Sigh. This is definitely one of my favorite Dickens books thus far. It's also the second one I was inspired to read after watching a long miniseries, the other being Bleak House, both of which cinematic versions were done by the amazingly talented Andrew Davies. And both of which prodded me to enjoy the likewise wonderful books.
This tale, while fairly comparable to Bleak House in length, is not quite as dark. Admittedly, there are various mysteries, and secrets of the past, and a murderer, and a creepy old house, and bureaucracy. (It's still Dickens, after all!) But otherwise, it doesn't have quite the same feel of fog and death as Bleak House.
The story centers around two main characters. "Little" Dorrit, also known as Amy Dorrit, is a sweet girl who has grown up serving her father in a debtor's prison. Despite the horrible circumstances and hard life of mostly thankless service, she is ever eager and content to bring light and comfort to those she loves.
The other main character, Arthur Clennam, is one of the most honorable and thoughtful gentlemen I've encountered in literature. He is seeking to uncover a mystery in his family's past, make wrongs right, protect the helpless, and sacrifice his personal desires for those he loves.
Yes, the main characters are similar. Hmm, I wonder if that leads to anything... ;-)
ThemesI continue to be blown away and enraptured by this writer. Dickens has such a way of building compelling and exciting plots, while also interweaving themes and lessons that penetrate all his cast of characters and situations. In Little Dorrit, these are the two that stuck out to me the most:
- Prisons: They come in all forms, and some of us go into them willingly.
- Treasures: What will last? What should we invest our lives in?
Book or Movie?
Of course books are always wonderful because you get characters' thoughts, more great Dickens lines, and more minor characters who get cut out in the films. But - Now, close your eyes, Dickens purists! Are you gone? Well, as much as I always say books are better, I actually think the recent miniseries might have improved on the plot a little. It's tighter, for one thing, and so well done that it's impossible to not be sympathetic with some of the silliest characters. And a few little things got added in with the main characters, just little touches that didn't change anything, but made the story sweeter and more accessible. But that didn't make reading the book less enjoyable.
Who are the Barnacles?
I must mention the esteemed family in charge of the Circumlocution office. If you want information or desire to do something productive in England, they are adept at giving out a hundred different forms, and then sending those forms through dozens of committees, to discourage you from the unhealthy practice of doing. We don't have anyone like them in the United States, of course. No, never.
You might like it!
Overall, this was a delightful, heart-wrenching, painful-but-good-ending, satisfying, 800-page book. Amy Dorrit is one of my heroes now.
Which is why my desk now bears her name in honor.
First image from Victorianweb, scanned by Philip V. Allingham.
Film screencaps from Enchanted Serenity