Friday, 21 September 2012

Little Dorrit

Title: Little Dorrit
Author: Charles Dickens
Pages: 848 (paperback, with some extra stuff at the beginning and end)
Published: April 1st 2009; originally published 1885-1857
Published by: Vintage Classics

Amy Dorrit’s father is not very good with money. She was born in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and has lived there with her family for all of her twenty-two years, only leaving during the day to work as a seamstress for the forbidding Mrs. Clennam. But Amy’s fortunes are about to change: the arrival of Mrs. Clennam’s son Arthur, back from working in China, heralds the beginning of stunning revelations not just about Amy but also about Arthur himself.

Amy Dorrit lives with her father in a debtors prison, hiding the fact that she works for their living and that her older brother and sister work (or attempt to) to support themselves. He is something of a broken man, once prosperous but now without a penny to his name and dismayed by this fact. Then Arthur Clennam returns from working with his now-deceased father in China and finds her working for his mother. His interest is piqued...and he's not the only one. Soon, an unexpected revelation vastly changes the fortunes of the family. All of this takes place on the backdrop of Victorian England, and with the usual array of slightly mad characters seen in Dickens novels.

So, the BBC did an adaptation of this a few years ago, and I watched it maybe 18 months ago. Now the BBC is pretty good at this kind of thing (Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, anyone?) and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I'd never read the book so I didn't have anything to compare it to, but still. I liked the characters and the story, and it was very easy to watch.

Maybe it's because I already knew the story - so minimising the suspense of 'what's going on? What's going to happen?' - but I struggled a little to keep going whilst reading it. Part of this may be due to Dickens' writing style. There is quite a lot of description and lists and lists of whatever is going on around the characters: food stuffs, things they can see, what people are wearing etc. There is also quite a lot of superfluous description in general, and chapters relatively regularly started with pages and pages of description of where they were based. Yes, this is good in some ways, but in a book this long it becomes a bit difficult after a while.

I've not read much Dickens, but in this book he did something I'd never come across before. Most of the time, we would follow characters around and their actions would be narrated in the standard fashion. Speech in speech marks and all that. But this time, for one character it was more written from the point of an invisible presence or something. People's actions were described, and it was said that they made comments about one thing or another, but the actual interactions weren't really given. I'm sure there's a technical term for it but I don't know it. Now, I didn't like this, and luckily it only occurred in a minority of chapters, but I still didn't like it.

The characters themselves were wonderful, many of them complete with their own little annoying quirks (you know you all have your own!) and you got a real feel for them and to grow to care about (or dislike, as appropriate) many of them. Little Amy Dorrit is sweet and self-sacrificing, always doing what she can for others before thinking of herself. She cares for her father immensely, and does everything she allowed to for him. Her older brother and sister - though her brother isn't really present all that much - are quite the opposite. They think only of themselves and how to achieve their own ends, though Edward doesn't seem to have quite the same capabilities when in comes to succeeding in this as Fanny does. There is also Amy's uncle, and seeing their relationship in particular is lovely, as you get the feeling that he is the only one who truly understands and appreciates all she does, whatever their circumstance in life.

There were a number of quite amusing secondary characters who had their own roles to play, and the Circumlocution Office (a branch of the government which works towards perfecting how to not do things) is a wonderful parody of the government system even now. I suppose something never change!

The story, though long, is quite interesting. There is a good deal of mystery surrounding a couple of people, their actions and motives, and while some things come as a complete surprise, you can work out a couple of things.

Interesting story with good characters, but there was maybe just a little bit too much extra stuff around it all.

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