With my recent family health issues, I haven’t had and won’t have as much time for blogging as I’m used to. But I finished reading Little Dorrit yesterday and wish I had said more about my favorite author, even if it is my least favorite novel of his. So I’m going to try to write a series of short posts on LD. I’m usually terrible, though, at reigning in my tendency toward prolixity. (See, why can’t I even just say, “I usually talk too much”?) So we’ll just have to see how successful I am at carrying out this plan.
I’ll begin the series with what I like about Little Dorrit. Two paragraphs, and then I’m done. When I think about what I like most about Dickens, I usually start with characters. Scrooge, Sam Weller, Betsy Trotwood, Captain Cuttle, Sydney Carton, Miss Havisham – these are practically real people to me and stand out as the pillars of the great Dickens temple. Little Dorrit has neither a Micawber nor a Uriah Heep. But it does have Young John Chivery, who dreams up a new hilarious epitaph for himself every time he is reminded that Amy Dorrit has rejected his (somewhat unattractive) suit. It has Mr Pancks, who comes off at first like the villain but turns out the proverbial diamond in the rough – the rough consisting of snorting and pulling his spiky hair. And it has Mrs F’s Aunt, a more debilitated version of Mrs Gummidge with a really, really great name.
I always love Dickens’s vocabulary, and the vocabulary of Little Dorrit will get a special post later. I was fascinated by the themes of confinement (confinement in a prison, in a job, in a family, in government red tape, in society) and self-proclaimed gentlemen: Dickens tendered a particularly scathing indictment of all upper-class snobbery with his combination of the haughty Mr Dorrit, the villainous Rigaud, and the lying Mr Merdle. I also enjoyed the kaleidoscopic cascade of descriptions and figures of speech involving light and shadow that ran throughout the book; I knew the happy ending was near when the light on the prison gate turned the bars golden. But perhaps the best thing about the book is the Circumlocution Office. In trying to sell people on my favorite author over the years, I’ve more than once said that modern British satire runs back to and through Dickens. Dickens describes the great Circumlocution Office as standing on the single noble principle of How Not To Do It. And when he says that anytime a new MP made a mistake and came perilously close to Doing It, the Circumlocution Office always stood ready with reams of paperwork to set him right, I heard clearly ringing in the passage’s echoes the proceedings of the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.