Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Little Dorrit

This is another one of Mr. Dickens epic works. I read it in audio book format, which ran 47 hours, so it’s not for people who like to finish books quickly.

I liked this book for many different reasons. It seemed a bit gentler than many of Dickens’ other works in that there wasn’t an out and out villain, as in Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. Even Rigaud wasn’t as evil as I was expecting him to be. I think Dickens was wise to tone down the exaggerations in his characters, otherwise they threaten to become quite boring in their wickedness.

It was, on the other hand, a more complicated story than the other books and I had to read many passages over again just to make sure that I had understood them correctly. Of course, the government at the time, especially its legal and financial departments, was anything but transparent. Even the people who should have known how it functioned had either given up trying to decipher it, or never bothered to try in the first place. Had he made the story too easy to understand, it would have detracted from that particular point, so I can forgive him for it.

What I particularly liked about the story was its portrayal of the debtor’s prison, the Marshalsea. The description is fairly vile, but Dickens makes a few good points about it. The first of which is that while Mr. Dorrit really isn’t happy to go to prison, the very act of being shut away brought him a sense of peace. He no longer had to live in dread of what would happen to him, he no longer had to fear his creditors and he was basically taken care up at public expense. His relief at being locked away, safe from the public brings to light the contradiction of locking a man up and paying for his bare minimum, when he could be out working to pay for himself and to pay off his debts. Debtor’s prisons were, in fact, a sort of governmentally sanctioned kidnap of the person in order to ransom him for the sum of his debts since the aim was to move his family and friends to pay the debtor’s debt for him. In a case such as Mr. Dorrit’s, where no such means were available, locking him in prison was pointless and only served to make his children idol and base by not allowing them amongst people who might set better examples.

Typically Dickens, was the presence of kind-hearted people throughout the story who were willing to help the Dorrit family, and later Mr. Clenham, out in their state of dire need. Both inmates and non-inmates alike were there to help Little Dorrit out in her bid to keep her family from falling apart completely. Basically, there was enough goodness to go around to help balance out the enmity of life, so the all around tone of the book was a positive one.

Of course there were the silly characters one loves to hate like all of the Dorrits, except Amy, Mrs. Clenham, and Flora, who were all annoying to one extent or the other. There were also the villains like Rigaud and Flintwich to spice the story up a bit, so it never got boring despite not keeping up with the pace of Oliver Twist. I quite liked this book and can recommend it to anyone.

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