Top positive review
Charles Dickens at his finest
on 29 January 2016
Out of all the editions of Little Dorrit available in Kindle Edition, I chose to review this one, because it's illustrated with original engravings that were commissioned by Dickens himself. One other edition also includes "illustrations" that turned out to be classical paintings that have nothing to do with the story. Quite a few Kindle editions of classics do that. I don't know why; the original illustrations to many of them are available on Wikimedia Commons for free download. Anyway, there's nothing like reading a classic with illustrations that follow what the writer him/herself imagined. And, this edition includes a detailed life of Charles Dickens by Thomas Seccombe, and an introduction with interpretations of Dickens' characterisation and plot by Edwin Percy Whipple. Both were famous writers during Dickens' own time.
The book itself: It opens with one of the villains of the story, a convicted murder named Rigaud, describing to his cell-mate how he murdered his wife. When taken to a hearing, he apparently manages to talk his way out of it, and later goes free. I didn't call him THE villain, though he has the makings for it, because there's so much to the story that one single villain couldn't possibly threaten to bring it all down. In fact, the only one who is ultimately threatened by him at the climax of the story, could also be said to be one of the villains -- a typical DIckensian twist.
There is a lot to the story, so many villains, so many heroes, so many diverse characters with intertwining paths, and satire at its finest. Just a few of the elements:
The Office of Circumlocution is the great bureaucracy that must have its fingers in every pie. In the story, in Dickens' classic style, that's the official name for it. "Circumlocution" literally means to talk in circles, to over state something, to make a short story long. It means piles and piles of paperwork just to get a simple task accomplished, and months and months of waiting for approval. We still have such offices today.
Marshalsea debtors' prison is an institution that appears in many of Dickens' stories, beginning with Pickwick Papers. Dickens would know a lot about that, as his own father had been incarcerated there.
Then, there's Mr. Merdle, who is the man everybody loves, because he runs an investment scheme guaranteed to make everyone rich -- think, "bubble". That's only a few of the moving forces in the narrative.
William Dorrit is an aristocratic gentleman who fell on hard times, and has been in the Marshalsea debtors' prison for many years. He is highly respected by the other prisoners, and lives off contributions. He has three children, the youngest, Amy, the one referred to as "Little Dorrit", grew up there, and is now a young lady. She is one of the few in the story who has no pretensions.
One of the others with no pretensions, is Arthur Clennam, the other main character. There are a few other noble characters: such as the Meagles family; Daniel Royce the inventor, who's project is being held up by the Office of Circumlocution; Pancks, the debt collector, who looks at first like he could be one of the villains (he's collecting debts, isn't he), but is actually a hero in his simple way; and more.
The story is in two parts: William Dorrit in the great Marshalsea prison, and William Dorrit after the tide has turned, out of Marshalsea prison living the good life. We see how perceptions and attitudes change for all but Little Dorrit. If anything, she's more miserable in the second half, not allowed to just be herself. Through both parts, there are so many sub plots, which I've only scratched the surface, but Dickens masterfully ties them all together in a thoroughly satisfying way.