(Note: I must admit I was surprised when I read Bonnie’s review. Though I studied many classic novels in university, including many books by Charles Dickens, I had never heard of Little Dorrit. I’m excited to find this novel and read it for myself. Thanks Bonnie!)
Charles Dickens first published Little Dorrit, his eleventh novel, in 1855-1857 as a serial novel. It was illustrated, as were many of his other novels, by Hablot Knight Browne (also known as “Phiz”). At the time, Little Dorrit enjoyed great popularity, as Dickens notes in his preface when it was published in novel form in 1857: “In the Preface to Bleak House I remarked that I had never had so many readers. In the Preface to its next successor, Little Dorrit, I have still to repeat the same words.” Since then, however, Little Dorrit has become one of Dickens’ lesser known novels.
A Brief Summary of Little Dorrit
Little Dorrit is a rags to riches novel focusing on the main character, Amy Dorrit, affectionately called “Little Dorrit” by her friend Arthur Clennam. Amy was born in the Marshalsea Prison after her father was imprisoned there for his debts. At the time the novel opens, Amy is in her late teens, a hard-working, compassionate young woman struggling to keep her father and two older siblings supported in prison by doing odd sewing jobs for Arthur’s mother.
Arthur has just returned from overseas after his father’s death to settle his affairs in England. He becomes curious about Amy’s family and brings them to the attention of Mr. Pancks, who discovers that Mr. Dorrit is actually the heir to an immense fortune. He is released from prison and heads for the continent with his family to live as befits a gentleman of his fortune.
In Europe, Amy’s older sister meets and marries Mr. Sparkler, the stepson of a rich and prominent Englishman, Mr. Merdle. Both Arthur and Mr. Dorrit choose to invest their fortunes with Mr. Merdle. However, when Mr. Merdle commits suicide and it’s found out that he was a fraud, the Dorrits’ fortune disappears and Arthur ends up in the Marshalsea. It takes all of Arthur’s friends to get him out of the Marshalsea and into a happy life with his beloved Amy.
A Deeper Look at Little Dorrit
While modern readers may find themselves bored with some of the satire that Dickens directed at the England of his day, the novel rewards the patient reader. Mr. Merdle’s fall calls to mind the Great Depression and other recessions since then. The novel shows the extremes of poverty and riches and the problems with both, including the physical and emotional effects of families being held in debtors’ prisons.
As with any of Dickens’ novels, Little Dorrit introduces some memorable and lovable characters. Josanna Simpson says that “it is a tale about a compassionate young woman, Amy Dorrit, who remains constant in the midst of change.” The reader is always rooting for Amy, who constantly puts her family and friends first and herself last. There is also Mr. Pancks, described as a steam ship and always twisting up his hair; Rigaud of the amazing mustache and sinister purpose; and Flora, Arthur’s old girlfriend, who speaks in incoherently amusing gushes of conversation completely without punctuation.
Dickens also provides enough twists of plot to keep the reader in suspense. Even seemingly minor characters like Flora and Rigaud have an integral purpose in the novel. In the end, it seems that every character is tied to another as the final mystery is revealed.
Overall, Dickens’ eleventh novel is worth a second look by modern readers.
Bonnie Way is a blogger, wife, and mom with three daughters under five. She is currently trying to finish her final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading, rock climbing and watching movies with her family. You can find her blogging about juggling all her activities at www.thekoalabearwriter.com.