Dickens Update #18; Book 2: Issue 15

In Cahapter XV No Just Cause or Impediment Why These Two Persons Should Not Be Joined Together, we learn Mr. Dorrit’s reaction to Fanny’s engagement: “a family connexion of a gratifying nature with Mr. Merdle, the master spirit of the age.”  Mr. Dorrit received Mr. Sparkler’s offer “very much as he would have received three or four half-crowns from him in the days that were gone.” Through correspondence described hilariously by Dickens, Mr. Dorrit and Mr. Merdle reached a “satisfactory understanding” re the marriage.  Mr. Dorrit and Fanny have words about Mrs. General. Mr. Dorrit sends for Mrs. General to inform her of Fanny’s engagement and the diminution of her duties as a result. Fanny makes it clear that she neither asked for nor required Mrs. General’s consent.  Mr. Sparkler returns to England to work.  Fanny says Edmund cannot be trusted to go by himself: “For if it’s possible – and it generally is – to do a foolish thing, he is sure to do it.”  The marriage takes place in Rome. Mr. Dorrit informs Amy how much he wishes her to be married. Mr. Dorrit goes to Florence to join Fanny and Sparkler while Amy remains with Mrs. General.

In Chapter XVI, Getting On, Fanny and Sparkler arrive in Cavendish Square. In the morning Mr. Merdle goes to pay his respects to Mr. Dorrit who is housed in an hotel. Dickens continues his “over the top” descriptions of Mr. Merdle. “O ye sun, moon, and stars, the great man!”Dorrit tells Merdle he has come to arrange “the laying out…in the best way of…my money.” Dorrit goes with Merdle to the city where he will visit his banker. In the days ahead “the name of Dorrit was always a passport to the great presence of Merdle.”

In Chapter XVII Missing, Flora Finching calls on Mr. Dorrit: she saw news in the paper that Mr. Dorrit had arrived from Italy. She reports to Mr. Dorrit the “disappearance” of Rigaud after leaving Mrs. Clennam’s house. Flora asks Mr. Dorrit to make enquiries when he returns to Italy. DorritMIssing and Dreaming Bk2 ChXVIII p653(1) goes to see Clennam and Co. for himself and tells Mrs. Clennam that Rigaud had been in Henry Gowan’s company in Italy. (see picture to right) Mr. Dorrit cannot get any information regarding the business Rigaud had transacted with Mr. Clennam and he goes home much disturbed by his experience.

In Chapter XVIII A Castle in the Air, young John Chivery is waiting for Mr. Dorrit when he returns from his farewell dinner at the Merdles.  John receives a shocking rather unwelcoming reaction from Mr. Dorrit who apologizes and asks after the family and gives John a cheque for 100 pounds to be distributed at the Marshalsea. Next day he left. While in Paris he buys gifts for a woman….hence building his castle in the air. Readers are left in suspense regarding the woman’s identity at the end of Issue 15.

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.

Dickens Update #16; Book 2: Issue 13

In Chapter VIII, The Dowager Mrs. Gowan is Reminded That it Never Does, sees Dickens taking us back to see how Doyce and Clennam are progressing (very well it seems) and to remind us that success is not a goal of the barnacles because “under the affliction of a great amount of earnestness, there might, in an exceeding short space of time, be not a single Barnacle left sticking to a post.” I love this image of civil servants sticking to posts!  Arthur has decided to support Doyce’s invention again with the Circumlocution Office (you may recall he met Doyce there) thus opening an opportunity for Dickens to attack the government practices again.

Arthur’s reflections upon himself: “Everything about him tended to confirm him in the custom of looking on himself as an elderly man” who was done with love and/or passion.

Mrs. Gowan visits the Meagles one Saturday while Arthur is there and informs Mr. Meagles that a baby is expected by Henry and Minnie/Pet and there follows an interesting echange between Mrs. Gowan and Mr. Meagles who says “Don’t pity Henry, and I won’t pity Pet.” The continued conversation would be amusing on screen but was most disturbing for Mr. Meagles since Mrs. Gowan was incapable of the truth and wished to extricate herself from further associaion with the Meagles (her son might have been an embarrassment to her were she capable of being embarrassed.

In Chapter IX, Appearance and Disappearance, the Meagles tell Arthur they intend to go and find/see Pet in Italy. Mr. M says he has to clear more debt for Henry. Arthur takes care of the cottage while they are away and stays there on weekends. Mrs. Tickit tells him on one visit that she saw Tattycoram at the gate. Later Arthur sees Tattycoram in London and follows her and eventually she and Miss Wade go into Mr. Casby’s house (Flora’s father and Pancks’ employer). Arthur goes in and learns from Pancks that Casby doles out money to Miss Wade but Pancks knows nothing more.

In Chapter X, The Dreams of Mrs. Flintwinch Thicken, Arthur goes to visit his mother and in the street he encounters the man he saw with Tattycoram and Miss Wade in the street. It turns out this man is also visiting Arthur’s mother. The man refers to himself as Blandois! So the mystery thickens as do Mrs. Flintwinch’s dreams. Mrs. Clennam dismisses Arthur and when he asks Affery (Mrs. Flintwinch) what is going on , she replies “Don’t ask me anything, Arthur. I’ve been in a dream for ever so long. Go away!” No help there for reader or Arthur!

In Chapter XI, A Letter from Little Dorrit, Amy again reports on Mrs. Gowan’s lodgings in the artists’ colony in Via Gregoriana and on the birth of a son and on the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Meagles in Rome. She also reports on Fanny’s lover and expresses great homesickness and sends regards to Pancks. Amy wins us over again..never forgets those who have been good to her.

So ends Issue 13.

Dickens Update #15; Book 2: Issue 12

At the beginning of Chapter V, Something Wrong Somewhere, the Dorrits have been in Venice for “a month or two”. Mr. Dorrit has a chat with Mrs. General about Amy and Amy is sent for. She tells them she needs more time to feel at home in her new circumstances. Mrs. General corrects Amy on the use of the word “father”: the correct word being “Papa”. Father is considered “vulgar, my dear.” Dorrit tells Amy he is not pleased with her and Amy realizes that her father can never “overcome that quarter of a century behind the prison bars.” Amy, of, course, shows all the wisdom and awareness of a parent while Dorrit acts the role of child. Amy does not reproach her father. She does ask if she may go and visit Mr. and Mrs. Gowan who have now returned to Venice. Edward-Tip reveals connections between the Gowans and the Merdles making the Gowans socially acceptable so Amy is allowed to visit. Fred berates his brother and his niece Fanny: “I protest against any one of us here who have known what we have known, and have seem what we have seen, setting up any pretension that puts Amy at a moment’s disadvantage, or to the cost of a moment’s pain.” Fred exits and Fanny and Papa Dorrit try to come to terms with their guilt. Dickens leaves it to his reader to make her’his own conclusions regarding their way of dealing with that guilt.

In Chapter VI, Something Right Somewhere, Dickens lets us know how Minnie Gowan sees her marriage: “From the days of their honeymoon, Minnie Gowan felt sensible of being usually regarded as the wife of a man who had made a descent in marrying her, but whose chivalrous love for her had cancelled that inequality.” Blandois had accompanied the Gowans to Venice and Gowan encouraged Blandois to oppose his wife and made him his companion. Fanny accompanies Amy to visit Mrs. Gowan and Minnie takes them to Gowan’s studio.Instinct stronger than training Bk2 ChVI p508 Blandois was in the studio : he is modelling for Gowan. Blandois provokes the dog, Lion, in the studio and Henry tells Blandois to get out. (see picture to right). He leaves but Henry then attacked the dog, kicking him with his boot heel. Minnie is disturbed. Gowan strikes the dog several additional times. Amy protests. She is not impressed with Gowan’s behaviour nor by Fanny’s flirtation on the gondola ride home with young Mr. Sparkler. Fanny makes her intentions with regard to Sparkler clear to Amy. Back at the palace door, Sparkler stands up with his card case  and his boat collides Mr. Sparkler Bk2ChVIp516with that of the two women so “as to tip that gentleman over like a large species of ninepin, and cause him to exhibit the soles of his shoes to the object of his dearest wishes.” (see picture to the right)  Fanny takes Sparkler to meet her Papa and S. is invited back for dinner and to go to the opera.  Papa Dorrit thinks he will engage Gowan to paint his portrait.  After the opera, Blandois tells them Gowan’s dog is dead/poisoned: he reports this during a sinister appearance at the box-door of the opera. The suspense thickens regarding Blandois and what he is about.

In Chapter VII, Mostly, Prunes and Prism, Fanny tells Amy that Mrs. General has “designs” on their father/papa. Fanny believes “he is ready to get himself into a state of perfect infatuation with her at any moment.” And more than that! Fanny says she herself would marry Mr. Sparkler before she would accept Mrs. General for a Mama! Mr. Dorrit engages Gowan to paint his portrait and Gowan says he will do it in Rome. Amy quietly observes the fate that has fallen on Mrs. Gowan and also realizes she has an ally in her dislike of Blandois. Amy thinks Blandois gained access to her father’s house much too easily. Amy compares society abroad to that of the Marshalsea and, of course, this is Dickens getting in his political commentary again. The family goes to Rome and Amy experiences another layer of society in which no one has an opinion of their own.  Mrs. Merdle calls and mr. Dorrit tells her how much he wishes to meet Mr. Merdle. Little Dorrit/Amy is now interested in meeting Mr. Merdle as her father appears to want advice from him about his fortune. So now we too want to witness the meeting of these two men. Our interest is piqued in several directions as Dickens closes out Issue 12.

Dickens’ Update #14 (Book the Second:Riches; Issue 11)

In the first chapter of this issue (Fellow Travellers) we find three groups of tourists travelling “on the Swiss side of the Pass of the Great Saint Bernard and along the banks of the Lake of Geneva”. The footnotes of my Penguin edition tell me that Dickens visited the convent of the Great Saint Bernard in 1846. The picture below right shows the travellers gathered around the fire.  There are three groups of travellers: the first includes an elderly lady (Dickens lists her first to “fool” us), two older gentlemen, two young ladies and their brother accompanied by a courier, two footmen, two maids and four guides; the second includes one lady and two gentlemen;the third includes
a German tutor and three male students.
Travellers Bk 2 Ch 1

A new word, fourgon meaning the luggage wagon appears. A new character also appears:
Mrs. General. There is an amusing conversation about confined spaces in winter when it is almost too cold to go out and the host’s remark “Monsieur was not used to confinements ” confirms the identity of Mr. Dorrit for the reader. And Amy’s remark that she likes to see what has affected Arthur so much also informs us that she is visiting with Pet /Minnie Gowan. A mysterious stranger spies in the traveller’s book and confirms the identity of the Dorrit party which now includes Mrs. General, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Gowan and Blandois whom we last met drinking with Mr. Flintwinch in Chapter XXX, Issue 9.

In Chapter II we learn more about Mrs. General. She is the daughter of a clerical dignitary left in serious financial straits when her husband died and she hired herself out as a “governess”. She was engaged by Mr. Dorrit “to complete the education of his daughters, and to be their matron or chaperon.” Mrs. G’s reaction? “I am not, as I hope you are aware. a governess…”.Mr. Dorrit paid her 400 pounds a year. Dickens’ description of Mrs. G.: “A cool, waxy, blown-out woman, who had never lighted well.” And this, “Mrs. General had no opinions. Her way of forming a mind was to prevent it from forming opinions.”

In Chapter III, On The Road, a breakfast discussion among the Dorrits informs us that Fanny and Edward continue to be ashamed of their father’s time in the Marshalsea, by Amy’s befriending people who have slighted them and by her compassion for them (in this case, Pet Meagles-Gowan). They express their displeasure with Arthur Clennam as well:  “…it is incumbent upon all people in an exalted position but it is particularly so on this family…to make themselves respected.” (speech by Mr. Dorrit supporting Fanny and Edward-Tip’s position). Mr. Dorrit does say, however, that he does not support Fanny’s feeling towards Arthur although he doesn’t wish to resume communications with him.

They then begin to descend the mountain. Amy mistrusts Blandois but refrains from saying so as the others showed him favour. Fred (Mr. Dorrit’s older brother) has begun to show a “marked respect” for Amy which is heartening for the reader. They return to their hotel in Martigny where they find two strange travellers in one of their rooms. Mr. Dorrit becomes enraged by the attack on his dignity and that of his family.Family Dignity Affronted Bk2ChIII 477 (picture to right)  The travellers come down to leave and their identity is revealed: Mrs. Merdle no less and her son Mr. Sparkler.  Mrs. M pretends not to know Fanny but Sparkler certainly remembers her.  Amy keeps thinking she is in a dream as they set out for Venice. She thinks the carriage will pull up to the Marshalsea gate at any minute. In Venice they are housed in an old palace( six times the size of the Marshalsea) on the grand Canal. Amy was “timid of joining in their (family) gaities, and only asked to be left alone.”

In Chapter IV, A Letter from Little Dorrit, Amy reports to Arthur on her meeting with Mrs. Gowan and enquires after the Plornishes and Old Nandy who went to live with them. She also asks after Maggy. Dickens keeps Amy’s character consistent with what we know of her. She explains to Arthur that she is not adjusting very well to the new status of the family. She says she struggles “with the feeling that I [she] have come to be at a distance from him [her father] ; and that even in the midst of all the servants, he is deserted, and in want of me.”  She begs Arthur to remember her only as she was when he first knew her.

And so, at the end of Issue 11, Dickens builds upon our already deep empathy with Amy’s lonliness and her struggle to establish her own identity now that she is outside the only home she had ever known, the Marshalsea.