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.
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. (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.