Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

by Charles Dickens

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781717541512
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 06/14/2018
Pages: 786
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.56(d)

About the Author


After a childhood blighted by poverty, commercial success came early to Charles Dickens (1812–70). By the age of 24, he was an international sensation whose new novels were eagerly anticipated. Two centuries later, Dickens' popularity endures as readers revel in the warm humanity and humor of his tales of self-discovery.

Date of Birth:

February 7, 1812

Date of Death:

June 18, 1870

Place of Birth:

Portsmouth, England

Place of Death:

Gad's Hill, Kent, England

Education:

Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Sun and Shadow

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Every thing in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbor, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colors, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months. Hindoos, Russians, Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Genoese, Neapolitans, Venetians, Greeks, Turks, descendants from all the builders of Babel, come to trade at Marseilles, sought the shade alike—taking refuge in any hiding-place from a sea too intensely blue to be looked at, and a sky of purple, set with one great flaming jewel of fire.

The universal stare made the eyes ache. Towards the distant line of Italian coast, indeed, it was a littlerelieved by light clouds of mist, slowly rising from the evaporation of the sea; but it softened nowhere else. Far away the staring roads, deep in dust, stared from the hillside, stared from the hollow, stared from the interminable plain. Far away the dusty vines overhanging wayside cottages, and the monotonous wayside avenues of parched trees without shade, drooped beneath the stare of earth and sky. So did the horses with drowsy bells, in long files of carts, creeping slowly towards the interior; so did their recumbent drivers, when they were awake, which rarely happened; so did the exhausted laborers in the fields. Everything that lived or grew, was oppressed by the glare; except the lizard, passing swiftly over rough stone walls, and the cicala, chirping his dry hot chirp, like a rattle. The very dust was scorched brown, and something quivered in the atmosphere as if the air itself were panting.

Blinds, shutters, curtains, awnings, were all closed and drawn to keep out the stare. Grant it but a chink or keyhole, and it shot in like a white-hot arrow. The churches were the freest from it. To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches—dreamily dotted with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging—was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. So, with people lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant church bells, and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day.

In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of its chambers, so repulsive a place that even the obstrusive stare blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it could find for itself, were two men. Besides the two men, a notched and disfigured bench, immoveable from the wall, with a draught-board rudely hacked upon it with a knife, a set of draughts, made of old buttons and soup bones, a set of dominoes, two mats, and two or three wine bottles. That was all the chamber held, exclusive of rats and other unseen vermin, in addition to the seen vermin, the two men.

It received such light as it got, through a grating of iron bars, fashioned like a pretty large window, by means of which it could be always inspected from the gloomy staircase on which the grating gave. There was a broad strong ledge of stone to this grating, where the bottom of it was let into the masonry, three or four feet above the ground. Upon it, one of the two men lolled, half sitting and half lying, with his knees drawn up, and his feet and shoulders planted against the opposite sides of the aperture. The bars were wide enough apart to admit of his thrusting his arm through to the elbow; and so he held on negligently, for his greater ease.

A prison taint was on every thing there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside; and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact, in one of the spice islands of the Indian Ocean.

The man who lay on the ledge of the grating was even chilled. He jerked his great cloak more heavily upon him by an impatient movement of one shoulder, and growled, “To the devil with this Brigand of a Sun that never shines in here!”

He was waiting to be fed; looking sideways through the bars, that he might see the further down the stairs, with much of the expression of a wild beast in similar expectation. But his eyes, too close together, were not so nobly set in his head as those of the king of beasts are in his, and they were sharp rather than bright—pointed weapons with little surface to betray them. They had no depth or change; they glittered, and they opened and shut. So far, and waiving their use to himself, a clockmaker could have made a better pair. He had a hook nose, handsome after its kind, but too high between the eyes, by probably just as much as his eyes were too near to one another. For the rest, he was large and tall in frame, had thin lips, where his thick moustache showed them at all, and a quantity of dry hair, of no definable color, in its shaggy state, but shot with red. The hand with which he held the grating (seamed all over the back with ugly scratches newly healed) was unusually small and plump; would have been unusually white, but for the prison grime.

The other man was lying on the stone floor, covered with a coarse brown coat.

“Get up, pig!” growled the first. “Don’t sleep when I am hungry.”

“It’s all one, master,” said the pig, in a submissive manner, and not without cheerfulness; “I can wake when I will, I can sleep when I will. It’s all the same.”

As he said it, he rose, shook himself, scratched himself, tied his brown coat loosely round his neck by the sleeves (he had previously used it as a coverlet), and sat down upon the pavement yawning, with his back against the wall opposite to the grating.

“Say what the hour is,” grumbled the first man.

“The mid-day bells will ring—in forty minutes.” When he made the little pause, he had looked round the prison-room, as if for certain information.

“You are a clock. How is it that you always know?”

“How can I say! I always know what the hour is, and where I am. I was brought in here at night, and out of a boat, but I know where I am. See here! Marseilles Harbor;” on his knees on the pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; “Toulon (where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there. Creeping away to the left here, Nice. Round by the Cornice to Genoa. Genoa Mole and Harbor. Quarantine Ground. City there; terrace-gardens blushing with the bella donna.Here, Porto Fino. Stand out for Leghorn. Out again for Civita Vecchia. So away to—hey! there’s no room for Naples;” he had got to the wall by this time; “but it’s all one; it’s in there!”

He remained on his knees, looking up at his fellow prisoner with a lively look for a prison. A sunburnt, quick, lithe, little man, though rather thickset. Ear-rings in his brown ears, white teeth lighting up his grotesque brown face, intensely black hair clustering about his brown throat, a ragged red shirt open at his brown breast. Loose, seamanlike trousers, decent shoes, a long red cap, a red sash round his waist, and a knife in it.

“Judge if I come back from Naples as I went! See here, my master! Civita Vecchia, Leghorn, Porto Fino, Genoa, Cornice, Off Nice (which is in there), Marseilles, you and me. The apartment of the jailer and his keys is where I put this thumb; and here at my wrist, they keep the national razor in its case—the guillotine locked up.”

The other man spat suddenly on the pavement, and gurgled in his throat.

Some lock below gurgled in its throat immediately afterwards, and then a door clashed. Slow steps began ascending the stairs; the prattle of a sweet little voice mingled with the noise they made; and the prison-keeper appeared, carrying his daughter, three or four years old, and a basket.

“How goes the world this forenoon, gentlemen? My little one, you see, going round with me to have a peep at her father’s birds. Fie, then! Look at the birds, my pretty, look at the birds.”

He looked sharply at the birds himself, as he held the child up at the grate, especially at the little bird, whose activity he seemed to mistrust. “I have brought your bread, Signor John Baptist,” said he (they all spoke in French, but the little man was an Italian); “and if I might recommend you not to game—”

“You don’t recommend the master!” said John Baptist, showing his teeth as he smiled.

“Oh! but the master wins,” returned the jailer, with a passing look of no particular liking at the other man, “and you lose. It’s quite another thing. You get husky bread and sour drink by it; and he gets sausage of Lyons, veal in savory jelly, white bread, strachino cheese, and good wine by it. Look at the birds, my pretty!”

“Poor birds!” said the child.

The fair little face, touched with divine compassion, as it peeped shrinkingly through the grate, was like an angel’s in the prison. John Baptist rose and moved towards it, as if it had a good attraction for him. The other bird remained as before, except for an impatient glance at the basket.

“Stay!” said the jailer, putting his little daughter on the outer ledge of the grate, “she shall feed the birds. This big loaf is for Signor John Baptist. We must break it to get it through into the cage. So, there’s a tame bird, to kiss the little hand! This sausage in a vine-leaf is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again—this veal in savory jelly is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again—these three white little loaves are for Monsieur Rigaud. Again, this cheese—again, this wine—again, this tobacco—all for Monsieur Rigaud. Lucky bird!”

The child put all these things between the bars into the soft, smooth, well-shaped hand, with evident dread—more than once drawing back her own, and looking at the man with her fair brow roughened into an expression half of fright and half of anger. Whereas, she had put the lump of coarse bread into the swart, scaled, knotted hands of John Baptist (who had scarcely as much nail on his eight fingers and two thumbs as would have made out one for Monsieur Rigaud), with ready confidence; and, when he kissed her hand, had herself passed it caressingly over his face. Monsieur Rigaud, indifferent to this distinction, propitiated the father by laughing and nodding at the daughter as often as she gave him anything; and, so soon as he had all his viands about him in convenient nooks of the ledge on which he rested, began to eat with an appetite.

When Monsieur Rigaud laughed, a change took place in his face, that was more remarkable than prepossessing. His moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache, in a very sinister and cruel manner.

“There!” said the jailer, turning his basket upside down to beat the crumbs out, “I have expended all the money I received; here is the note of it, and that’s a thing accomplished. Monsieur Rigaud, as I expected yesterday, the President9 will look for the pleasure of your society at an hour after mid-day, to-day.”

“To try me, eh?” said Rigaud, pausing, knife in hand and morsel in mouth.

“You have said it. To try you.”

“There is no news for me?” asked John Baptist, who had begun, contentedly, to munch his bread.

The jailer shrugged his shoulders.

“Lady of mine! Am I to lie here all my life, my father?”

“What do I know!” cried the jailer, turning upon him with southern quickness, and gesticulating with both his hands and all his fingers, as if he were threatening to tear him to pieces. “My friend, how is it possible for me to tell how long you are to lie here? What do I know, John Baptist Cavalletto? Death of my life! There are prisoners here sometimes, who are not in such a devil of a hurry to be tried.”

He seemed to glance obliquely at Monsieur Rigaud in this remark; but Monsieur Rigaud had already resumed his meal, though not with quite so quick an appetite as before.

“Adieu, my birds!” said the keeper of the prison, taking his pretty child in his arms, and dictating the words with a kiss.

“Adieu, my birds!” the pretty child repeated.

Her innocent face looked back so brightly over his shoulder, as he walked away with her, singing her the song of the child’s game:

“Who passes by this road so late?

Compagnon de la Majolaine!

Who passes by this road so late?

Always gay!”

that John Baptist felt it a point of honor to reply at the grate, and, in good time and tune, though a little hoarsely:

“Of all the king’s knights ’tis the flower,

Compagnon de la Majolaine!

Of all the king’s knights ’tis the flower,

Always gay!”

Which accompanied them so far down the few steep stairs, that the prison-keeper had to stop at last for his little daughter to hear the song out, and repeat the Refrain while they were yet in sight. Then the child’s head disappeared, and the prison-keeper’s head disappeared, but the little voice prolonged the strain until the door clashed.

Monsieur Rigaud, finding the listening John Baptist in his way before the echoes had ceased (even the echoes were the weaker for imprisonment, and seemed to lag), reminded him with a push of his foot that he had better resume his own darker place. The little man sat down again upon the pavement, with the negligent ease of one who was thoroughly accustomed to pavements; and placing three hunks of coarse bread before himself, and falling to upon a fourth, began contentedly to work his way through them, as if to clear them off were a sort of game.

Perhaps he glanced at the Lyons sausage, and perhaps he glanced at the veal in savory jelly, but they were not there long, to make his mouth water; Monsieur Rigaud soon dispatched them, in spite of the president and tribunal, and proceeded to suck his fingers as clean as he could, and to wipe them on his vine leaves. Then, as he paused in his drink to contemplate his fellow-prisoner, his moustache went up, and his nose came down.

“How do you find the bread?”

“A little dry, but I have my old sauce here,” returned John Baptist, holding up his knife.

“How sauce?”

“I can cut my bread so—like a melon. Or so—like an omelette. Or so—like a fried fish. Or so—like Lyons sausage,” said John Baptist, demonstrating the various cuts on the bread he held, and soberly chewing what he had in his mouth.

“Here!” cried Monsieur Rigaud. “You may drink. You may finish this.”

It was no great gift, for there was mighty little wine left; but Signor Cavalletto, jumping to his feet, received the bottle gratefully, turned it upside down at his mouth, and smacked his lips.

“Put the bottle by with the rest,” said Rigaud.

The little man obeyed his orders, and stood ready to give him a lighted match; for he was now rolling his tobacco into cigarettes, by the aid of little squares of paper which had been brought in with it.

“Here! You may have one.”

“A thousand thanks, my master!” John Baptist said it in his own language, and with the quick conciliatory manner of his own countrymen.

Monsieur Rigaud arose, lighted a cigarette, put the rest of his stock into a breast-pocket, and stretched himself out at full length upon the bench. Cavalletto sat down on the pavement, holding one of his ancles in each hand, and smoking peacefully. There seemed to be some uncomfortable attraction of Monsieur Rigaud’s eyes to the immediate neighbourhood of that part of the pavement where the thumb had been in the plan. They were so drawn in that direction, that the Italian more than once followed them to and back from the pavement in some surprise.

“What an infernal hole this is!” said Monsieur Rigaud, breaking a long pause. “Look at the light of day. Day? The light of yesterday week, the light of six months ago, the light of six years ago. So slack and dead!”

It came languishing down a square funnel that blinded a window in the staircase wall, through which the sky was never seen—nor anything else.

“Cavalletto,” said Monsieur Rigaud, suddenly withdrawing his gaze from this funnel, to which they had both involuntarily turned their eyes, “you know me for a gentleman?”

“Surely, surely!”

“How long have we been here?”

“I, eleven weeks, to-morrow night at midnight. You, nine weeks and three days, at five this afternoon.”

“Have I ever done anything here? Ever touched the broom, or spread the mats, or rolled them up, or found the draughts, or collected the dominoes, or put my hand to any kind of work?”

“Never!”

“Have you ever thought of looking to me to do any kind of work?”

John Baptist answered with that peculiar back-handed shake of the right forefinger which is the most expressive negative in the Italian language.

“No! You knew from the first moment when you saw me here, that I was a gentleman?”

“Altro!”11 returned John Baptist, closing his eyes and giving his head a most vehement toss. The word being, according to its Genoese emphasis, a confirmation, a contradiction, an assertion, a denial, a taunt, a compliment, a joke, and fifty other things, became in the pres- ent instance, with a significance beyond all power of written expression, our familiar English “I believe you!”

“Haha! You are right! A gentleman I am! And a gentleman I’ll live, and a gentleman I’ll die! It’s my intent to be a gentleman. It’s my game. Death of my soul, I play it out wherever I go!”

He changed his posture to a sitting one, crying with a triumphant air:

“Here I am! See me! Shaken out of destiny’s dice-box into the company of a mere smuggler;—shut up with a poor little contraband trader, whose papers are wrong, and whom the police lay hold of, besides, for placing his boat (as a means of getting beyond the frontier) at the disposition of other little people whose papers are wrong; and he instinctively recognises my position, even by this light and in this place. It’s well done! By Heaven! I win, however the game goes.”

Again his moustache went up, and his nose came down.

“What’s the hour, now?” he asked, with a dry hot pallor upon him, rather difficult of association with merriment.

“A little half-hour after mid-day.”

“Good! The President will have a gentleman before him soon. Come! Shall I tell you on what accusation? It must be now, or never, for I shall not return here. Either I shall go free, or I shall go to be made ready for shaving. You know where they keep the razor.”

Signor Cavalletto took his cigarette from between his parted lips, and showed more momentary discomfiture than might have been expected.

“I am a”—Monsieur Rigaud stood up to say it—“I am a cosmopolitan gentleman. I own no particular country. My father was Swiss—Canton de Vaud. My mother was French by blood, English by birth. I myself was born in Belgium. I am a citizen of the world.”

His theatrical air, as he stood with one arm on his hip, within the folds of his cloak, together with his manner of disregarding his companion and addressing the opposite wall instead, seemed to intimate that he was rehearsing for the President, whose examination he was shortly to undergo, rather than troubling himself merely to enlighten so small a person as John Baptist Cavalletto.

“Call me five-and-thirty years of age. I have seen the world. I have lived here, and lived there, and lived like a gentleman everywhere. I have been treated and respected as a gentleman universally. If you try to prejudice me, by making out that I have lived by my wits—how do your lawyers live—your politicians—your intriguers—your men of the Exchange?”

He kept his small smooth hand in constant requisition, as if it were a witness to his gentility, that had often done him good service before.

“Two years ago I came to Marseilles. I admit that I was poor; I had been ill. When your lawyers, your politicians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange, fall ill, and have not scraped money together, they become poor. I put up at the Cross of Gold,—kept then by Monsieur Henri Barronneau—sixty-five at least, and in a failing state of health. I had lived in the house some four months, when Monsieur Henri Barronneau had the misfortune to die;—at any rate, not a rare misfortune, that. It happens without any aid of mine, pretty often.”

John Baptist having smoked his cigarette down to his fingers’ ends, Monsieur Rigaud had the magnanimity to throw him another. He lighted the second at the ashes of the first, and smoked on, looking sideways at his companion, who, pre-occupied with his own case, hardly looked at him.

“Monsieur Barronneau left a widow. She was two-and-twenty. She had gained a reputation for beauty, and (which is often another thing) was beautiful. I continued to live at the Cross of Gold. I married Madame Barronneau. It is not for me to say whether there was any great disparity in such a match. Here I stand, with the contamination of a jail upon me; but it is possible that you may think me better suited to her than her former husband was.”

He had a certain air of being a handsome man—which he was not; and a certain air of being a well-bred man—which he was not. It was mere swagger and challenge; but in this particular, as in many others, blustering assertion goes for proof, half over the world.

“Be it as it may, Madame Barronneau approved of me. That is not to prejudice me I hope?”

His eye happening to light upon John Baptist with this inquiry, that little man briskly shook his head in the negative, and repeated in an argumentative tone under his breath, altro, altro, altro, altro—an infinite number of times.

“Now came the difficulties of our position. I am proud. I say nothing in defence of pride, but I am proud. It is also my character to govern. I can’t submit; I must govern. Unfortunately, the property of Madame Rigaud was settled upon herself. Such was the insane act of her late husband. More unfortunately still, she had relations. When a wife’s relations interpose against a husband who is a gentleman, who is proud, and who must govern, the consequences are inimical to peace. There was yet another source of difference between us. Madame Rigaud was unfortunately a little vulgar. I sought to improve her manners and ameliorate her general tone; she (supported in this likewise by her relations) resented my endeavours. Quarrels began to arise between us; and, propagated and exaggerated by the slanders of the relations of Madame Rigaud, to become notorious to the neighbours. It has been said that I treated Madame Rigaud with cruelty. I may have been seen to slap her face—nothing more. I have a light hand; and if I have been seen apparently to correct Madame Rigaud in that manner, I have done it almost playfully.”

If the playfulness of Monsieur Rigaud were at all expressed by his smile at this point, the relations of Madame Rigaud might have said that they would have much preferred his correcting that unfortunate woman seriously.

“I am sensitive and brave. I do not advance it as a merit to be sensitive and brave, but it is my character. If the male relations of Madame Rigaud had put themselves forward openly, I should have known how to deal with them. They knew that, and their machinations were conducted in secret; consequently, Madame Rigaud and I were brought into frequent and unfortunate collision. Even when I wanted any little sum of money for my personal expenses, I could not obtain it without collision—and I too, a man whose character it is to govern! One night, Madame Rigaud and myself were walking amicably—I may say like lovers—on a height overhanging the sea. An evil star occasioned Madame Rigaud to advert to her relations; I reasoned with her on that subject, and remonstrated on the want of duty and devotion manifested in her allowing herself to be influenced by their jealous ani- mosity towards her husband. Madame Rigaud retorted, I retorted. Madame Rigaud grew warm; I grew warm, and provoked her. I admit it. Frankness is a part of my character. At length, Madame Rigaud, in an access of fury that I must ever deplore, threw herself upon me with screams of passion (no doubt those that were overheard at some distance), tore my clothes, tore my hair, lacerated my hands, trampled and trod the dust, and finally leaped over, dashing herself to death upon the rocks below. Such is the train of incidents which malice has perverted into my endeavouring to force from Madame Rigaud a relinquishment of her rights; and, on her persistence in a refusal to make the concession I required, struggling with her—assassinating her!”

He stepped aside to the ledge where the vine-leaves yet lay strewn about, collected two or three, and stood wiping his hands upon them, with his back to the light.

“Well,” he demanded after a silence, “have you nothing to say to all that?”

“It’s ugly,” returned the little man, who had risen, and was brightening his knife upon his shoe, as he leaned an arm against the wall.

“What do you mean?”

John Baptist polished his knife in silence.

“Do you mean that I have not represented the case correctly?”

“Al-tro!” returned John Baptist. The word was an apology now, and stood for, “Oh, by no means!”

“What then?”

“Presidents and tribunals are so prejudiced.”

“Well!” cried the other, uneasily flinging the end of his cloak over his shoulder with an oath, “Let them do their worst!”

“Truly I think they will,” murmured John Baptist to himself, as he bent his head to put his knife in his sash.

Nothing more was said on either side, though they both began walk- ing to and fro, and necessarily crossed at every turn. Monsieur Rigaud sometimes half stopped, as if he were going to put his case in a new light, or make some irate remonstrance; but Signor Cavalletto continuing to go slowly to and fro at a grotesque kind of jog-trot pace, with his eyes turned downward, nothing came of these inclinings.

Bye-and-bye the noise of the key in the lock arrested them both. The sound of voices succeeded, and the tread of feet. The door clashed, the voices and the feet came on, and the prison-keeper slowly ascended the stairs, followed by a guard of soldiers.

“Now, Monsieur Rigaud,” said he, pausing for a moment at the grate, with his keys in his hand, “have the goodness to come out.”

“I am to depart in state, I see?”

“Why, unless you did,” returned the jailer, “you might depart in so many pieces that it would be difficult to get you together again. There’s a crowd, Monsieur Rigaud, and it doesn’t love you.”

He passed on out of sight, and unlocked and unbarred a low door in the corner of the chamber. “Now,” said he, as he opened it and appeared within, “come out.”

Copyright 2002 by Charles Dickens

Table of Contents

A Dickens Chronologyvii
Introductionxi
Further Readingxxviii
A Note on the Textxxxiii
Little Dorrit1
Appendix IThe Denouement of Little Dorrit861
Appendix IIThe Number Plans863
Appendix IIIThe Marshalsea906
Appendix IVMap of London912
Appendix VRunning Headlines from the 1868 Charles Dickens Edition914
Notes921

Reading Group Guide

1. Imprisonment is a theme in many of Dickens’s novels, but is perhaps most fully realized in Little Dorrit. Discuss the attitudes of Mr. Dorrit and Little Dorrit toward the Marshalsea. How are they similar? Different? To what extent is either character able to overcome feelings of imprisonment once set free?

2. Critics have noted that, just as the text is divided into two books with opposing titles, “Poverty” and “Riches, ” Little Dorrit is organized according to numerous symmetries. (For instance, “Sun and Shadow” of the first chapter.) Identify and discuss some of these symmetries. In what specific ways do they help advance the novel’s complex plot.

3. As in many of his novels, Dickens uses Little Dorrit to criticize government agencies he finds corrupt or incompetent. Discuss Dickens’s portrayal of the Circumlocution Offic. What is the meaning of the office’s name? Did you find Dickens’ critique successful? Why or why not?

4. Discuss the role of female figures in Little Dorrit. In particular, how do figures such as Amy Dorrit compare to other female characters that you have encountered in other novels by Dickens?

5. Dicuss the character of Arthur Clennam. Do you consider him the novel’s hero? Why or why not?

Foreword

1. Imprisonment is a theme in many of Dickens’s novels, but is perhaps most fully realized in Little Dorrit. Discuss the attitudes of Mr. Dorrit and Little Dorrit toward the Marshalsea. How are they similar? Different? To what extent is either character able to overcome feelings of imprisonment once set free?

2. Critics have noted that, just as the text is divided into two books with opposing titles, “Poverty” and “Riches,” Little Dorrit is organized according to numerous symmetries. (For instance, “Sun and Shadow” of the first chapter.) Identify and discuss some of these symmetries. In what specific ways do they help advance the novel’s complex plot.

3. As in many of his novels, Dickens uses Little Dorrit to criticize government agencies he finds corrupt or incompetent. Discuss Dickens’s portrayal of the Circumlocution Offic. What is the meaning of the office’s name? Did you find Dickens’ critique successful? Why or why not?

4. Discuss the role of female figures in Little Dorrit. In particular, how do figures such as Amy Dorrit compare to other female characters that you have encountered in other novels by Dickens?

5. Dicuss the character of Arthur Clennam. Do you consider him the novel’s hero? Why or why not?

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Little Dorrit (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Susuford More than 1 year ago
I first encountered Charles Dickens in high school. My first Dicken's book was A Tale of Two Cities. This book made a lasting impression in me of the gifted writer's genius and ability to reach the heart with a great story, masterfully told. After I read this book, I felt encouraged to find other books by Dickens, and through the years have worked my way through most of his titles. Dickens will challenge you. His books are not "light reading". But if you devote yourself to reading them, you will find rich rewards. His pace in introducing characters is slow and he seems to savor the development of his characters. He takes the time to flesh them out and to slowly build suspense and curiosity in the reader's mind of the fate of his heroes and heroines. I have found that it takes me about 1/3 of the book before I am fully acquainted with the full cast of characters and their place in the story. But this slow development is to be savored and enjoyed, rather than fought. As you read, you will find yourself learning a good deal of classical literature and how well read the typical 19th century reader was! I found the end notes very informative, and book marked that section of the book for easy reference as I read. In doing so, not only did I enjoy the story, but I enhanced my education as I read. In addition, I often referred to the list of characters in the front of the book, as some of the more minor characters take some time to get to know. Little Dorrit is a story that enchanted me. I found myself taken a way to a world of debtor's prisons, family obligations, love, humor, and intrigue. I got angry at some characters, and longed for others to be rescued. Mysteries drove me forward through the book to find their solutions, and in the end, I was very satisfied. This book made me think, and I know I am the better for having read it. Although Little Dorrit was not my favorite of the Dicken's novels, it is a strong book that I will read again, which, for me, is the mark of a truly good book.
PseudoName More than 1 year ago
I had watched the PBS mini series of Little Dorrit and found I had many questions. So, I decided to read the book in order to discover the answers. I had forgotten how challenging and involved Charles Dickens writings are! I did get my questions answered. This is a book which needs to be read slowly with time in-between to digest what has been read. The characters are very complex and sometimes the reader is mystified as to how all of the characters might eventually tie together. I did enjoy the book.
Classic-Bookworm More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is a true Dickens style, incorporating multiple twisted plotlines and then somehow tying it all together at the end. And of course, the memorable characters make the novel even more enjoyable. Amy Dorrit is one of the sweetest characters in literature. And who can forget Mr. Arthur Clennam, Little Dorrit's love interest who takes particular care of the Dorrit family by trying to discover the secrets behind why Mr. Dorrit is in debtor's prison. Edmund Sparkler adds a humorous flavor to the story as the good-for-nothing, says nothing of consequence husband of Amy's older sister, the irrepressible dancer, Fanny. The gentle Plornishes bring to mind the Macawbers of David Copperfield. While the book is indeed long, it nevertheless is worth reading. Whether it is a rainy day outside or one just needs a way to escape, Little Dorrit is well worth the time. After reading the book, I recommend also watching the movie, which is as beautifully created as the Dickens novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I watched the Masterpiece DVD that came out and loved it so much I had to read the book. I loved the books just as much as the movie. It is a great read. It kept me occupied while I had a bad cold. You should also watch the movie. :)
HeresJay_Kesslinger More than 1 year ago
There is no question that this is an incredibly well-written book: An amazing narrative, well-developed characters, and psychological insight rarely seen in other books. I found that there were a couple challenges for me: This book is extremely long, and the plot has a tendency to be tedious in places to this post-modern reader's mind. In spite of that: it's a must-read.
gypsysmom on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I listened to this book. I can't say it was my favourite Dickens. There was too much extremism in living circumstances for it to be really enjoyable. However, it does give one a flavour for the English legal system at the time. Dickens' opinion of the system and government bureaucracy is quite evident.
jmchshannon on LibraryThing 19 days ago
That synopsis does not do this book justice. As anyone who has read other works by Dickens, his books are very rarely as simple as this synopsis would imply. However, considering the novel's length, a short synopsis is as good as any.Given my unabashed love for all things Dickens, I am absolutely crestfallen that I could not rave about Little Dorrit. Instead, I have very mixed feelings about this monstrosity of a novel. For one thing, Dickens, in my opinion, is the master of suspense and of taking a complex set of characters and interweaving their lives in unique and unexpected ways. There was almost none of that here. The story is predictable with very little suspense. The characters are too black-and-white with almost none of the moral ambiguity that makes his characters so memorable and also helps build tension for the reader. As a result, I lost my desire to read this book about halfway through it. The predictability prevented me from being truly vested in any of the characters and staying actively engaged in the story. In fact, I struggled to stay awake while reading it.However, there are still some very Dickensian things to love about this story. His descriptions of 1850s London remain absolutely stunning. The reader can all but smell the streets, hear the sounds of the horses' hooves as they clatter down the street and feel the despair of life in debtors' prison rising up from the pages. The picture he paints of London is very raw and real, and in a historical context, more accurate for what an everyday person's life was like than anything by Austen, the Bronte sisters or other English authors from a similar period who focused only on upper class society.Staying true to form, Dickens has several pointed critiques of society he brings forward with Little Dorrit. Given his own personal history of life in the workhouse with a father who lived in a debtors' prison, Dickens typically mentions the downtrodden and the poor in his work. This time, he attacks the government and the idea of locking people away for failure to pay their bills and does so with gusto. From the not-so-tongue-in-cheek discussions of a bureaucracy that prides itself on doing absolutely nothing to the mindless following of the masses of the advice of the supposedly very wealthy to the discussions of life inside a debtors' prison, Dickens does not pull any punches in his critique of them all. Through his eyes, the reader understands that those government forms one has to fill out in triplicate are there only to keep you busy while preventing any actual work from occurring, that in London at that time, one could be imprisoned for failure to pay back one pound or one hundred pounds, and that money or piety does not buy happiness. It seems that the more things change, the more things stay the same.I have debated with myself for the last few days on whether I truly enjoyed this novel or not. I cannot say definitively one way or the other. There was a lot to learn about society back then, as there always is in his works. However, nothing took me by surprise, and I had to remind myself that I needed to continue to read it. The idea of a debtors' prison definitely had me thinking about that entire system, why it was ever created, and wondering if we are really much better off without it. There are only a few minor characters which are truly memorable, but most, I feel, are just caricatures of what they could have been. In the end, I would recommend it to others, but I would do so with the utmost caution. While it does have topics that last throughout the ages, it really is not a book for someone who has never before read a classic. I have to say that I am glad I read it, yet even happier I finished it.
Seajack on LibraryThing 22 days ago
Free at last, Free at last! Not really, but nearly two months and 32 listening hours later, I can move on!Now I'm a fan of Victorian Lit, and have enjoyed many Dickens adventures, but this one I'd rate as suitable for hard-core fans only. It's dated, with the premise of debtors' prisons and the Circumlocution Office. Yes, we have red tape today, but also Freedom of Information Acts, etc. I just couldn't relate to the circumstances here. As for the writing itself, the subplots seemed to be going nowhere except to serve as serialization fodder (word count). By the middle, I feared the ending would be hurriedly wrapped up; indeed - that turned out to be so true that I swear I missed some points by not paying the strictest of attention every single minute to the audio.Bottom line: I found it a less interesting/exciting/compelling version of "Our Mutual Friend". Those who haven't read (much) Dickens, or are trying this one to "give him another chance" likely won't finish the book ... and I wouldn't blame them.
charlie68 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Good book by Mr. Dickens although didn't blow me away. In fact some of the book was very tough going. But there are good themes and the usual great characters and settings which is pretty much standard. The ending was confusing I ended up having to read it a couple of times before I got it.
kambrogi on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Little Dorrit, the daughter of a debtor, is born and raised in a debtor¿s prison in England. Gentle and self-sacrificing, the motherless child grows up to be a generous young woman, an angel of mercy to her father and numerous others, as well as her thankless brother and sister. She is delivered by Arthur Clennam, the true protagonist here, a middle-aged man who was raised in a cold and cruel household. He sets out to discover the source of his own father¿s unspoken regret at the time of his death, and settles on the Dorrit family as a vehicle by which to make amends. The book is peopled by the most extensive and amazing cast of characters I have yet discovered in a Dickens novel, and each and every one simply walks off the page. I¿m sure I shall live with them for the rest of my life, just as if they had peopled my neighborhood as a child. This is Dickens¿ great gift, and it is not in short supply here.This book was originally written in magazine installments, and so it does seem to last longer than necessary. For my taste, Dickens wastes too much time attacking his favorite targets: Society and Bureaucracy. Whole chapters are devoted to satirizing them, and although admittedly humorous, most of the characters thus employed play no other part in the novel except to be the butts of his jokes. Still, the story is a pleasant journey for anyone who likes to be immersed in a complex human tale that ultimately ties up every one of its dozens of plot threads.
atimco on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Little Dorrit, published in 1855¿1857, is often described as Dickens' creative re-imagining of his experiences at the Marshalsea Prison, where his father was imprisoned for debt in 1824 when Charles was twelve. The Marshalsea looms over this story in various forms; sometimes it feels ominous and other times it is congenially familiar. The characters are wonderful, as is usual with Dickens. I think John Chivery is my favorite. He proves that heroism doesn't have to be dashing. More often than not, it's humble. I also love the Plornishes, especially Mrs. Plornish's linguistic abilities. Flora is also so much fun... I know people just like her, who never use punctuation in either their speech or writing. She drove me crazy at first, especially with her constant silly references to her previous love for Arthur. But she grew on me and I started to enjoy her scenes. Dickens can be so funny!Little Dorrit herself is so sweet and selfless that she is a little hard to believe, though most people will be able to empathize with her when she is walked over by her family. She is a character that I would seek to emulate, rather than immediately identify with. I don't know anyone in real life who would be so patient with selfish, thoughtless family members; I know I couldn't! The villains are as varied as in real life. Rigaud Blandois, that "gentleman," is insufferable. His speeches of self-justication and self-satisfaction are just sickening. Miss Wade is simply mesmerizing... so much of what she says *could* have a basis in reality, but is so twisted. Is it really okay to adopt an orphan and raise her to be a servant to one's own daughter? But it's all in the interpretation of reality, and her bitterness is clearly wrong. It's the same with Mrs. Clennam, that merciless, religious woman. She is legalism personified. And who could forget Mr. Merdle! I knew we were setting up for a big fall when Dickens was hyping him so much, but I didn't suspect what actually happens. Other "public" villains include the family Barnacle, who cling stubbornly and uselessly to the ship of State, and also what Dickens is pleased to call the "Circumlocution Office." This is his name for all the bureaucracy in English government that ever stifled good sense and public well-being ¿ and he is not kind to it. Unfortunately for this novel, I have been reading it since May (it's now August), due to various life circumstances and general busyness. I usually read very quickly and it's unusual for me to spend over two months in one book. And so I felt that this story dragged, and my emotional involvement with its characters was less than it might have been. I have enjoyed many of Dickens' books and am used to his sprawling plots, but this one had so many subplots going in so many different directions, it rather faltered at the end. So much was left unresolved. It isn't that everyone has to have a happy or at least satisfying ending. They just need to have an ending, period! Also, the plot device by which Little Dorrit becomes possessed of her fortune is so convoluted. I was shamefacedly thankful for the breakdown in my Penguin Classics copy which explained all the events that transpired before the story started. Arthur Clennam's intuition that there was some dark dealing in his family's past that wronged the Dorrits was also a little too precipitate; how could he have known? There were moments when I was overtaken by the mastery of Dickens' storytelling, like when the businesslike Pancks betrays a fondness for the happy little Italian, Baptiste Cavalletto. It is also very poignant when Arthur keeps trying to convince himself he is not in love with Pet and when Mr. Meagles tells him about Pet's dead twin sister. I was rather in awe of Dickens right there; it was perfectly put. I felt so much for the Meagles and for Arthur at that moment.However, despite its great characters and moments of genius, Little Dorrit is not one of my favorite Dickens novels. In fact
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing 27 days ago
This is a dark, even cynical look at 19th century British society in general and the effects of imprisonment on the soul. The first two reactions I had upon finishing was that no one should try to read it in its entire version, get an abridged copy. It was originally puplished in 19 monthly installments, and to read it in the complete version all at once is as nauseating as eating an entire chocolate cake at one sitting. Dickens belabors every point and over emphasizes most characteristics. After the 100th time Rigaud's moustache went up under his nose and his nose came down over his moustache I found the characterization rather like nails on a chalk board. As cute as Flora's rambling stream of consciousness monologues were, we didn't need quite so many to get the point.My second observation was that perhaps if Mr. Dickens had been able to see both halves of humanity as being equally human he wouldn't have been so imprisoned in his own bigotry and perhaps would have been less cynical. There's not a fully realized, psychologically healthy woman in the whole 895 page (Penguin edition) book. There's the Good Mother, Mrs. Meagles(who serves no other purpose), the Bad Mother, Mrs. Clennam - imprisoned in her unrelentingly, impersonal Calvanism; the romantically deluded Minni Meagles; the haughty Fanny, imprisoned though not at all unhappily, by her social climbing; the pitiful Affery imprisoned by both class and sex; the Strong Woman - Miss Wade - very accurately depicted as a pre-Freudian paranoid; Mrs. Merdle, The Boosom; and the poodle-named Tattycoram who could have been whole, and would have been had she been an adopted orphan boy named Fido, but as a mere female needed only to fight the temptation to consider herself anyone's equal. Oh, and let us not forget Little Doormat herself. One sentence from the book gives a complete description: "Little Dorrit yielded willingly." That she did, to everyone in everything. There's not an ounce of self preservation about the little woman. The interplay of the need for self preservation and the urge toward altruism makes for human drama. There's no drama in this character, because she has no self, only the urge to be of service. If one is willing to overlook Dickins' sexism, as one must overlook other authors' racism, we can appreciate the book as excellent social commentary and for the perfect construction of the Circumlocution Office - the epitomy of bureacracy, and a wonderful foreshadowing of our financial collapse and the effects of Bernie Madoff in the person of Mr. Merdle.
idiotgirl on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Audiobook. I do love this book and loved it again. A good book for our times with the ponzi scheme that is one of its major plot schemes. The world would be a tricky place right now if all debtors were sent to prison. This is a complex, somber, fine book.
firebird013 on LibraryThing 27 days ago
The complex structure of this book adds to its power; when a good man falls on hard times in a merciless world, who will help him? Little Dorrit is wonderful creation by Dickens who enters the heart; a moving book about friendship, courtship and greed. The evocation of the debtor's prison in London is masterful.
joshberg on LibraryThing 27 days ago
As a recent Guardian article pointed out, the financial skullduggery at the heart of all the misery here eerily foreshadows our current economic predicament. I read this one serially over a few months, and enjoyed that rhythm, though I had some quibbles with the plot (most notably Mrs. Clennam's fiddly grand revelation towards the end, which one has to read twice to understand and thus lose the dramatic moment). The novel didn't make as much of an impression on me as Bleak House, but I felt it was on a par with Great Expectations--wonderful language, characterization, dialogue, and sly humor. Lovely final, bittersweet Dickensian line: "They went quietly down into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed; and as they passed along in sunshine and shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant and the froward and the vain, fretted, and chafed, and made their usual uproar."
MickyFine on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Recently returned to London after spending twenty years abroad working in China, Arthur Clennam finds himself taking an interest in Amy Dorrit, his mother's seamstress, and her father, William Dorrit, a long-time inmate, due to his debts, in the Marshalsea Prison. As Arthur befriends Little Dorrit, he encounters a wide cast of characters on whom the shadow of the Marshalsea falls. While there are dark and conniving characters and others whom are simply superficial and flawed, Little Dorrit remains constant and is the impetus for far more changes in his life than Arthur ever could have imagined.Charles Dickens, for all his flaws, knew how to create a compelling novel. While there's no denying that he created some hefty tomes (my edition of the novel comes in at 860 pages), they are filled with rich characters and expansive and intricately detailed plots. In this novel, Dickens begins with a mystery that slowly unravels over the course of the narrative, shedding new light on relationships and characters but always leaving the reader wondering just where the plot might be going. The characters are vivid from Amy Dorrit's diminutive stature to Pancks and his hair that defies gravity to Rigaud with his terrifying smile. And while Little Dorrit is very demure as all of Dickens' idealized heroines are, she still has an independent spirit that is never quite subdued regardless of her circumstance. In addition to the plots and characters, Dickens includes some truly delightful turns of phrase. His wit comes through in a multitude of places, whether he be ranting about the general ineffectualness of government or describing a character with a healthy dose of snark. Full of sympathetic characters and a plot that pulls you on to discover what will happen to all of them, Little Dorrit also explores the long-term effects of imprisonment and poverty on the psyche with pathos. A delight throughout, the novel will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you reach the final page.
DSeanW on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Dickens functions in his books the way people wish God did in our world, always arranging every little event and chance encounter and directing them towards a neat and tidy moral finish where the good prosper and the wicked die in house fires. Very satisfying.
maneekuhi on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Not a review. (How can anyone review Dickens, after 150 years, after his books have been read by 2B people??) So, here are my notes on Little Dorrit.......Long at 855 pages, often boring. Paragraphs ran on for more than two pages. It often took a character 5 pages to make a point, and even then the point was often unclear. Amy Dorrit, sooooo, soooo good you wanted to retch, and couldn't help praying for the same fate as befell Little Nell. It took Arthur 750 pages to realize they were in love, then another 50 before he shared that revelation with LD, or did he??? Then monumental turns and twists in the plot would be quickly executed with a sentence or two. I finally began to get some enjoyment from the story once into the second half, but the ups and downs continued. LD was a poor choice, I should have read Tale of 2C, or Great E ( dual Oprah choices recently announced and pub'd as one book). Will I read more Dickens - not likely but if so it will be a long time..
fillpail on LibraryThing 27 days ago
I just finished Little Dorrit and feel that it speaks to our contemporary social, political and moral problems. This novel seems to me to be quite different from so many of Dickens' novels; the main character is introduced not as a child but as a middle-aged man. The main female character is not vapid, but an interesting person. The writing seems to be even more symbolic than usual. Of course one might consider the main characters to be the Office of Circumlocution and the Marshalsea Prison. Both of these institutions represent the class-bound corruption of England. The Office of Circumlocution is, of course, the corrupt civil service system. It was supposedly reformed in 1855, but in reality the senior civil service remained in the hands of the upper classes. Dickens called them the Barnacle and Stiltstocking families. Their power was later illustrated in a novel, and then mini-series, entitled A Very British Coup. One important part of Little Dorrit is that the English aristocracy had little interest in, and actually opposed, the progress of invention in England and indeed tried to stifle it. Dickens was prophetic when he has the engineer Doyle begin to work for a foreign power (obviously Germany) from whom he received many honors. Germany, with its Realschulen and technische Hochschulen and emphasis in engineering and other practical matters (such as the health and education of its citizens) moved ahead of Britain by the end of the century. The Marshalsea Prison also illustrates the power of the wealthy in that it was run for profit and clearly favored the well-established. The article about the Marshalsea in Wikipedia is quite enlightening. The brilliance of Dickens is shown in how he parallels the lives of the prisoners of Marshalsea and the prisoners of Society. Of course Dickens indicated this duality by dividing the novel into two books: Poverty and Riches. I was very much taken by how this novel speaks to our present condition; the English and increasingly the American senior civil services seem to be reserved for the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings. The disregard for progress in engineering is certainly prevalent in the U.S. and probably England. In today's CBS News Money Watch section on the internet, there is much information about the banks' loan modification programs which seem to be run by the Office of Circumlocution. The character of Merdle appears again regularly in the news media. Suicide is no longer required. Of course we must remember that the reason we read Dickens is that he always has a compelling story; I became quickly involved in the affairs of Arthur Clennam and Little Dorrit and fascinated again by the great eccentric characters always present in a Dickens novel.
samfsmith on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The theme of this Dickens novel is imprisonment, and many of the characters are in prisons, either of their own making or forced on them. As usual with Dickens, it is long, convoluted, full of coincidences and fortunate happenstance, but still satisfying.
Smiley on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A decided Dickens masterpiece. Compelling but it bogs a bit in the middle (Italy) and it suffers from a few of the Great One's particular flaws. On the whole I liked Bleak House better and this is just a slight cut above Our Mutual Friend.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 5 months ago
It is a rather mixed bag of mystery and intrigue between characters both well-off and not. The theme of prisons and imprisonment permeates this book with the title character residing with her family in the infamous "Marshalsea" prison for the first part of the book. The main plot is focused on the efforts of Arthur Clennam to assist Little (Amy) Dorrit's family in paying their debts so as to escape the prison and Arthur's own quest to solve the mystery of his family & identity. The Dorrits succeed in leaving the prison due to discovered inheritance. The novel moves on to the second part and advancement of the love interests of several characters along with new developments in the life of Arthur. One of Dickens most complicated tales, the novel has several "shady" characters that create difficult situations. Moreover Dickens demonstrates some of his most effective satire in the description of the Circumlocution Office and its administrators, the predatory Barnacles. This novel exhibits some of the characteristic traits for which Dickens is famous, including a plethora of characters, atmospheric descriptions and a somewhat convoluted plot line. While exhibiting these traits it also has two of the most decent and truly good protagonists (if not hero and heroine) in all of the Dickens which I have read. That Arthur Clennam and Little Dorrit (Amy) finally join together in wedded bliss is a consummation not unexpected and certainly deserved. Arthur has survived his 'quest' for identity and understanding and while not entirely successful he has reached a point from which he can satisfactorily go forward with his life and with his Amy.For this reader the novel was both satisfying and perturbing. The continual railing against the Circumlocution Office and skewering of debtors' prisons with the 'Marshalsea' was not convincing and the weakness of the plot undermined the quality of the novel. However, the fecundity of curious and wonderful characters who consistently charmed and challenged the reader with their psychological complexity helped to overcome all other weaknesses. And this is the great strength of Dickens as a novelist which he demonstrates again and again as he continues to increase his mastery of this literary form.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting story. However, this copy s vety corrupted. I thought at first that my NOOK had gone haywire, but the pages themselves just suddenly repeat to previous ones. Solution? Buy a better copy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And very long.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago