Litle Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit

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.

8 responses

  1. I didn’t know that Dickens wrote most of his books in serial form. It makes sense to read such a huge book in smaller chunks, even if it takes a long time to finish. I like the storyline of this book. I will have to work up the courage to start a book over 1000 pages however.

  2. This is my next Dickens. I haven’t read one in a while and I bought this one with the intentions of reading it this year but no go so far. It’s so hard to start such a huge book when I think how many other books I could read in the meantime. Maybe if I did it your way … over the year… I think I can see that working … thanks for the idea!

  3. I read this one years ago but don’t remember much about it. Thanks for this review, that brings some of it back.

    I agree that you have to be willing to take awhile on Dickens, but it’s worth it. I love the “panoramic” scope you mention — the way characters’ lives are intertwined in ways you’d never anticipate.

  4. I saw a movie version of this recently and loved it, although it left me confused about certain plot elements. Your review has sparked my interest in reading the book now 🙂

  5. Thanks for a great review of one of Dicken’s less famous books. I also liked your idea of reading it in smaller chunks. Dickens, I’ve learned, is worth the trouble of wading through the overly-wordy bits.

  6. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: July 4, 2009

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