As I told you in December, as part of Jolabokaflod, and my experiment with Hygge Living, I read Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. I decided, since I’ve never actually read a Charles Dickens book, that I should! I came upon a free one and downloaded all 1400 pages of Little Dorrit on my Kindle! Oh my gosh! I picked a really good one and one I had never, in any way or form, heard of!
I think what I loved most about this book were the characters, all 44 of them! Next, I loved the detailed and observant writing style (and the run on sentences, which I am apt to do too) The book, to my surprise was so relevant to today, you would not think it was written nearly 180 years ago, except for the language and words (which I looked up a lot because I wanted to know what they meant) The times from then until now have changed very little, in some respects. I don’t know if I am comforted to know that some things will probably never change and that we have lived through it, or MY GOODNESS, WE ARE STILL DOING THIS! Now, more about Little Dorrit, without giving too much away!
Little Dorrit was the 11th novel of Charles Dickens and was published in installments (as was most of his works) from December of 1855 through June of 1857. It took him two years to write the book.
Little Dorrit begins in a prison and moves on to another prison. In the first, French prison, the folks, coming back from a foreign country (China in this case) are in prison to be quarantined from the rest of the population in case they have been exposed to any illness. It is a short stay and not too bad, as long as you did not become sick. Reminded me in some ways to COVID!! After introducing some of the characters in the French prison, the book moves on to Marshalsea Prison in Southwark, a suburb of London, which is an entirely different story.
During Dicken’s lifetime very few people knew that Dickens father had been sent to Marshalsea Prison for three months. While his father and the rest of the family were in prison, twelve year old, Charles, was taken out of school and sent to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory to pay off his fathers debts. He polished shoes and boots in front of a large window that looked out into the public street. When his father’s debts were finally paid off, his father noticed him in the window, to Charles humiliation, and took him out of the factory and put him back in school. His mother had wanted him to remain at the factory to continue bringing in an income! This episode, in Dickens life, made a big impression on him, hence the book.
Typically, at this time, a debtor was accused by the person to whom money was owed. The accused was held in a “sponging house.” If the money could not be raised, the debtor was imprisoned until the debt was paid. Prisoners would often take their families with them and entire communities sprang up inside the debtor’s jails. You could be imprisoned for a debt as small as 5 dollars at the time. Nothing was free in the prison either. The jails had their own economies, with jailers charging for room, drink, furniture, everything (nothing there was free) with addition to attorneys charging fees, in a fruitless effort to get debtors out. The prisoner’s families, including the children, had to find employment to cover the cost of the imprisonment and the debt itself. Many times the children lived in the prison and were let out during the day to work. There were two sides to the Marshalsea Prison, one of three prisons at the time, in London, for debtors. One side, had small rooms with four people to a ten by ten room, for those who had money to pay for them. The other side was an open area, where you just lay in the dirt. Men and women were housed together. There were coffee houses, bakeries, and other establishments, near or inside the prison, where the prisoners could buy their food or other necessities.
Here is the stained glass window in the present day St George the Martyr Church in Southwark.
One of the main characters in Little Dorrit was William Dorrit, father of Little Dorrit. He had been in Marshalsea Prison for nearly twenty-five years and is almost a pop star in personality among the prisoners, because of his longevity and endurance at Marshalsea! He has never made any effort to be released and relies upon his youngest daughter (Little Dorrit, who was born in the prison) and also lives there, to take care of him. She also works outside the prison, to pay for their living expenses.
As we follow along in the book and are introduced to the many characters, we also learn about the Civil Service, that represents government offices and their red tape and uselessness. In Little Dorrit, the Circumlocution Office, is known as the office of “HOW NOT TO DO IT,” and is a family affair, run purely for the benefit of its incompetent and obstructive officials, typified by the Mr Tite Barnacle family. That reminded me of our present day government! Many of the characters in Dicken’s books were people he was familiar with, as is the case of Little Dorrit, who was a dear childhood friend in real life. Her name of Mary Ann Cooper. This was Mary Ann in 1903.
However, my favorite of all the characters was Flora Finching. In real life, Flora was Maria Beadnell, the first love of Charles Dickens at the age of eighteen. He courted Maria for three years, but her parents objected to the relationship because they didn’t think Dickens would ever amount to anything. Maria married someone else. In 1855, Dickens received letters from the now married Maria describing herself as “toothless, fat, old and ugly.” Since Maria had been a beautiful young woman, Dickens could not believe this description and after receiving many passionate letters from her, and which he had replied, he arranged for a meeting with her. When they met, Dickens was stricken because her description of herself was accurate! After that, all correspondence was short and formal. But, Dickens used the new Maria for the basis of Flora Finching, who was fat and tiresome, although sincerely good natured. AND to my delight she talked like this…..on and on all in one breath……..
“But if we talk of not having changed,” said Flora, who whatever she said, never came to a full stop, “look at papa, is not papa precisely that he was when you went way, isn’t it cruel and unnatural of papa to be such as reproach to his own child, if we go on in this way much longer who don’t know us will begin to suppose that I am papa’s Mama!” She talks like this in run on sentences that go on and on and on. Dickens would later write, “We have all had our Floras, mine is living and extremely fat.” I don’t know if I would have been excited, if I had been Maria, to see me as Flora in Little Dorrit! I hope she really had a good sense of humor!
Well, I am quite enchanted with Charles Dickens, I must say, and look forward to reading more of his books and sharing them with you. I wanted to tell you why I liked the book, rather than about the plot. I highly recommend Little Dorrit! And, I hope you became more interested in Charles Dickens himself! There’s a lot more to his story, that I will share in more posts!
And, if you have missed it and would like to know about Jolabokaflod, look HERE. Cady