Dickens Update #17; Book 2: Issue 14

Chapter XII In Which a Great Patriotic Conference is Holden: Mr. Merdle is Dickens’ target here as Mr. Merdle has a Barnacle dinner to which the Chorus of Parliamentary Barnacles are invited.  “It was understood to be a great occasion.” Much is made of Mr. Merdle’s position: “All people knew (or thought they knew) that he had made himself immensely rich; and, for that reason alone, prostrated themselves before him, more degradedly and less excusably than the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the ground to propitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his benighted soul.” Mrs. Merdle had written to Mr. Merdle about the urgency of providing for Mr. Edmund Sparkler and this was to be a main reason for the dinner.Patriotic Conference Bk2 ChXII p578 There was also a discussion among the Barnacles about Mr. Dorrit and a bond he had signed many years before inheriting his present fortune when a business he had been involved in went bankrupt resulting in non-payment of the money Mr. Dorrit owed. Mr. Dorrit had been trying to repay the money and this was very “bothersome” to the Barnacles whom we might recall are committed to NOT doing things. There is another interesting discussion at the dinner about “buttoned-up” men and it being “certain that a man to whom importance is accorded is the buttoned-up man.” “Wisdom is supposed to condense and augment when buttoned -up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned.” This made me think about the buttoned-down collars style of men’s shirts and how that came about. “Everybody knew pefectly well that this dinner had been eaten and drunk specifically to the end that Lord Decimus and Mr. Merdle should have finve minutes conversation together.” There is an elaborate farcical process to bring the two men together that would be hilarious on the stage. The upshot of it all was an announcement in a day or two that “Edmund Sparkler, Esquire, son-in-law of the eminent Mr. Merdle of world-wide renown, was made one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office”.

Chapter XIII The Progress of an Epidemic: “There never was, there never had been, there never again would be, such a man as Mr. Merdle. Nobody, as foresaid, knew what he had done, but everybody knew him to be the greatest that had appeared.” This made me think about celebrity status as it appears in present day society. Mr. Merdle’s wealth was all the talk by all the classes.

Elsewhere in London, the reader is updated on the Plornish household and Pancks’ doings,-Mr Baptist has seen something Bk2 ChXiiip597“making a very porcupine of himself by sticking his hair up” -sounds like he would fit right in with today’s young men.  Jean-Baptiste(he lives with the Plornishes) has a scare : he has seen “A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see him again.” In the evening, Mr. Clennam comes by with news from another letter from Miss. Dorrit (Amy). Over supper, Arthur and Pancks discuss the Merdle phenomenon. Pancks confesses to having invested 1,000 pounds. He encourages Arthur to invest: “Be as rich as you can, sir…for the sake of others.”

In Chapter XIV Taking Advice, Henry Gowan says about Sparkler getting the post in the Circumlocution Office: “There was nothing to do, and he would do it charmingly; there was a handsome salary to draw, and he would draw it charmingly;…”.  Fanny assesses her family members for Little Dorrit and explains to Amy as  well why she (Fanny) is best suited to marry Mr. Sparkler.  In days ahead “he (Sparkler) had no greater will of his own than a boat has when it is towed by a steam-ship; and he followed his cruel mistress (Fanny) through rough and smooth, on equally strong compulsion.” In six months, Amy sensed a change in Sparkler’s demeanor towards herself: “it became fraternal.” Then Fanny announces her engagement. And so ends Issue 14 with all readers anxious to hear about the wedding.