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The Dickens Project - Archives > Little Dorrit, Book I, Chapters XIV-XVIII

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments To me, the events of these chapters look like the two roads that sometimes come closer to each other and sometimes deviate from each other. On one hand, Arthur learns more about Amy and helps her family financially, and she does everything else but acknowledge that she knows he was her benefactor. On the other hand, the same man meets Pet and is totally confused about his feelings.

Chapter 17 about the Meagleses is an example of how Arthur is confused and is confusing us. Is he infatuated with Amy? If not, why is so curious about her? Why is he trying to pay the debts of her family and keeps offering gifts to Mr. Dorrit if he desperately needs a job? What about these statements that he would rather not fall in love with Pet? By the way, do you see how close Dickens comes to stream of consciousness?

The tone of that inner conversation is also mildly tongue in cheek. Does he really mean everything he says? Is he trying to conceal even from himself that he indeed finds Pet very attractive? Is he jealous when he learns that Pet and Gowan are a thing, and their relationship has been going on and off for a while? Or is it Dickens who is turning Arthur into a slightly comical figure, a man in his forties, still looking young, and not mature enough, who is viewing himself as a potential husband?

The unrequited love is a major theme in chapter XVIII, and it could have been very tragic if John Chivery had not been composing his own obituaries in his head. Sarcasm is now a new motto for Dickens :-)

Please post your thoughts and impressions below. I only briefly summarized these chapters hoping to leave you the room to comment.


Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments Ah, yes. Arthur and Amy. The question is what does Arthur see in Amy? What does she provide that he needs?


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Ah, yes. Arthur and Amy. The question is what does Arthur see in Amy? What does she provide that he needs?"

Oh, yes, his love interests are quite ambiguous.


message 4: by Emma (last edited Jan 28, 2015 09:44AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Arthur doesn't seem to see Amy as a prospective wife at all. Although he's deeply interested in her, at the start of chapter XVI he's thinking about how he can smooth her path and give her a home as "his adopted daughter, his poor child of the Marshalsea."

Yet he is obviously on the lookout for a wife, and sees Pet as a definite possibility because she's young, pretty, good-natured and of a respectable family. After all his trials I think he's perfectly ready for the refreshment of falling in love. But it's striking that we don't actually hear Pet say anything in this chapter apart from her few words to Tattycoram - "take your hands away". So there is no way for us to build up a picture of her character. And even when Arthur is greeting Mr Meagles, he's remembering his last meeting with Little Dorrit.

Incidentally, I was rather taken with Doyce, a sensible and useful man, unlike some in this book.


Charisse (baldoria) | 25 comments In some ways, I feel like Arthur and Amy are peas in a pod. They both seem to enjoy being of some service to others and championing their cause. I can see how they could be attracted to each other--as well as why they wouldn't be. I think Dickens has dropped hints both ways, with Arthur always preferring to call Amy as a "child" yet being really interested, and in fact, intrigued by her. And Dickens doesn't dwell on these scenes or hints either, preferring to be sarcastic about Arthur's feelings for Pet. Dickens seems like he eschews being sentimental and that the romantic aspect is not of prime importance to the story at this point.


message 6: by Lynnm (last edited Jan 29, 2015 08:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments I was a bit disappointed in Arthur for having an interest in Pet. Although I know that there is an age difference between Arthur and Little Dorrit (and ditto for Arthur and Pet), Arthur seems young at heart and Little Dorrit seems older because of her experiences in life...so I'm rooting for them to get together in the end. And Pet is a typical, pretty, spoiled child. And he seems to have a history of liking the same type of woman...when she was younger, Flora is described as pretty, etc.

But with that said, I like Arthur overall. He has a kind heart.

As Emma posted, we really can't define Pet's character yet. She obviously makes Tattycoram insane, but we really don't know why. But I just have a feeling that there is something behind Tattycoram's dislike of Pet....plus, Pet likes Gowan, who has major faults. All of which might be pointing in the direction of some underlying fault in Pet's character.

John Chivry amused me. Ahhh...nothing as sad as unrequited love. And his obituaries are a hoot.


Charisse (baldoria) | 25 comments Lynn, I was also disappointed with Arthur liking Pet so much! I found myself constantly rooting for Arthur and Amy to end up together, which is weird. And I thought Dickens was brilliant with creating an obituary-composing character--so funny! I have to say, the TV series portrayed John Chivery's character so well; I feel like he has more depth in the series, actually. At least it did help me appreciate, understand, and sympathize with him more.


message 8: by Lynnm (last edited Jan 29, 2015 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments Charisse wrote: "Lynn, I was also disappointed with Arthur liking Pet so much! I found myself constantly rooting for Arthur and Amy to end up together, which is weird. And I thought Dickens was brilliant with crea..."

After we finish with our Dickens project here, I'm going to go back and watch all the films/mini-series of all of the books. I've tried to watch some of them immediately after reading the novel, and it is too soon.

But good to hear that the Little Dorrit TV series is good.


Charisse (baldoria) | 25 comments Well, at first I didn't like it so much because it seemed like it wasn't faithful, since the chronology of scenes was not the same as in the book and they seemed to add some things that weren't in the original. But you realize that they were being faithful overall, in my opinion. Whatever they add, change, or seem to exaggerate is in keeping with the character or story's significance, and helps out the viewer to 'get' Dickens' subtleties.


message 10: by Deborah, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
I viewed Arthur's confusion about love as an indication of his lacking in confidence in himself. He talks himself into and out of (?) an attraction to Pet. While we don't know much about Pet, she already irritates me. I view her as a weak woman who has been thoroughly spoiled.

I see his interest in Amy as being one of obligation. He appears to have the feeling that the a Dorrit family has somehow been wronged by his family. He's already helped a Tip, and while Amy intrigues him, I'm not seeing him view her romantically. Perhaps he feels she's the only one of the Dorrit family that can be help.

Measles frustrated me as well with his focus on lineage with the Barnacles at dinner. The previous evening's meal seemed so much nicer. Although I must say I loved the play with the monocle.

I saw an adaptation years ago, and my enjoyment of it was why I was given the book. It was probably the late 80s when I saw it, yet as I read, parts of it come back to me do it must have made quite an impression. It has helped me with a couple of things in the reading.


Renee M | 751 comments I agree, Deborah. Arthur really has no idea about his own heart because of this lack of self-confidence. (Perhaps, because of his mother' slack of affection or because of what happened with his earliest love experience) His confusion is so very human and such a well-wrought nuance of character portrayed by Dickens.

And John Chivery's internal obituaries are a scream. The passion and melodrama of youth!!

I've ordered the video from my library and it's ready for pick-up! I'm quite excited to see this one. I don't really know how to picture the Marshalsea in my head.


message 12: by Anne (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anne | 93 comments Renee wrote: "And John Chivery's internal obituaries are a scream. The passion and melodrama of youth!!"
I liked that part too.

I don't really have anything new to add. I also thought Arthur was very confused about his feelings. He kept telling himself he wasn't interested in Pet, yet he was clearly jealous. He is very interested in Amy's affairs, but his motives are a little unclear at times. It will interesting to see how things develop.


Charisse (baldoria) | 25 comments Since there is talk of seeing screen adaptations, for those interested in seeing the BBC one (directed by Andrew Davies), it is available for free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime (at least in the US), which also has a free trial.


message 14: by Hedi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 978 comments Charisse wrote: "Since there is talk of seeing screen adaptations, for those interested in seeing the BBC one (directed by Andrew Davies), it is available for free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime (at least in the ..."

With regards to the TV adaptations. You can also check out YouTube, which I have done several times for this type of series. The episodes might not be in the best quality and chopped up in 10-15 min parts, but it is a cheap and relatively easy way to get to them. However, sometimes there are regional restrictions.


message 15: by Hedi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 978 comments As the one or other of you mentioned, I think that at this point of time Arthur sees Amy more as a child who needs his protection while having this strange feeling that his family might have something to do with her family's downfall. He also seems impressed by the way she is taking care of herself and her close ones.
With regards to Pet, I think that he has already fallen in love emotionally with her, but rationally he is still far from that. So therefore, he feels jealous in a certain way, but denies his feelings. Reason for that could be that she reminds him in a way of Flora (maybe his particular type) and knows how that woman finally turned out.

Interesting is what Amy feels/ sees in Arthur. She seems to know that he was the one who helped her brother, but did not want to admit it and she seems to wander past his window during the evenings regarding the light up there as a star. Does she see in Arthur the father she has never had, the one taking care of her and her siblings making sure they are all fine?

Another topic I was wondering about is the relationship between Mr. Flintwinch and Mrs Clennam? It seems that Arthur's father was dependent of his uncle and that Mrs. Clennam was more or less an arranged bride for him who was also supposed to have the major command in the relationship. So there seems to be a lot of mystery about Arthur's parents and their forefathers as there is around Amy's family. Maybe we will find out at a lot how that all gets together like the description of the Barnacles' family relations.

I thought it was a sad, but well described scene how Amy and Maggy were wandering the dark streets of nightly London.
The prostitute thinks of Amy as a child, but at last recognizes that she is actually a woman. Maybe this is also the foreshadowing of Arthur. He might regard her as a child now and at a later point of time see that she actually is a woman, maybe even more of a woman than Pet is.

The story around John Chivery shows the subculture/ subworld in the Marchalsea again with its own aristocracy and connections. Even here it is considered who is a good connection and who is not. I think it was nice of MAy to point out that they were not different to the rest in Marshalsea. They are all equal!?
As you have already mentioned he is a poor guy with his unrequited love.


message 16: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Hedi wrote: "Interesting is what Amy feels/ sees in Arthur. She seems to know that he was the one who helped her brother, but did not want to admit it..."

Yes, Amy's attitude to him is interesting. In chapter 14, we get to see him through her eyes as "the brown, grave gentleman...who was so frank and considerate in his manner." So far, so straightforward - but a little later she feels the expression of interest and pity on his face "to be a mystery far above her in degree, and almost removed beyond guessing at."

She's in awe of Arthur, but she also trusts him and confides in him about her fears that she has been followed by Flintwinch. In addition, she wants to thank Arthur for helping her brother, and to ask his advice about his mother, and to beg him not to give her father money; so he seems to be connected to her already in all sorts of ways.

But I don't think she sees him as a substitute father. She's distressed by his calling her "my child" and he immediately notices her distress and asks if he may call her Little Dorrit. The overall impression of this scene is one of two people acutely sensitive to each other's thoughts and reactions.


Renee M | 751 comments That was really well put, Emma. You've captured it exactly.


message 18: by Hedi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 978 comments Emma, good observation, I was perhaps more focused on the way how Arthur looks at her instead of her looking at Arthur. However, I must admit that I always have a little bit of the feeling that there is a subconscious search for a substitute father if a young woman falls in love/ is attracted by someone who is so much older. That is my prejudice maybe. So my mind is a little clouded by that, maybe because I myself could never picture myself with a so much older man.


message 19: by Lynnm (last edited Feb 01, 2015 08:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments Emma made a great point. Amy may be looking for a male figure who is actually responsible and who lives up to the traditional gender roles of the time: head of the family, protector, etc. A problem that a young Dickens had in his own personal life as well. And someone who won't diminish her contributions as well...which is why she balks at the "my child" label.


message 20: by Frances, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Frances (francesab) | 1871 comments Mod
My main impression of the Clennam/Pet relationship is that Arthur is susceptible to her charms (and I believe almost all single people naturally look about the for someone to love) and yet something in him realizes she is not quite worthy of his affections. He decides not to be in love with her, but is still a little put out by her preference for another, rather unworthy, suitor. Did anyone get the impression the Doyce might be interested in Pet for himself and was trying to gauge Arthur's level of interest?

As for young Chivery, I felt sorry for him on so many levels-his long held unrequited love, plus his false sense of inferiority to the Dorrits-what a horrible class system in which a family in debtors prison for 23 years could still consider themselves superior to those around them.


message 21: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
I can't help seeing John Chivery as a comic character, and I don't think his heartbreak will last.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments There have not been many broken hearts at the end of his novels; Dickens usually resolves love topics nicely and without too much grief. Tom Pinch from MC is a rare exception :-)


message 23: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 468 comments Renee wrote: "I don't really know how to picture the Marshalsea in my head. "

If you Google Marshalsea Prison and go to images, there are several drawings of the no-longer existing building.


message 24: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 468 comments Poor Arthur - he really needs to sort himself out and find a profession, but all he seems to focus on, albeit sub-consciously, is the search for a lady friend! Amy, Flora, Pet.... Every young woman he comes into contact with he considers as a prospective wife. He's something of an anti-hero; things happen to him rather than him making things happen (although his one attempt to make something happen soon came up against the unscaleable wall of the Circumlocution Office!). Even his possible collaboration with Doyce seems like something that just occurred to him, rather than him actively searching for a business partner.


Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments Arthur has a good heart. Where he got it from I don't know. He certainly didn't get it from his parents. Amy, Flora, Pet -- nothing like mom!!!

That house his mom lives in -- a pea in a pod. What house and person deserve each other more? Now that's Bleak House.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Amy, Flora, Pet -- nothing like mom"

At least, he does not suffer from the Freudian complex. Good point, Xan.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Frances wrote: "what a horrible class system in which a family in debtors prison for 23 years could still consider themselves superior to those around them. "

I also think the part of the problem here is Mr. Dorrit, who believes that he is entitled to certain privileges.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Emma wrote: "She's in awe of Arthur, but she also trusts him and confides in him about her fears that she has been followed by Flintwinch. In addition, she wants to thank Arthur for helping her brother, and to ask his advice about his mother, and to beg him not to give her father money; so he seems to be connected to her already in all sorts of ways.

But I don't think she sees him as a substitute father. She's distressed by his calling her "my child" and he immediately notices her distress and asks if he may call her Little Dorrit. The overall impression of this scene is one of two people acutely sensitive to each other's thoughts and reactions. "


As many commented, a good point, Emma.

There is so much patronizing attitude going back and forth in the novel, but Arthur's towards Amy is the most salient


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