For years I loved Dickens’ writing but I struggled to get through his books. Fortunately though, I have recently found a way to read that works for me. Short installments over a long period of time. Which makes sense when you remember that much of Dickens’ work was originally published in serial form.
And so I made a resolution – to read one of the big books every year. And this year’s big book is Little Dorrit.
At the heart of the book there is a simple story of two characters.
Amy Dorrit: The titular heroine. A young women, thinking the best of and doing her best for everyone, and resident with her father in the debtor’s prison where she was born.
Arthur Clennam: A middle-aged man recently returned from working aboroad in his family business: He sees signs that his family is responsible for the troubles of the Dorrits and determines to uncover the truth.
Their stories are woven into a much bigger framework. Indeed Dickens presents a panoramic portrait of Victorian London. And through a wide range of characters he explores many of the problems of Victorian society. His primary target is the debtors prison. And then there are bureaucratic government bodies, greedy landlords. powerful bankers….. Themes that still resonate today.
The characterisation is superb, the settings are wonderfully evoked and there was not one moment I considered putting the book down until I reached the end of its 1070 pages.
Little Dorrit is not without problems. The plot sometimes gets a little lost when Dickens is hitting his targets and a few of the sub-plots and characters are not as strong as the others – maybe even a little superfluous.
But when it works it is superb, packed with incident and provoking an incredible mix of emotions.
And certainly it is a book that I am glad I made the effort to read, and one that I know will stay with me.