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Customer Review

219 of 223 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars maturing beyond the prison of self, July 22, 2002
This review is from: Little Dorrit (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is my personal favorite among Dickens novels, fully equal to Bleak House, though not nearly as widely read or admired. Most reviewers miss the fact that debtors prisons had long been closed before Dickens wrote the novel, so 'reform' was in no way its objective. What he really wanted to explore was self-imprisonment. His main character, Arthur Clennam, has been imprisoned by family strictures all his life. Denied love as a child, exiled from his sweetheart as a young man to an outpost of the family business in China, left by his father only with a watch inscribed 'DNF' meaning 'do not forget' (what he doesn't know) Arthur returns to England. We first see him 'imprisoned' in quarantine with others who suffer spiritual incarcerations of their own. The spiritual heart of this novel is the story of how Arthur loses hope that he can 'go home again' and pick up with his old life, how he reconstructs a personal life and satisfying work, and how he endures the collapse of the past and all its guilty debts, ultimately being set free to live life on a new foundation. This novel will hearten those who have arrived in the middle of our lives feeling that like Arthur, we stand among ruins, 'descending a green and growing tree' whose limbs die and wither under us as we come down. But when he is finally stripped of everything, Arthur gains all. While this great bildungsroman of maturity is being carried forward, Dickens offers a wealth of characters, plots, and subplots that will keep Dickens lovers turning pages in well-founded faith that Boz will once again knit all together in a satisfying tapestry of incident and meaning. It could be summed up as "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." All the characters are jailed by something--Little Dorrit herself by her prison home, her father by his dependency and pathetic grasping for reputation. Blandois, the wicked murderer, shows up first in a Marseilles prison and bestrides the plot with his vile presence. Arthur's mother stays voluntarily imprisoned in a decaying house and her wheelchair, and worse, in wrath and jealousy. We also meet a housemaid trapped in uncontrollable rage, the woman who abducts her, walled in pride and hatred, a young woman trapped in adoration of a worthless husband, parents frozen in grief over a lost child, a financier transfixed with the knowledge of his own falsity . . . and more. Secrets, nightmares, murders, lost deeds and treasure, stolen fortunes, all abound in this vivid and satisfying plum pudding of a novel. Modern readers may weary of the satirical chapters on 'the Circumlocution Office'--but they're no worse than the treatment of the Court of Chancery in Bleak House. The best of this novel is that it is not all written just for the satisfactory settlement of some young person, but rather for the arrival at full maturity of a man who is already adult at the novel's opening. Arthur (one remembers that Britain's legendary king bore that name) rescues others from despair, and finally learns to let others so rescue him. This is a redemptive novel, that shows us it is possible to see that we are inside the prison of who we've been taught we are, and believe we can't stop being, and it is possible to break beyond those prison walls and 'go down to a life' of quiet decency and common happiness. A great, grownup read!
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 5, 2009 9:32:25 PM PDT
You have written a wonderful review of this book. I've read it and then started again and am having a most rich experience this second time through. Your review is truly enlightening. I wish I could compliment you in a more private setting, but there appears no other way of letting you know my appreciation, and admiration of, your mind.

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 10:46:36 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 13, 2009 10:52:04 AM PDT
Redmond Geek says:
Actually, "Little Dorrit" was published in 32-page installments between December 1855 and June 1857. While it's true that Marshalsea was closed in 1842, debtors prisons weren't abolished in England until the Bankruptcy Act of 1869; after that date, debtors could still be sent to prison, but only if they had gone bankrupt in the course of committing some kind of financial wrongdoing.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2010 12:30:28 PM PST
I know you wrote this comment a long time ago. I just noticed this feature! Thanks for your compliment--and best of all, I'm glad to hear that you went back to read the novel over again. It is one that I return to often.

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 7:50:59 PM PST
Terrific review. This is also my favorite Dickens novel and you express so fully why I feel that way! Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on May 2, 2013 2:47:10 PM PDT
thanks so much! STILL my favorite after all these years

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 21, 2014 6:25:12 AM PDT
Sir, you could be (or are) an excellent attorney. You state the facts unmistakeably,leaving the jury to decide. Guilty. Prison,prison,prison. Dickens never tired of attempting to divest himself of certain demons of his childhood. While the demons are not to be taken lightly, many of us have our own. Accordingly, we would rather be entertained, as,in fact Dickens could do,when in the mood to do it. Pickwick, I say.

Posted on Aug 21, 2014 6:27:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 22, 2014 5:45:36 AM PDT
see reply to Redmond Geek. Additionally, pls note that if you had derived any fiduciary benefits from your pontificatingly protracted review taken directly from the introduction to one of the editions,you might have risked a charge of plagiarism.

Posted on Aug 21, 2014 10:30:26 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 21, 2014 10:37:43 AM PDT
Thank you for you wonderful review. I am reading "Little Dorrit". I enjoy the bits in the book about the Circumlocution Office. It seems the way of the world.

For some reason, besides Arthur and Amy themselves, I am most drawn to Pancks. It may be that he has his own redemption.

I most enjoyed your review for pointing out Arthur's journey. I think this maturing of a character (who was already an adult, but still growing) was something I felt, more than articulated for myself.

"Little Dorrit" is a wonderful story. The BBC mini-series happened to be the hook for me. Fortunately it follows the book quite closely. I can hardly express how much I love the little touches and the big picture in Little Dorrit. The small details and the big picture are both expressed so well in turns of dialogue and in such fantastic characters.

Posted on Jul 19, 2015 2:18:00 AM PDT
GODFREY H. says:
A wonderful review, Ms Schmitt. My exposure to the novel thus far had been only through the lenses of Christine Edzard's 1987 movie, starring Derek Jacobi and Alec Guinness and released in two parts and remarkably faithful to its source (I watched it with enormous pleasure some years ago - a friend of mine has a featured role). After reading your review, Ms Schmitt, Little Dorrit has moved to the top of my list of 'must reads'. It must be pleasing to know that your comments are still enthusiastically being read 13 years after you originally posted them. Thank you!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 19, 2015 7:00:57 AM PDT
The novel is wonderful. I found the two-part Jacobi / Guiness movie seriously less satisfying than the novel (Jacobi's portrayal of Arthur Clennam way too tentative for me) and there is another good version made more recently, though in THAT version the person playing Arthur is too young. Tom Courtenay's Father of the Marshalsea was surprisingly good. The novel is best of all! I am so glad that you liked the review and that it is drawing you toward the novel. I continue to hold it as a favorite.
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