Saturday, March 16, 2013

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

So much depends on frame of mind.

Tackling Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens required me to change my mindset. I typically rush at a novel and devour it, much like eating lunch between 3rd and 4th hour at school. I spend little time lingering over anything. Often I don't even try to predict what will happen next because I know I will get to the end of a novel in just a few hours.

As it turns out, Little Dorrit is not a novel you gobble in one sitting. I checked Wikipedia and found, through serialization, Little Dorrit was published over the course of 19 months. So, I allowed myself a month to read this novel which made a difference in my appreciation of it. 

The novel is divided into two books: Book the First: Poverty and Book the Second: Riches.The first book is almost entirely exposition. We are introduced to about 20 characters and a number of minor conflicts.

Side Rant: Introduced is rather an understatement because Dickens does not merely introduce his reader to a character. He spends chapters on physical description, minutia, mannerisms, phrasing, etc. After his thorough introduction of characters, there is no doubt in my mind I've actually met these people. While I appreciate the details, most of the characters in this novel end up being static. I don't see a dynamic change in their personality with the resolution of the novel. At the beginning of the novel Little Dorrit and her family members can be defined as:

Amy Dorrit is Little Dorrit, the long-suffering, humble, good girl who sacrifices for her ungrateful family. 
Mr. Dorrit is the oblivious, self-important father willing to turn a blind eye to the many sacrifices his daughter, Amy, makes for his comfort and reputation.
Fanny Dorrit takes advantage of her doormat sister, Amy, in typical bi-polar fashion with equal professions of  "I hate you" and "I love you."
Tip Dorrit allows Doormat to bail him out of every bad decision he makes and expects to land on his feet in an even more profitable position.

These characters do not change by the end of the novel which is frustrating to me because I want them to grow or have an epiphany or something.

I found it almost impossible to discern the main conflict of the novel by the end of the first book. There is a bit of mystery surrounding the main protagonist, Arthur Clennam, the death of his father, the letters DNF, his stoic, religious mother, and the life-long servant, Jeremiah. I clearly missed a number of clues which would have informed me that this conflict tied the novel together. If I ever read this novel again (probably not), then perhaps I would catch the details.

Otherwise, I read 90% of the novel before I realized which story lines were the ones that would be resolved.. So, this is a novel where the journey, not the destination, is to be enjoyed. Particularly timely is the description of the Circumlocution Office which so mirrors the gridlock of American politics that I had to smile and shake my head at the same time. I suppose history is replete with examples of the business of accomplishing nothing in government.

I've already mentioned that I doubt I will re-read this novel, so next I wonder if it is worthy of the AP Lit. class. I can't imagine assigning this novel in high school. I'm not sure any student would read every page or even want to finish it. However, it is a gold mine for examples of characterization and tricky syntax. I could see myself pulling paragraphs for practice analysis. 

All told, because I allowed myself to digest Little Dorrit just a bit at a time, I did enjoy it. Next up, A Streetcar Named Desire and Poisonwood Bible

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