Dickens’ Update #8

Chapter XIX, The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three relations, marks the beginning of Issue 6.  We learn that there are two sides to the Marshalsea: a social and an economic division. A Master’s side which is for the aristocrats and also called the Pump side and a Poor side. In this chapter w also learn of the great difference in nature and awareness between William and Frederick Dorrit. William cautions Frederick to to take care of himself while, in fact, Frederick is out in the world trying to earn a living teaching etc. with his clarinet while William has been living for over 20 years in the Marshalsea and being waited upon by his daughters and through his begging.  In this chapter William senses something has changed in his relationship with Chivery whose attentiveness is not what it was formerly. We also have, in this chapter, an intimate portrait of the father and daughter in the Marshalsea.

Chapter XX, Moving in Society, gives us a satirical picture of family pride as evidenced in the Dorrit family: Fanny and Tip are “ready to beg or borrow from the poorest, to eat of anybody’s bread, spend everybody’s money” etc. Tip has become a billiard-marker (one who keeps score and otherwise assists at billiards:footnotes in the Modern Library edition). Fanny works in the theatre and when Amy goes to visit her there Fanny says “The notion of you among professionals, Amy, is really the last thing I could have conceived!”  As Dickens puts it “The family fiction that Amy was a domestic was the family assertion of itself against her services.” As well, “Uncle Fred in the orchestra pit was their vision of him and “in private life, where there was no part for the clarionet, he had no part at all.” Fanny gives him a shilling for his supper while she takes Amy to Harley Street to see/visit Mrs. Merdle. Mrs. M has “dark unfeeling handsome hair and a broad unfeeling handsome bosom”…”an unfeeling handsome chin”: don’t you just love the repetition? Very effective!

Mrs. Merdle’s comment on society: “so difficult to explain to young persons”. Fanny has been spending much time with Mrs. Merdle’s son and she explains that she has set Mrs. Merdle straight about the Dorrit family’s standing in society. Fanny says goodbye to Mrs. Merdle as Fanny has agreed to have nothing more to do with her son. Fanny and Amy discuss what happened on Harley Street. As readers we learn more about Fanny’s character and realize that she does have a slightly higher level of awareness than either her brother or her father regarding Amy’s sacrifices.

I wonder often why Dickens chose two family names so similar: Meagles and Merdles. They are very different in their attitudes towards others aren’t they? Or are they? The source of their money differs. What other differences are there?

The remaining two chapters in Issue 6 I shall keep for the next post.

Dickens’ Update #7

In Chapter XVIII, Little Dorrit’s Lover, the terms College and Collegian are used. This is the way the prisoners preferred to refer to the prison (College) and themselves (Collegians). They chose not to have to acknowledge their actual reality and the question of keeping up appearances is considered a major theme of the novel  (according to a site I checked on the internet which was quoting from a book on nineteenth century literature published by Gale in 2002). The expression “not a Collegian” meant not a prisoner in the Marshalsea.

This chapter presents the story of John Chivery, the son of the turnkey who has been devoted to Amy Dorrit for a long time although Amy was unaware of his devotion. John was a year older than Amy and Dickens’ describes him as “great of soul. Poetical, expansive, faithful.” Amy’s father, sister and brother took John’s and his father’s offerings to them and Fanny and Tip teased John mercilessly. John approaches Amy to tell her of his deep feelings and the scene describing his preparations wins us to his cause. Amy is taken unaware and expresses her concern to the point that she asks John to say no more of this matter ever again and also requests that he not return to her special place by the river where she is accustomed to go for solace and peace of mind. She says goodbye to John and John hurries away. And so Issue 5 ends on this very emotional and intense note, ensuring that the reading audience will be holding their breaths in anticipation of the next issue.

Dickens’ Update #6

Chapter XV marks the beginning of Issue 5 and is entitled Mrs. Flintwinch has Another Dream. Dickens appears to use the dream technique to give us information about Flintwinch’s anger against Mrs. Clennam. Flintwinch wanted “justice done to Arthur’s father.Mrs. Flintwinch dreamed that she heard Flintwinch and Mrs. Clennam discussing and/or arguing about the clearing of Arthur’s father’s name to Arthur. She also dreamed that her husband and Mrs. Clennam were discussing what to do with Little Dorrit. Flintwinch says he has found out where she lives and it seems to be implied that he thinks Mrs. Clennam should do more for Little Dorrit. Mrs. Clennam doesn’t want to know what he has learned. Mrs. Flintwinch (Affery) tries to tell her husband that there is something wrong in the house. She is convinced that things have not been right since Arthur returned. Flintwinch has no patience with her whatsover and threatens her with a dose if she doesn’t stop imagining things.

Chapter XVI, Nobody’s Weakness sees Arthur go to Twickenham to visit the Meagles family. Arthur walks to Twickenham and uses it as an opportunity to ponder his occupation, his inheritance and how to increase it, his relationship with his mother and that with Little Dorrit. With the latter he believes he has ties of compassion, respect, unselfish interest etc. and he sees her as an adopted daughter. We learn the history of Daniel Doyce and that he has come to discuss a partnership possibility in his business.

Tattycoram surfaces again at Twickenham and her intense anger is witnessed by Arthur.

Arthur’s big concern however is whether he should allow himself to fall in love with Pet Meagles. He concludes that he will not allow himself to do this.

Miss Wade also resurfaces in this chapter and we learn that Tattycoram has been in touch with her and that Miss Wade has offered her support.

Mrs. Tickit is introduced as the cook and housekeeper at the Meagles home and Arthur suggests himself as a possible partner for Daniel Doyce.

In Chapter XVII, Nobody’s Rival, we meet Henry Gowan whose presence produces a “passing cloud on Mr. Meagles’ good-humoured face” and a “touch of queasiness on Mrs. Meagles'”. “Everybody whom this Gowan knew was either more or less of an ass, or more or less of a knave”. The Gowan family were distantly connected with the Barnacles. Young Barnacle shows up for lunch at Twickenham and his hilarious adventures with his eyeglass are very cinematic. Arthur remains aloof and unconcerned and “a little reserved” – “or would have been, if he had loved her[Pet].” Doyce explains Gowan’s history with the Meagels’ family in general and Pet in particular.

We shall leave Chapter XVIII for the next entry: it is the last chapter in Issue 5.

Dickens’ Update #5

Chapter XII Bleeding Heart Yard is the first chapter in Issue 4. Mrs. Plornish explains how Little Dorrit advertised for needlework and ended up working for Arthur’s mother.  The landlord of the yard is identified as Mr. Casby and Pancks as the rent collector.

Arthur gets Mr. Plornish to settle Tip’s debt and asks Mr. Plornish not to reveal his identity. He also requests that Mr. Plornish let him know any means by which he “may be delicately and really useful to Little Dorrit.”

Plornish describes life in Bleeding Heart Yard for Arthur (and the reader of course).

In Chapter XIII, we become more fully acquainted with Mr.Casby who is “rich in weekly tenants” and gets “a goodly quantity of blood out of the stones of several promising courts and alleys.” There is a section in which much “ticking” occurs in Casby’s house and it bcomes quite entertaining: Dickens often uses repetition to considerable effectiveness. We also see more of Pancks in this scene and are told he is “like a little labouring steam engine.” Flora Casby is a former love object of Arthur’s young self and her present appearance causes him to shiver and break to pieces. Flora had become “diffuse and silly.” She had been married to Mr. Finching since deceased. Mr. Finching’s aunt was Flora’s legacy from her husband. This aunt and Mr. Pancks make the meal entertaining for the reader. Pancks’ philosophy: “Keep me always at it, I’ll keep you always at it, you keep somebody else at it.  There you are, with the whole Duty of Man in a commercial country.” The Duty of Man was a devotional work probably of 1658 written by Richard Allestree and the title derives from Ecclesiastes 12:13 (footnotes in The Modern Library edition). Pancks’ laugh is described as sounding like a cough or snort. For readers, in this section, Arthur asks Pancks if he is a reader but must have been disappointed in the reply: “Never read anything but letters and accounts.”

There is an interesting account in this chapter of the “mails” racing into the street at 12 or 14 mph and it being a wonder that people aren’t killed oftener by them. The more things change….

Chapter XIV, Little Dorrit’s Party reveals more information about Little Dorrit and her sister Fanny and she seeks advice from Arthur about what she should tell his mother about herself. She also asks Arthur not to encourage her father in his begging. That night Little Dorrit and Maggy have to sleep out of doors because they have been out too late to get back into the Marshalsea.

These last sentences close this issue and it is easy to see Dickens’ skill once again at holding on to his readership until the next issue: “The shame, desertion, wretchedness, and exposure, of the great capital; the wet, the cold, the slow hours, and the swift clouds, of the dismal night. This was the party from which Little Dorrit went home, jaded, in the first grey mist of a rainy morning.”         End of Issue 4

Dickens’ Update #4

Chapter X: Containing the Whole Science of Government. This chapter, the second in Issue 3, is the most reading fun I have had in a very long time. It begins: “The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time, without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office.” Having said this, Dickens’ proceeds to show us excellent examples of the inefficiencies and failures we are all familiar with even now in 2012. He does it so well!

“Because the Circumlocution Office was down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of doing it, with a minute, and a memorandum, and a letter of instructions, that extinguished him.”

From markpack.org.ukThe office had “the pervading smell of leather and mahogany, and a general bamboozling air of How not to do it.”

It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer, Mr. Barnacle said, “Possibly.” Young Barnacle “fully understood the Department to be a politico diplimatico hocus pocus piece of machinery, for the assistance of the nobs [elite nobles] in keeping off the snobs [lower classes].”

In this chapter we are introduced to Mr. Daniel Doyce who appears with Mr. Meagles at the Circumlocution Office and Mr. Meagles introduces him to Arthur Clennam. These three go to the factory in Bleeding Heart Yard near the Marshalsea where Daniel works/invents.

The last chapter of Issue 3 is set in Chalons (France) and here we again meet Rigaud from Chapter I and Cavalletto. The tavern woman explains that Rigaud (going by the name Lagnier) killed his wife but the case against him was not strong enough. Rigaud says he will travel to Paris and maybe England with Cavelletto but in the early morning hours Cavelletto runs away. This is the end of Issue 3 leaving the reader wanting to know what Arthur Clennam will learn about Mr. Dorrit and what connection Rigaud might have with our story and how the activities of Bleeding Heart Yard and the Circumlocution Office will play out in Arthur’s future as well as Little Dorrit’s.