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Little Dorrit
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The Dickens Project - Archives > Little Dorrit, Book I, Chapters X-XIII

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments These chapters move the plot forward but also provide an outlet for some important social ideas for Dickens. The Circumlocution office is a brilliant example of scathing criticism of red tape and bureaucracy.
Dickens meticulously and sarcastically portrays Mr. Clennam's attempts to obtain even a tiny bit of information about Mr. Dorrit's debt, but it seems to be an impossible act.

The chapter about the Plornish family is one of the most exemplary in the Dickens philosophy. If you remember, Mr. Plornish seems to be looking for any job all the time, but he is unable to secure A! job. It resonates strongly with me because I can often hear how the poor should be blamed for their unwillingness to obtain jobs and work hard; thus, they are responsible for being poor. The novel that was written in the nineteenth century conveys a strong message of social justice that can is still important nowadays.

On a personal note, I find it quite ironic how many people with the socially conservative mindset prefer to read classical novels because they are 'clean' - no sex, no violence, no cussing words, but they fail to read between the lines all the socially vital messages, all those things they are against because poverty is often viewed as a sin. (Please excuse my personal rant. I have had a lot of similar debates over and during the holiday season due to the extended family gatherings:-) )

I also hope that you recognized Maria Beadnell in the character of Flora Casby. If you guys read with the project the biography of Charles Dickens by C. Tomalin, you might remember that Dickens was also taken aback when he visited his first love Maria Beadnell. Dickens was surprised when he saw the changes in Maria Beadnell, and as any author worth his salt, he used his confusion as material for his creative talents, and here we have Flora Casby.

To be fair, the same, but earlier version of Maria Beadnell featured more favorably in David Copperfield as Dora. Dickens is only honest, but a little bit mischievous :-)

And finally, I do not believe that there is anyone who did not recognize Mr. Rigaud :-) Oh, Dickens and his characters under other aliases!


Sarah | 269 comments The Circumlocution office was, indeed, brilliantly written. And it is still so applicable today! I have dealt with this sort of run-around quite often--insurance companies come to mind--and it just goes to show how universal Dickens' writing was and how it continues to reveal social truths.

There appears to be a theme of disappointing reunions in the novel; Tip keeps coming back to the Marshalsea, Arthur sees Flora again, Rigaud happens upon Baptiste. Considering the encounter with Flora, I still think that Arthur and Amy could become a couple. Time will tell.


Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments Is there any author who can pull off the satirical social criticism found in the circumlocution office chapter today? I can't think of one. When I first read that chapter, I immediately read it again. And I will pull Little Dorritt off my bookshelf every now and then to read it again and again.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments I agree with Xan Shodowflutter and Sarah. This chapter was magnificent in its bitter, poignant, scathing, scalding criticism, and it was done so unassumingly, so nonchalantly :-)


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Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments When the VA here (US) was being criticized for its treatment of some veterans, I was thinking one of the senators, instead of breathing fire and brimstone and hurling ad hominems, should have read this chapter to the people in attendance and to the television audience. Some of the accusations of VA malfeasance sounded like they came out of the circumlocution office. And I'm not a government or federal worker basher.

It's a magnificent piece of writing, and we are sorely missing someone with this talent today. It reads like it flowed from mind to pen in one sitting.


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Robin P | 2069 comments Mod
It also reminded me of our legislators who take great pains to not actually do anything,especially if they can take a dramatic stand while not doing anything.

Comparable satire today is more likely to be on a website or TV show such as The Daily Show, which while topical today, may not hold up over time the way Dickens does.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "Comparable satire today is more likely to be on a website or TV show such as The Daily Show, which while topical today, may not hold up over time the way Dickens does. "

I love Jon Stewart. He is so politically incorrect, but this is the point, right:?-)


Lynnm | 3027 comments The Circumlocution chapter was magnificent. And I agree...I don't think there is any writer today that could write that same biting satire. Simply brilliant.

And we do need more writers like Dickens today. We are sorely lacking in social criticism in the arts...in literature, music, theater, film. There are some, but for the most part, it doesn't have the punch that Dickens had.

I love Jon Stewart as well...and Colbert. But as Robin said, I doubt it will hold it. It is too specific. Dickens' criticism is more general. We'll have (sadly) inept government bureaucracy 500 years from now.

I also liked the Flora chapter. Again, everyone can see themselves in that type of scenario...seeing the person we loved in our youth years later, and the major disappointment that generally follows.

Last but not least, I become extremely irritated when I see poor people being blamed for being poor. That's all I can say without going into an extended rant. :-)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Lynnm wrote: "We'll have (sadly) inept government bureaucracy 500 years from now.
"


You are lucky! Some countries can easily beat this record!


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Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments I loved the chapter about Flora, with her stream-of-consciousness talk - excruciating, funny and poignant. What disappoints Clennam most about her, though, is neither her chatter nor her girth, but her determination to remain childlike: "to be spoiled and artless." Here's that theme of childhood versus adult responsibility cropping up again. Flora is a child in an adult's body while Amy is an adult in a child's.

I was also touched by Arthur's response to Flora - a mixture of regret, sorrow, humour, pity and a wish to atone somehow for the loss of his love for her.

In my edition of Little Dorrit (dated around 1930) the editor calls this book "one of Dickens' least successful works, and it suffers from his disturbed state of mind." But as far as I'm concerned, this is (so far) one of the most clear-sighted, subtle and psychologically convincing books by him that I've read.


Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments Good points, Emma, about both Amy and Flora and what Dickens is doing in Little Dorritt.


Helen_in_the_uk I'm still struggling with the book, I think because it is jumping about so much and introducing so many (as yet) unrelated characters. I'm hoping that by persevering it will start to gel together better soon.


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Charisse (baldoria) | 25 comments Helen, I found it the same way, especially at first. I think it was partly the reason why I saw the TV series concurrently (though waiting until I was way ahead in the book, before seeing the episodes). But try to persevere, it gets better and ends really well, I think (both books 1 and 2). I also supplemented it with audio book listening (which enabled me to finish it fast--yes I finished it already in fear that I won't have much time to read once my classes start).

Yes, indeed, the chapter on the Circumlocution Office is brilliant and I found myself laughing so much, especially since it reminds me of how it still is in developing nations (of which I was originally from)! Europe and the US have gone a long way since then, even if I still sometimes feel like it still exists in some form in the US today! This chapter does feel like a 19th-century Colbert Report or Jon Stewart.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Zulfiya wrote: "I agree with Xan Shodowflutter and Sarah. This chapter was magnificent in its bitter, poignant, scathing, scalding criticism, and it was done so unassumingly, so nonchalantly :-)"

I'm coming late to the discussion, but also wanted to mention how perfect the name Barnacle is in connection with the bureaucracy and red table! Perfect.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Emma wrote: "I loved the chapter about Flora, with her stream-of-consciousness talk - excruciating, funny and poignant. What disappoints Clennam most about her, though, is neither her chatter nor her girth, but..."

This may be a stretch, but childlike Flora is similar to childlike Mr. Dorritt


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Just a few comments. I loved that we got reintroduced to Rigaudon by the description of his mustache and nose. Once again, Dickens made me smile while discussing serious issues.

Re bureaucracy, we recently lost my father-in-law. My husband called Social Security (U.S.) and was placed on hold for 1 1/2 hrs. That's without any exaggeration, and not including the conversation once some one picked up the call. I'm sure he felt like Clennam did.

Re the comments on the lengthy list of characters, I got lucky and have a character list in the beginning of my book. I've had to refer to it a few times.

Lastly, I couldn't help wonder why Baptiste is afraid of Rigaud.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Two other points I forgot to make earlier. I'm getting a sense of time standing still - Clennam's house is unchanged other than decay, the relentless monotony of days in the prison, the unchanged residence of Flora, and her unchanging attitudes.

Pancks philosophy regarding the residents of Bleeding Heart, reminds me of Scrooge's speech of are there no workhouses.


Tommi | 1 comments (Hi everyone! I realize I've never posted here although I'm reading Little Dorrit with you.)

Just chiming in to say that I can definitely relate to Helen's frustration with the amount of characters introduced. I know, Dickens will make the characters relevant at a later stage, but the first 300 pages have been a real challenge. But I will continue reading and trying to keep in mind that everything does have a purpose at some point.

There's a character list on my copy too, and I'm continuously going back to it, haha!


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Tommi wrote: "(Hi everyone! I realize I've never posted here although I'm reading Little Dorrit with you.)

Just chiming in to say that I can definitely relate to Helen's frustration with the amount of character..."


Tommi I'm glad you posted.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Deborah wrote: "Two other points I forgot to make earlier. I'm getting a sense of time standing still - Clennam's house is unchanged other than decay, the relentless monotony of days in the prison, the unchanged r..."

Deborah wrote: ""
Even Clennam does not behave or act his age. He is definitely not the man in his early forties. Only because others say so and only because he looks back at Flora and how he changed PHYSICALLY and not changed HABITS-WISE do we recall his age.

There is indeed that feeling of time standing still :-)


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Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Zulfiya wrote: "There is indeed that feeling of time standing still :-) ,..."

Yes, Arthur Clennam is constantly reliving the past - either his austere childhood, his love for Flora (which, whatever she's like now, gave him the only hopeful joy of his youth) or else he's thinking about the past of Amy and the Dorrits.


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Frances (francesab) | 1805 comments Mod
Whew, I've caught up!

Agreed on the brilliance of the Circumlocution Office-from its name to how it functions to how it is a launching pad for further brilliant political careers-painfully and hilariously close to the the truth for many countries.

I sense a great stock-taking exercise going on in Clennam-reviewing his own life and trying to review what his parents business has wrought over the years-likely with a view to changing the course of his own life and correcting the mistakes of his parents. I agree in some respects that he does not act his age, however to use a bit of modern pop-psychology I see him passing through a significant mid-life crisis and sense that he is, admirably, trying to change his course into one of goodness and, he hopes, some personal happiness.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
It's an inclement weather day here so I'm sitting by the fire and reading, it got me thinking about our struggle to keep all the characters straight. Imagine how much harder that would be if we were reading it as it was published, in serial form.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments So far, I do not find it challenging to follow all the plot lines. I would say Bleak House is much more cobwebby than Little Dorrit. The complexity of the plot worked very well for BH, and I humbly believe it is the best Dickens novel that I have read. So hopefully, the numerous plot lines in our current read will also contribute to the same feeling of complex harmony in the long run.


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Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Frances wrote: "I sense a great stock-taking exercise going on in Clennam-reviewing his own life and trying to review what his parents business has wrought over the years..."

I think "stock-taking" is a very good way of putting it.


message 26: by Hedi (last edited Jan 27, 2015 02:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 954 comments I am so sorry for not being able to keep up with you. Sometimes other things just want to keep you from spending time on reading. ;-) I am trying to catch up and finished this section yesterday.

I have made some notes which partially correspond to yours:

- The chapter about the Circumlocution Office is brilliant also from my point of view. It also reminded me of the Chancery in BH. Both institutions are just feeding themselves without any result/ answer for the people concerned. I liked the description of Mr. Barnacle "...winding something old around his neck as he winds paper around the country."

- It was interesting to hear about the case of Mr. Doyce (friend of Mr. Meagles) who seems to be an inventor who cannot get a patent through the Circumlocution Office. It is even mentioned that some have given up and gone abroad to get a patent. In the time of Industrialization, these were actually the things to create jobs and new products, but the Circumlocution Office made the inventers to search for better regions to do this.

- Dickens seems to fall in love with France now. He turns back to that place and the change in sceneries between England and France reminded me of A Tale of Two Cities. Maybe the idea for that novel came to him step by step, but as we still have to read I will not make any further comparisons.
The name of the tavern "Break of Day" sounded to me like dusk/ dawn, something dark, mysterious and secretive.
What did you think about the discussion of philanthropical philosophy? At least, we finally get to know the accusations against Monsieur Rigaud. He was accused of murdering his wife, but acquitted.
What a coincidence for Monsieur Rigaud to meet Cavaletto in the same room.
I was thinking that Cavaletto sees in Rigaud his possible new prison, as going with Rigaud would make him more or less something like a slave to him. He actually wants to free and therefore flees.

- I was wondering why the Dorrit girls are not mentioning to their father that they are working outside the Marshalsea prison. Is Mr. Dorrit of such a noble family that would make it wrong for its women to earn a living? Or is it the shame he bears inside for not being able to take care of his family?

- It is very kind of Arthur to help Tip to get out of the Marshalsea.

- I also agree on the already made statements with regards to the poor and was also wondering whether any modern fictional writer is really taking up these topics in such a brilliant sociocritical way.

- Flora is to me the later version of Dora from DC. The names are even rhyming. :-) She is silly and diffuse, artless and spoiled still even at this age. This is the person Dora might have become if she had not died. She is the contrasting woman to Amy Dorrit who seems to be the later version of Little Nell if she had not died. Is Dickens maturing here and looking at his previous characters and his own life? He was at a similar age as Arthur when he wrote this novel, so maybe in the middle of a midlife crisis, which might also explain his upcoming affair with Ms Nell Ternan. - just a provoking thought.

- And last, but least what did you think of the ending of this section in chapter 13 with Amy Dorrit showing up when Arthur's contemplating? Little Dorrit is what Arthur has found after all. Is it just literal due to her standing in the doorway or is there the possibility of love and a future wife especially after the meeting with his old girlfriend/ possible wife to be?

Just a few thoughts, I have not been able to rethink all my little notes again, but I hope that it still makes sense.


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Hedi | 954 comments ... and sorry for another long post :-(


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: "What a coincidence for Monsieur Rigaud to meet Cavaletto in the same room.

That is not the first Dickens's coincidence, isn't it?


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Hedi | 954 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Hedi wrote: "What a coincidence for Monsieur Rigaud to meet Cavaletto in the same room.

That is not the first Dickens's coincidence, isn't it?"


for sure, and always more to come :-)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: " She is the contrasting woman to Amy Dorrit who seems to be the later version of Little Nell if she had not died.

It becomes even more obvious how Little Nellish she is in the next chapters.


Lynnm | 3027 comments I'm also having a bit of trouble keeping some of the characters straight. It may be that we are reading it so slowly. I read the chapters for the week, and then there is a lag of 3-4 days. Plus, I'm reading The Haunted Hotel and a couple of other books that I'm using in my classes at school. I think that I was just focused on Little Dorrit, I wouldn't have to refresh my memory so much regarding the charactes.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
I find if I put it down too long I get confused. If I read a chapter a day, it's easier for me. Like you, I also have several other books I'm reading.


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Pip | 468 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Is there any author who can pull off the satirical social criticism found in the circumlocution office chapter today? I can't think of one. When I first read that chapter, I immediately read it a..."

The Circumlocution Office, and it's many offshoots, are still alive and kicking here in Spain. Here's a brilliant film short with English subtitles so that you can get an idea of what I go through on almost a weekly basis.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XXWZ3uA...


Renee M | 747 comments Whahaha! That was hilarious!
My new hero!


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Frances (francesab) | 1805 comments Mod
Circumlocution office-spanish style! Love it!


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Pip | 468 comments Glad to have amused you! Very little has changed over the past 200 years. In 1833 (22 years before Dickens described the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit), the Spanish essayist Mariano Jose de Larra wrote the article "Vuelva Usted Mañana" (Come Back Tomorrow) slating the sluggish Spanish system. It's short and very entertaining, though a bit depressing because it's all still true! It charts the efforts of a French visitor, Monsieur Sans-Delai (Mr Without-Delay) to get some legal work done in Madrid, and then to visit the city's monuments and treasures.

You can read it in translation here: http://spanishliteratureintranslation... (a few typos, but not a bad rendering on the whole)

Or in the original Spanish here: http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra-...


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Pip | 468 comments I'm steadily catching up with you all. Now that I've got going, I'm finding it hard to put down.

Thank you Emma #10 for pointing out that "Flora is a child in an adult's body while Amy is an adult in a child's.". I had missed that, and I'm convinced it was an intentional comparison on Dickens' part.

I loved the whole set piece of dinner at Flora's; Arthur's embarrassment was tangible, not knowing where to look as Mr Casby fed himself (with the same delight as if he were feeding someone else, or words to that effect), Pancks scoffed and snorted, Flora wittered and Mr F's Aunt threw out her bizarre non-sequiturs. The whole scene was a small masterpiece.

I wonder about the coincidence of Rigaud and Cavalletto meeting at the same inn - was it really such a coincidence? These days we have so many travel options: train, plane, motorway, A roads, B roads, backroads, footpaths.... It would indeed be surprising to meet someone again who'd left the same city days before. But in Dickens' time, the options were more limited and the road network far less developed. It seems both have the intention of heading for Paris and then, perhaps, London, so they'd probably be quite likely to bump in to each other at inns along the way.


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