At the end of Chapter VIII (also the end of Issue 2) we left Arthur staying overnight in the Marshalsea. The next day in Chapter IX(Little Mother) he goes to Mr. Cripples’s Academy to meet with Miss Dorrit (Little Dorrit to us) at her Uncle Fred’s place (third bell and one knock Master Cripples tells him). He and Little Dorrit agree to walk a bit and Little Dorrit explains to him that she had never met his mother and did not think her father had. Arthur is trying to search out whether his father left a debt unpaid and whether that might be why his mother has employed Amy Dorrit. The weather is very rough and Arthur wants to send Amy home in a carriage but she declines. She expresses her thanks to Arthur for all that he has done for her father. She also explains how she protects her father’s reputation and tells Arthur that her father has “a great number of creditors”. Arthur offers to find out more for her from the Circumlocution Office. Amy insists that her father’s case is hopeless. Arthur volunteers to get Tip Dorrit, Amy’s brother released from a debt he has contracted and is given the name of a pasterer named Plornish who might help. In this chapter we also meet Maggy on the streets when Arthur walks Amy back to the Marshalsea. Maggy calls Amy Little Mother hence the title of this chapter. Amy explains that Maggy is the granddaughter of her old nurse who has been dead a long time. Maggy is 28 but has the mind of a 10 year old due to a fever she had. She supports herself with Amy’s help and direction. Arthur leaves them at the entrance to the Marshalsea: “the cage door opened, and when the small bird, reared in captivity, had tamely fluttered in, he saw it shut again; and then he came away.” Next I will write of the Circumlocution Office: a picture of government bureaucracy still valid today. Aren’t these names just delightful? Plornish, Tip, and, most especially, Circumlocution Office.
Well, it has been too long but I have not been idle. I have read up to the end of Issue 5 now and much has happened. But I promised to speculate on Mrs. Flintwich’s dream at the end of Issue 1. It is a good thing that I have read ahead because Mrs. Flintwinch has another dream in Chapter XV. It seems apparent from the latter dream that Dickens’ makes use of this technique to pass along information which the reader might not otherwise discern from his or her reading. In the first dream he reveals things about Mr. Flintwinch which the reader has not seen and in the second dream he reveals why Mr. Flintwinch is angry at Mrs. Clennam. It is a very economical way to pass on additional information and has the added benefit of “scarifying” the reader a little or a lot depending upon the susceptability of that reader.
In Family Affairs, the first chapter of the second issue we learn about the state of the Clennam business from Arthur who bluntly says that it is “out of date and out of purpose”. Arthur is concerned about “whether there is any wrong entrusted to us(the family) to set right.” and tells his mother that she is the only one who can help him with this knowledge. Little Dorrit appears agan and Artur notices that there is a lightening of “asperity of Mrs. Clennam’s demeanor towards all the rest of humanity and towards Little Dorrit.
In chapter VI we are served up some historical information regarding the Marshalsea and the Dorrit family and how Mr. Dorrit became the Father of the Marshalsea. This is followed in Ch. VII by the birth of Little Dorrit and some background on Tip and Fanny, Amy’s older siblings. Chapter VIII provides more background and introduces Frederick Dorrit, Tip and Fanny to Arthur who visits William Dorrit in the Marshalsea. Then Arthur discovers that he has missed the bell warning visitors to leave and will have to spend the night in the Marshalsea. He is housed in the Snuggery, “a tavern-establishment at the upper end of the prison” where he spent a worrisome night wondering what he would do if there was a fire and lesser things like whether he was responsible for any of the suffering going on in the prison. And so this issue closes with the reader wondering how Arthur gets through the night and what will happen next and what will he do with this new information about Little Dorrit and her family. Are you caught in the story yet? Can you imagine spending the night inside the Marshalsea?
Well, it has taken awhile but here I am having read the equivalent of two and a half monthly issues as published in Dickens’ time. I am impressed that after a long period of reading only contemporary works the high level of comfort with Dickens’ style remains the same. It was something like floating back into a fairy tale that one has read or heard many many times. And no, I have not read Little Dorrit previously although I admit to having seen the BBC video version.
Immediately in the first chapter I began to learn some things I hadn’t really understood very well from the video: things about the characters that had been confusing suddenly dispelled by a few pages. A satisfying feeling. The book is often better as they say.
Mr. Flintwinch was not as overwhelming in print as he was initially on film: it will be interesting to see how his character development proceeds in print. Mrs. Flintwinch is much like her video counterpart but the dream she has in Chapter IV I didn’t recall at all from the video version (my memory could be the problem here but I don’t intend to revisit the video at this point in the reading) and I was left pondering its meaning as this was the end of the first issue that folks would have been reading in 1857. Flintwinch threatens his missus quite strongly when he discovers she has been dreaming and it is easy to imagine the reader’s reaction and his or her anxiety waiting for the next issue.
Anyone have any thoughts on the meaning of Mrs. Flintwinch’s dream? I’ll speculate on that next time and also take a closer look at Mrs. Clennam’s character as it has so far been revealed to us in Issue 1 and in Chapter V’s Family Affairs (the first part of Issue 2).
I’m starting a new challenge this week: I am beginning to read Dickens’ Little Dorrit using The Modern Library edition [2002 Modern Library Paperback Edition ISBN 0-375-75914-X] and will organize my reading by covering the equivalent each week of one of the monthly numbers written by Dickens for serial publication back in 1857. This means that this week (beginning November 4th, 2012) I will read Chapter I/Sun and Shadow, Chapter II/Fellow Travellers, Chapter III/Home and Chapter IV/Mrs. Flintwinch has a Dream: total pages 44. This leaves time to read other books and have a life hopefully. It will also leave time to research topics of interest inspired by the reading about which I will post here in the future. Already I am curious about Mrs. Flintwinch.
A year or two ago I read Claire Tomalin‘s Charles Dickens: A Life (Penguin Books; 978-0-141-03693-9; paperback; $18.00 in Canada) and found it almost as enjoyable as Dickens’ own writing. Anyone wanting to have a good rudimentary understanding of Dickens’ world would be well advised to check out this or any other biography they might prefer.
I am looking forward to this new reading project. Any Dickens’ followers out there? Anyone who hasn’t read Little Dorrit recently? or any Dickens ? Anyone who would just like to hang out at the Marshalsea Prison for awhile and see what that is like? Do join in.