Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens

Ah, Dickens. So much poverty! So much wealth! So many stupid people doing stupid things! I love Dickens.

Little Dorrit isn't your everyday Dickens, however. This is no A Christmas Carol sugarplum: most of the characters are despicable, or completely clueless, or both. The novel is, however, a wonderfully written biting satire of 19th century manners.

Are you a gentleman consigned to the debtors' prison? Shamelessly ask for money, and pretend your children don't work, because it's beneath you to have children with jobs!

What's that? You say you inherited a bunch of money, and can now afford to travel extensively? Pretend you were never poor! Whitewash your family's history and essentially deny your youngest child her childhood memories! Obviously.

Pretty much, that's Little Dorrit, but the novel itself is much funnier, much more suspenseful, and no, I didn't just give away the ending. In fact, there's a whole second half after that last bit, believe it or not. Little Dorrit is not little. It is long. It is what I call a weighty tome.

The last time I read Dickens was in high school, as I recall - although a lot has happened between high school and today, so I might have read another somewhere along the way - and I didn't really enjoy it much.

Perhaps, if I'd had a well annotated copy of the book I read (if you read Little Dorrit, you have to invest in a well annotated copy, or most of the jokes will zing right by you, unless you're an expert in 19th century banking scandals). Also, judging by the incredibly loooooooooooooooong introduction to the book, Dickens became increasingly jaded and sarcastic as he grew older, so that would explain the zingers I enjoyed so much. Not the icky preservative-laden snack food zingers.

The descriptions are marvelous, and capture the time period and the individual settings brilliantly. It's easy to imagine the floor plan of the debtors' prison, and what the cell looked like. The gaudy clothes worn by Little Dorrit's suitor are easily imagined, particularly if you read the end notes. As always, Dickens exudes the atmosphere of London, and peppers its streets with hysterical charwomen, evil book keepers, and attractive emotionally clueless 40-something men that you will doubtless wish would help life you out of poverty.

1 comment:

  1. I have the Masterpiece PBS version recorded. So far I've only watched one installment because I don't think I get it. Maybe I will get an annotated book, as you recommend.