True to my personal goal I finished Little Dorrit in June with a day to spare! I found that as I neared the end it got a lot faster (kind of like life…). I had read A Tale of Two Cities for school about six years ago and remember only enjoying it, not anything stylistic or critical. There will be spoilers in this review, basically because it’s impossible to talk about a 900 page book without giving at least something away!
I wrote about the first half of the novel here. In the second book the newly-rich Dorrit family is traveling in Europe and meets up with characters both familiar (Mrs. Merdle, for instance) and new (Mrs. General). Of all the opportunities their new-found wealth has given them, the biggest is the opportunity to put on airs. Mr. Dorrit suffers from an immense pride that threatens his relationship with his younger daughter; I silently scolded him several times. Fanny, on the other hand, becomes much more likeable and affectionate with Amy after the uncle defends Little Dorrit. This inheritance is not the only change of fortune, however, as extraordinary disclosures both public and private affect all the characters by the end of the book.
I suspect it to be no great coincidence that as a whole, the characters who are most sincere and most happy are those who live simply without extreme ambition, either social or financial (which often dictate each other). Those who scheme and climb, however, build castles and facades whose very fabrication is a constant threat. Based on this novel I would much rather live in Bleeding Hearts Yard than any crumbling mansion!
Even beyond social commentary, I love how Dickens paints his characters, unique caricatures each with a trademark feature expressing their deeper self. Flora maintains a stream of friendly but nearly incomprehensible prattle, while Mrs. Merdle is simply “the Bosom.” Pancks, who became one of my favorite characters, is described as a tugboat constantly letting out steam and pushing people or plots into motion.
The cunning and violent Rigaud (alias Blandois) is a stereotypical villain straight out of a gothic melodrama–a swarthy foreigner with a mustache, cape, and talent for striking fear into innocent hearts. Those whose crimes are more insidious are far less identifiable, such as the Barnacle family. I’m not sure if Dickens intended this contrast, but it certainly struck me how much easier it is to beware the first type!
The only aspects I was torn about in this book were the May/December romance and Tattycoram. Normally I do not like large age gaps, especially when Arthur kept calling Little Dorrit “my child,” but it seemed to work her because he is so young for his years and she so old. Tattycoram complained of her treatment in the Meagles household as always being jealous of Pet and treated like a child. I actually sided with her for most of the book, but after hearing the bitter Miss Wade recount her own similar situation and denounce any kindness as condescension I saw that such a view can be false. I was more sympathetic then to Tattycoram’s repentant return to the family, especially considering she was always meant to be a companion rather than a daughter, but I still think a middle ground would have been more appropriate, in which she was given a chance for intimacy.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially the way in which the large cast of characters all wound up connecting and interacting (an aspect expanded on in the introduction). You could easily play the two degrees of separation here, and yet due to his deft characterizations I had no trouble telling everyone apart. It may be a bit before I pick up another, but I know not to be intimidated anymore by the length.
This book is my first for the Classics Challenge, and is also on the Guardian list (though not intended for that challenge).