realistic than the younger Dickens in that Arthur Clennam is anything but a splendid, youthful hero – as Nicholas Nickleby or Martin Chuzzlewit; instead, Clennam stands out with regard to his helplessness, his passivity and his perplexity. He will only be saved through the combined efforts of those to whom he proved a reliable friend, and through the moral strength of Little Dorrit.

Although Little Dorrit needs some time to get its plot moving, I really liked the novel as a whole because there are a lot of satirical humour, an infinity of memorable characters, and some extremely brilliantly written passages, like Mr. Dorrit’s coach-trip back to Rome, or Dickens’s technique of letting background information seep in by and by in people’s conversations. All in all, Little Dorrit is one of the books that show me why I love Dickens so much.
Profile Image for Miriam .
179 reviews · 18 followers
January 10, 2023
Little Dorrit is my new favourite book ever, with The Lord of the Rings and Wuthering Heights.
I really don't have enough words to praise it. It has got all you could look for in a novel: mystery, murder, a love story, social critic...everything!
The plot is very compelling and though it's about 1000 pages you never get bored by it.
I'm not sorry to say goodbye to it only because I'm going to have two years of Dickens forward, but I want absolutely to buy it and re-read it!
It took me some chapters to get into it, but then I couldn't put it down!
It's the story of Amy Dorrit, a girl born in a prison where her father was kept for debts (like Dickens' father) and who meets the other main character of the book, Arthur Clennam, at his mother's home. Arthur, returned from a long absence from London, decides to help Little Dorrit's family.
The story is sometimes funny (some characters are remarkable!) and sometimes moving, in the style of Dickens.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,227 reviews · 526 followers
November 26, 2021
Little Dorrit has now risen to the top of my Dickens tower; it’s my favorite of his books unless or until another unseats it. This story has all Dickens essentials: the vast disparity of life in Victorian London, with the rich quite fabulously wealthy and the poor in workhouses; nature as a character beautifully described; a wonderful cast of characters ranging from the saintly Little Dorrit to the confusing Flora to the personified “Bosom” of Mrs. Merdle to the villain Rigaud and villainous Miss Wade and of course Pancks with the hair, Affery with her apron over her head. And too many more. There is the central Arthur Clennam, kind and intelligent but also obtuse, and his wheelchair bound termagant mother. Each of these receive the typical Dickens treatment where a visual portrait is painted with words.

The plot is huge and takes in much happening in England of the early 19th century. There is a picture of the wealthy and their lives, the poor and their lack of a future, and the grind of those who manage to work. There is fraud, theft, murder, government inaction (in the extreme), but there is also much humor. Dickens manages to find the humor in the human condition and there’s much to be found during this tale too.

I enjoyed reading this book with a group at the Dickensians where we read one chapter per day and discuss as we read. That does add so much to the reading experience. I’m already looking forward to the next book.
Profile Image for Paul Ataua.
1,281 reviews · 120 followers
July 1, 2022
Yet another Dickensian swipe at Victorian society. This time it’s business practices, social snobbery, and the debtor’s prison. He also hits out at bureaucracy in his invented ‘circumlocution office’. I will be reminded of this each time I call my bank and am passed from A to Z on the options…. For English press 1, for account details press 2, to report a card missing press 3, to waive a fee press 4…. Of course, there is no number to press that will lead you to talk to a live human being. ‘Little Dorrit’ is not my favorite Dickens. It is, however, packed full of memorable good and bad characters and is a very pleasurable read.
Profile Image for Rick Slane reads more reviews less.
565 reviews · 60 followers
August 16, 2017
I was given a copy of this book by a co-worker. It was 860 pages long with denser prose than that of which I am fond. A debtors' prison is the main setting and where Little Dorrit is born. I am not a careful enough reader to catch much of the humor Dickens injects regarding low and high society as well as patent offices and other government bureaucracies.
Profile Image for Jessica.
28 books · 5,606 followers
January 10, 2022
I kind of love how these tragic figures, after being freed from their prison, become giant assholes. Money apparently really can't buy you happiness! I was also fascinated by the many bad wives in this book. So many wives who were manipulating their husbands, who only married them for money or status, (or in one case in order to make their MIL pay for being rude to them one time, and seriously WTH?!), wives who thought it their Christian duty to make sure everyone suffered in their mortal toil and sin because Such Is Life. I was like, Excuse me, Boz, but what are we trying to say? Hm?

There were, as per the usual, so many characters, many of them very odd, and most of them coming together by the end, having unexpected ties, etc. I did think that some of the characters were left hanging a bit. Tip, for instance, as well as Pet. And what was the deal with Pet's husband?! I'm not sure I approve of that marriage, tbh. I did love that her parents came to regard Arthur (who was GREAT) as the widower of their dead daughter. I mean, it was just so ODD, and yet somehow at the time it made sense and I loved it.

I also loved tiny adorable Little Dorrit herself. She was one of those saintly young Dickens heroines, and yet there was a reason for it. You could clearly see how her birth and upbringing had made her the way she was, and how she would have had such a hard time changing. I think this is my mom's favorite of his books, and I can see why. It was fascinating. Also, it's mentioned as being the favorite of the Spirit of Christmas Present in Connie Willis' wonderful story, Adaptation.
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