Summary of Dickens’ Little Dorrit Read-along Experience

The Dickens’ read-along with my friend extended from November 2012 to almost the end of February 2013. Reading more or less Issue by Issue as they were published gave a different flavour to the experience as it kept one always conscious of what it might have been like to be following this story as it was published: a little like following Downton Abbey on a weekly basis on PBS. For anyone who likes notes for a Dickens’ read and is considering Little Dorrit do check out the posts back in the archives and see if they are helpful to you.

I became  most aware of the techniques Dickens’ employed to ensure sufficient interest in buying the next issue.It was also interesting that in the last issue he hurriedly tied everything up as neatly and as quickly as possible because there as no need for any further suspense.

It seems clear looking back that it was not about wealth or happiness or marriage for these are far less interesting than poverty and squalor, unhappiness and maltreatment, failure or lonliness. The marriage of Arthur and Amy is anti-climactic and I, for one, felt a little let down for some reason or other. They “went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness…to give a mother’s care …to Fanny’s neglected children no less than their own..and to give a tender nurse and friend to Tip for some few years.” Doyce is totally reconciled with Arthur, Pet is at home with her mother, Amy shakes John Chivery’s hand, Mr. Pancks has become chief clerk to Doyce and Clennam and has Flora on one arm and Maggy on the other as the happy couple signed the register.

Was anything  not resolved to your satisfaction?

In his introduction to my Modern Library edition of Little Dorrit, David Gates writes that after 1850, Dickens’ novels “tended to be more elaborately constructed and harsher and less buoyant in tone than his earlier works”. These late novels include Bleak House (1853), Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1857), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861).

I have not read Bleak House and am considering it as my next Dickens read. Or a reread of A Tale of Two Cities? Or Edwin Drood? hmmmm   Or perhaps it is time to read one of the novels written prior to 1850 and see if Gates’ observations hold true?

Well, first I will watch the BBC video version of Little Dorrit with Matthew McFadyen, Claire Foy, Tom Courtney as William Dorrit, Alun Armstrong as Flintwinch, Eddy Marsan as Pancks, Amanda Redman as Mrs. Merdle and James Fleet as Frederick Dorrit.  Anyone seen this?

Dickens Update 22; Book 2: Issue 19 and 20

In Chapter XXX,Closing In, three men approach Clennam & Co at dawn: Rigaud, Mr. Jean Baptist(Cavelletto) and Mr. Pancks. They enter Mrs. Clennam’s presence and are sent out by her. Flintwinch sends Affery away but she refuses to go (reader cheers loudly!). Affery says “I’ll up for Arthur when he has nothing left, and is ill, and in prison, and can’t up for himself. I will. I will. I will!”

Rigaud reviews his previous business with Mrs. Clennam and clarifies for the reader that he asked for 1,000 poundsfor something he had to sell which, if not bought, would compromise Mrs. Clennam. Now he doubles the amount. He demands payment for his hotel bill for which Flintwinch gives him the money. Mrs. Clennam says she cannot meet the demand but does want to buy the paper Rigaud Blandois has. She will not state what she will pay. Rigaud proceeds to outline what he knows about the family beginning with Arthur’s great uncle forcing Arthur’s father (the nephew) to marry Mrs. Clennam and her seeking revenge upon that uncle. It reveals that Arthur is not Mrs. Clennam’s son and also that Jeremiah had a twin brother (Mrs. Flintwinch was not always dreaming then!) Rigaud also reveals that he has put the offending paper in Little Dorrit’s hands and his demands must be met before the ringing of the prison bell that very night. Mrs. Clennam sets off for the Marshalsea.

In Chapter XXXI, Closed, describes Mrs. Clennam’s journey to the Marshalsea. John takes her to Little Dorrit and she requests the package left by Rigaud. Mrs. Clennam asks Amy to read the contents and asks her not to tell Arthur until she herself is dead. She also asks Amy to return to the house with her and inform Rigaud that she has read the papers and he need not approach her on this matter. They went back to the house.

At the gateway came “a thundering sound”. Little Dorrit held Mrs. Clennam back and the house “opened asunder in fifty places, collapsed, and fell.” Mrs. Clennam was paralyzed from that moment for the three years until she died. The body of Rigaud is found but not that of Flintwinch. Affery believes he escaped with various securities. Affery had followed Mrs. Clennam to the prison so was not killed in the house.

In Chapter XXXII, Going, Pancks and Casby have an interesting exchange. Casby has instructed Pancks to “squeeze more money from the Bleeding Heart Yard tenants. He follows Casby to Bleeding Heart Yard and has it out with him by giving a speech, the cutting off Casby’s long white locks and also the brim of his hat.

In Chapter XXXIII, Going!, Dickens recaps for us what the characters are up to: Little Dorrit caring for Arthur in Marshalsea; Fanny fretting upon her tortoise shell knife; Tip weak and poatronising Fanny; Mrs. Merdle “warring with Fanny”; Mr. Sparkler declaring his wife and mother to be very fine women; Mrs. General seeking a reference letter.  “Amy’s sole reliance during this heavy period was on Mr. Meagles.” Mr. Meagles set about recovering the original documents about Arthur’s birth. He goes to see Miss Wade as Arthur had but gets no information. Then he goes to London and the Marshalsea. While waiting for Amy in the room John set aside he receives a visit from Harriet/Tattycoram with an iron box and a request to take her back into his service. She tells her story to the Meagles. Mr. Meagles says he must get Arthur released and goes in search of Daniel Doyce.

In Chapter XXXIV, Gone, Amy tells Arthur she has no money and asks him again to share her fortune with her. Mr. Meagles comes back and Daniel with him. Daniel takes Amy to get a marriage license and in the morning they were married in Saint George’s Church.Third Volume of the Registers Bk2 Ch XXXIV p854

Dickens has tidied everything up tickety boo! The speed of the tidying up is perhaps a little overwhelming and it seems possible that Dickens did not find this part as interesting or as challenging as the writing of that which got us here: perhaps this is just the way it was with serial writing and publishing.

Dickens Update 21; Book 2: Issue 18

In Chapter XXVII, The Pupil of the Marshalsea, changes are taking place in Arthur’s vision of the world: “…it was not remarkable that everything his memory turned upon should should bring him round again to Little Dorrit.” “Until it seemed to him as if he met the reward of having wandered away from her, and suffered anything to come between him and his remembrance of her virtue.” John Chivery brings Arthur some furniture and invites him for tea in his (John’s) own apartment.
See picture to the right.Mr John Chivery's tea table Bk 2 ChXXVIII p752 Gradually John reveals how Arthur has brought back his memories of Amy and eventually he and Arthur sort things out. John explains that he has done what he has for Arthur because of his feelings for Amy. Arthur admits to not knowing that Amy loved him and his reaction is that of “a man who has been awakened from sleep, and stupified by intelligence beyond his full comprehension. ” Back in his room Arthur finds this love “more bewildering to him than is misery, far.”

An entertaining tibbit from Dickens: “It further happened that Mrs. Plornnish, not being philosophical, was intelligible.”

The Plornishes verify what John Chivery had told Arthur about Amy’s love for him.

In Chapter XXVIII, An Appearance in the Marshalsea, Arthur has a visit from a Barnacle who asks him not to come back and bother the folks at the Circumlocution Office and also discusses Mr. Merdle and how someone else will soon come along and repeat Mr. Merdle’s fiasco. Then Mr. Rugg drops in on Arthur and, later, Mr. Cavelletto (Jean Baptist) along with Pancks and a mysterious “military” man( Rigaud-Lagnier-Blandois).Inthe Old Room Bk2 ChXXVIIIp772 Arthur insists Rigaud explain what he has been up to and Rigaud insists on a bottle of wine which Pancks gets. Rigaud will not tell his specific business but sends a note to Mrs. Clennam who agrees to meet him in a week’s time. Rigaud will stay in a hotel with Cavelletto to guard him.  Arthur feels worse than ever.

In Chapter XXIX, A Plea in the Marshalsea, Arthur experiences  “an agonised impatience with the prison” and “felt it a labor to draw his breath in it”. This changed to “a desolate calm” and “settled down in the despondency of a low, slow fever.” While he is in a serious deteriorated state, Little Dorrit visits. She has brought Maggy with her. Amy had just returned the previous day and enquired of Mrs. Plornish about Arthur. He tells her he has “thought of you, Little Dorrit, every day, every hour, every minute since” he has been in the Marshalsea. Amy fixes up the room, sends Maggy for more provisions and sets about making the room a curtain. Amy offer him the money she will inherit but he cannot accept. John come to check on Arthur in the night and to tell him he had escorted Amy to her hotel. He had promised Amy to care for Arthur and passed him a message the gist of which was that she sent her “undying love”. A delightful ending for Issue 18 and, of course, leaves the reader wanting even more resolution.


Dickens Update #20; Book 2: Issue 17

In ChapterXXIII, Mistress Affery Makes a Conditional Promise Respecting Her Dreams, Arthur decides to seek Affery’s help since his mother will not help him.  Mr. Casby and Flora are at his mother’s house for tea. Arthur asks to speak privately with his mother and tells her that Rigaud had been in jail for murder. He is neither pleasantly nor wisely treated by his mother so he still needed to speak with Affery. He gets Flora to ask Affery to show her the house as Flora remembers parts of the house from visiting there with Arthur when they were young. A knock at the door takes Flintwinch away and Arthur ask Affery what is going on in the house. Affery tells him that only when he has the upper hand over Jeremiah and his mother will she tell him what is in her dream.

In Chapter XXIV, The Evening of a Long Day, the story returns to Mr. Merdle: “A baronetcy was spoken of with confidence; a peerage was frequently mentioned.”  News comes of the death of Dorrit and his brother Frederick. An extended scene takes place  Fanny and Edmund when they discuss Amy’s return. Mr. Merdle calls and requests a pen knife from Fanny, a tortoise shell pen knife.

Chapter XXV, The Chief Butler Resigns the Seals of Office, centers around a dinner party help at the great Physician’s at which people try to find out if Merdle has been offered a peerage. All the guests leave and the doorbell rings: a man asks the Butler to come around the next street to the warm-baths where a scrap of paper with the Physician’s name and address had been found. A body awaited in one of the baths and a letter. Physician takes the news to Mrs. Merdle. The Chief Butler resigns because “Mr. Merdle never was the gentleman, and no ungentlemanly act on Mr. Merdle’s part would surprise me [him].” Dickens presents a fascinating analysis of Mr. Merdle’s fall from grace.

In Chapter XXVI, Reaping the Whirlwind, the Bank fails, Pancks rushes to Arthur’s office: “Mr. Pancks took hold of himself by the hair of his head, and tore it in desperation at the spectacle.” Pancks goes to get Mr. Rugg in Pentonville. Arthur faces jail in the Marshalsea and is met by Mr. Chivery and his son John who eventually takes Arthur to Mr. Dorrit’s old room where Arthur is reduced to sobbing. And so ends Issue 17: a dramatic close to a difficult section in which Mr. Merdle takes his life and Arthur is reduced to penury. One can be sure the readers were anxious to receive the next issue.

Dickens Update #19; Book 2: Issue 16

In Chapter XIX The Storming of the Castle in the Air, Dorrit arrives home unexpectedly late and finds Amy and Frederick (Dorrit’s brother ) having a quiet evening and Frederick chatting about the difference Amy has made in his life. The reader learns that Mrs. Merdle is going home and she will have a “great farewell Assembly” and a dinner. Unexpected After Dinner Speech Bk 2 ChXIX p 671At the dinner, Mr. Dorrit has a spell of confusion and makes a speech about the Marshalsea using his old title Father of the Marshalsea. The guests gradually move to other rooms and Amy “got him into a coach…and got him home.” “And from that hour his poor maimed spirit, only remembering the place where it had broken its wings, cancelled the dream…and knew nothing beyond the Marshalsea.”He did not remember Mrs. General. He treated Amy as he always had and she “would have laid down her own life to restore him.” Mr. Dorrit appears to have all the symptoms of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.

Amy cares for her father for ten days. “Sometimes she was so worn out that for a few minutes they The Night Bk2 Ch XX p677would slumber together.” “Quietly, quietly , all the lines of the great Castle melted (reference to chapter title) , one after another.  Quietly, quietly, the ruled and cross-ruled countenance on which they were traced, became fair and blank. Quietly, quietly, the reflected marks of the prison bars and of the zig-zag iron on the wall-top, faded away. Quietly, quietly, the face subsided into a far younger likeness of her own than she had ever seen under the grey hair, and sank to rest.” Amy went to rest and Frederick remained with William. “One figure reposed upon the bed. The other, kneeling on the floor, drooped over it(right); the arms easily and peacefully resting on the coverlet; the face bowed down, so that the lips touched the hand over which with its last breath it had bent. The two brothers were before their Father; far beyond the twilight judgments of this world; high above its mists and obscurities.”

In Chapter XX Introducing the Next, Clennam arrives at Calais with an address from Mr. Pancks and asks to see “the English lady”. In a back room on the first floor, there is a man. “Monsieur Blandois.” said Clennam. “A door of communication with another room was opened” and Miss Wade entered”. Arthur used the name Blandois because Miss Wade would not have seen him otherwise. He was actually seeking information about Blandois. All he learns is that Blandois had dealings with Mr. Gowan – things start to come full circle – MIss Wade expresses hatred for Minnie (Pet Meagles) because of her treatment of Tattycoram (Harriet) who then comes in the room and Dickens sorts out the story of Harriet’s disappearance. Arthur returns to England and reads the sheets of paper Miss Wade has given him.

In Chapter XXI The History of a Self-Tormentor. the reader gets Miss Wade’s story which includes a connection with Mr. Gowan. Another circle begins to close for the reader.

In Chapter XXII Who Passes By This Road So Late?, there is an update on Doyce and Clennam: Daniel is going out to the colonies to work on a business venture and he requests that Arthur “abandon” his “invention”. He cautions Arthur about continuing but Arthur resists saying he would be ashamed if he “submitted to be so soon driven out of the field” by the shenahigans that go on in the Circumlocution Office. Doyce leaves for Southampton. Arthur reflects upon his meeting with Rigaud at his mother’s place. In an interview with Mr.Baptist they discover that Blandois and Rigaud are one and the same person. Mr. Baptist determines to find out more about Rigaud/Blandois for Arthur. Thus this issue ends leaving the reader wanting to know more about Rigaud and why he has been visiting Arthur’s mother and what will happen to Amy now that her father and uncle are dead.

End of Issue 16.