View Full Version : So Far So Interesting

03-25-2006, 03:05 AM
I am just beginning Book the Second, and I see this novel becoming one of those wonderful, long, slow, books that will be such a shame to finish reading. I've read a number of Charles Dickens' books over the years; a few of them several times. Never Little Dorrit before.

I find myself always intrigued by the the writer himself—probably because Charles Dickens' diverse characters, settings, and predicaments all have a way of gravitating right back to him, as though they were all so many fractals of his own personality. Well, and so they were; and more so, I think, than most characters reflect their respective writers. Occasionally I see Charles catching himself in his own hypocrisy, and rebuking himself for it. Doggone! A beautiful example is in this book, not far back from the end of Book the First; but I joined this forum only this evening, and I'm not sure where I saw it. Charles Dickens takes issue with a commonplace flaw of character; denounces it; then says something very much like, "Well, of course we always notice such flaws in anyone but ourselves . . . ."

In this book, we have some words about minor stage personalities, which I find quite fascinating, considering that Charles Dickens' life was concerned in a major way with one such minor personality. "Just where are you going to take us this time, Charles?" I find myself wondering, as his words stray yet again into these beckoning (for him), yet dangerous (for him), references.

I think the Circumlocution idea is too obvious to be very good writing, but I am trying to consider it in the light of the times. I'm not so sure that I agree that Little Dorrit is one of his very best. I like it very much, though. I'll see how I feel at the end of it.

He was not attempting realism in his writing, and I do notice people taking wrong issue with his characterization. As I understand, there was no concern then that a novel should necessarily be realistic. His characters weren't "overdone"; he chose to paint all those exaggerations—and all those fabulous coincidences, too! Had some 21st Century reader suggested he was being unrealistic, he'd have said, "Of course. Your point being—?"

Anyway, it's a great novel, and it is long enough to provide an excellent escape. Um—and to keep my toes in good shape, manipulating a warming trickle of hot water to maintain the bath temperature for a few pages more. :)

03-27-2006, 12:31 AM
Update: Golly gee, as I continue into Book the Second, I find myself in those long, deep, black waters so characteristic of Dickens' various hells. I have marvelled in reading a few of his novels how he seeks to paint such ghastly and prolonged images of people suffering terribly (and unnecessarily) under the influence of others—certainly one of his dominant themes.

But we do that to ourselves, individually and as societies of blind, mindless servant-slaves; and this must have troubled a few other thinkers besides Charles Dickens. If you and I were to accept no money from anyone, beginning tomorrow morning, there would be no more wars, no more poverty, and no more environmental destruction. All these things occur not because of one or two named leaders, and not because people vote stupidly, but rather because we are individually complacent to prostituting the lives of our children and our loved ones to the coins of our immediate grovelling and subservience. Name any warlord, name any of the world's richest men: they depend absolutely on our individual choice to personally support them.

Charles Dickens himself was terribly concerned with money and profit. The making of money, which he perceived to be dangerously linked with the stems of various evils, was never far from his mind. I think when he paints these long, long visions of hell—which make for hours and hours of depressing reading—he was consciously describing his own torment with his own frailty; his own hypocrisy. He tried very hard to be smug, satirizing all sorts of lesser characters; his torment (and ours, as we read his thoughts) was in finding no one more responsible for human failure than himself; and in such an easily-learned (one would think) territory as that of money and greed.

If Arthur Clennan is a rather clear-sighted, good-looking reflection of the Author Dickens, then Arthur's frailties must be regarded as a sickness. Charles cannot bear to say the good Mr. Clennan is as stupid as everybody else; that would be going too far, and might suggest that Charles Dickens knew that he himself was just as stupid as his simple masses who could not use simple logic to save their souls.

As for Little Dorrit, she is not looking any too bright either. Her plight has always been pathetic. If Pet has had little to say, and is really nothing more than a spoiled bimbo, Little Dorrit is little more three dimensional. She has eyes; but no guts. The strongest women in most of Charles Dickens' books are strong fools. Well, he was not looking down on women, in writing thus; he said the same of men, too. Few of his characters had really much strength of character at all. We were just considering, above, whether or not he thought he had much character himself.

If Little Dorrit could actually move, however, as, say, Shakespeare's Juliet could actually move, then such action would precipitate some form of catastrophe, for better or worse, and Charles' long long hells would shatter like glass. He very much wanted to sustain those hells. He wanted to show us all that it does not have to be like this. He could not make much impression in a page or two, so he holds us hostages for a hundred pages or two hundred. Hells, after all, are not merely morning sessions.

So this is where I am in Little Dorrit now. In the midst of such a long and bleak journey of human misery, and clearly understanding new misery is forming too. Well, as I said, I've seen this before in Dickens. People in bondage to other people, for great lengths of time, always unnecessarily. Terrible. His most terrible truth.

His humour doesn't do much for himself or for this story. It is there, but it ain't good enough. It has become grim, unfunny humour. It is not a good time. His party characterizations are not insightfully funny mockeries. They are as grim as jokes we attempt against, say, warlords of our day. How stupid can people be? Well, it would be quite funny to make a smug answer, or to make a smug sketch; but it isn't funny—and one good reason is because we ourselves perpetuate the worst of the stupidity, and the hate, and the close-mindedness.

Probably The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was lighter reading than the huge Little Dorrit. In Hitch-Hiker, we are rid of the planet and most representatives of this troublesome species, refreshingly early. Charles Dickens kind of drags it out, y'know?

03-28-2006, 11:48 AM
Well, last night's bit of reading took me into a whole new realm in Little Dorrit. Charles Dickens changed his mind.

Little Dorrit begins less than uncertainly, with Charles clearly writing pretty long sketches with the high hopes they'll lead somewhere. The reader is obliged to tag along, also hoping these early stretches of the imagination will lead somewhere. Eventually Charles says, "Oh, I know a place! Let's try over here!" and we accompany him with great expectations.

It sort of works. It would for any writer; and famous writers, or writers of serial publications, have the luxury of warming themselves up in public.

It sort of doesn't work. Fledgling writers would not be allowed. It's not an art form. It's actually bad form.

But superstars are idolized, and even though he scorned such idolatry, superstar Charles was idolized in his time like the Dickens. So he wasn't above a long lead-in, and Little Dorrit is anything but little. With 800 pages to work with, he could take his time; there were more forests then, and that is one reason why there are fewer now.

The risk in such a beginning is really not where it takes the reader. It is in where it might take the writer; especially a fairly jaded writer in his early 40s. Not that that is old, but the best person in Little Dorrit, who also happens to be a man in his early 40s, has a few problems feeling old at that age.

So Little Dorrit proceeds from sketchy beginnings through a lengthy enterprise of dark dejection. As I have said, its humour doesn't lift its spirits high enough to be much good at a party. The book is dismal and depressing. No doubt Charles was describing the familiar disease, the virus called humankind, quite adroitly. It is still a dismal, depressing disease, this human thing.

At least it was for the first six hundred pages. There was a teensy bit of light showing, however. Fanny, who disgusted me at first, became more interesting when she began to take on a more focused role of dominatrix. Very clearly, Charles was awakening to this modification of his character. And I was noticing that Charles and Fanny would have made quite the couple at a few select downtown parties of these times in which you and I live. There is nothing of chance in Fanny's domination and her man's submission. Charles was loving it. (Check out Miss Wade, too. Haughty, implicitly beautiful—and dominant.) And, so much did he love it, that Fanny was becoming considerably more breathably enjoyable. Hmm. Prettier, too. Charles, like that Huxley writer, had a positively irksome time staying away from his fascination with what he called "bosoms", and both men, intellectuals notwithstanding, made boobs of themselves in their schoolboy fascination, and etched their adolescent boobitriciosity into the stone of their writings. So Fanny is a babe.

Well, this wakes up Charles Dickens the Author. Bleak depression is thrown off; his characters get makeovers. The whole book wakes up at its late three-quarter mark. Now, at last, Charles shows his stuff. Now, at last, his words are publishable without reference to his established reputation. Here we have some real writing. And we have some real fast turns, too, as Charles newly decides to redirect his choices of destiny.

Had he planned this out? No. Absolutely not. Not in this book. He had no idea how stimulating Fanny would become, as in real life he was not entirely cognizant of his own predilections toward the submissive sublime. He didn't know himself that well, but he sure knew his feelings, and he was wide awake as he began a few regime changes in the last quarter. His characters (characterization generally replacing action in a Dickens novel) swerve from predestined courses. In fact, the character-action becomes spectacular as Fanny upstages the pathetic Little Dorrit, and hands Little Dorrit the author's very own criticism of her pathetic character. We are as sick of Mrs. General as Fanny is, and Fanny versus Little on this subject gives Fanny a clear win over Little. Rather suddenly, Fanny has become not only well-endowed but perceptive too, plus she has guts, plus she has a way with men who love being submissive. If Fanny's figure had only been able to free itself from its Times Roman bondage, Charles would surely have asked her out. Of course, we know that in real life he did.

Ah, a good read. In Great Expectations he was in control. He knew he was going to surprise us. In Little Dorrit, he isn't in control, and our faith is in his being a good writer. Well, he ain't such a good writer; not really; not actually—for the longest time. With hundreds of pages to sketch things out, of course he has some pretty good sketches; but he's not doing too well until somewhere about the two-thirds mark. By the three-quarters mark, we have Charles Dickens for everything in which we entrusted our early faith as readers. This is the Charles Dickens in whom we believe. Here is the writer; here is the celebrity. A bit late for the party; but he is here now.

03-30-2006, 04:56 PM
I finished the book a day ago. I tried to read as slowly as I could, but at the time there was a certain amount of glue on my fingers, which caused some difficulty.

Charles Dickens was in his mid-40s when he wrote Little Dorrit and acquired his mistress, Ellen Ternan, into his life. He released the one and took up the other the same year, 1857. He pretty well had to.

I've outlived Charles. The way things are going, I'm likely to be sixty before this year is much more than half over. All these numbers I'm tossing about here are vital in the conception and perception of this Dorrit-woman novel.

Charles Dickens had it made in his forties. He had the thing that caused most of the trouble for other people, in his books—money—and he had ever so much British respectability to go with it. He had apparently not much passion in his life; but then, he was English. English and terribly frustrated; frustrated in various ways physical and intellectual.

England was not behaving itself, as countries don't (I happen to know) when the men inhabiting them become middle-aged. As children we know nothing; as teenagers we know everything. In our twenties we are genteel poets, wise beyond our years. We are that wise because we have come so far up the hill, and the view is very, very good as we approach thirty. The world is made for us then. We shall have a picnic at the top of the hill.

This is a good time to get a lot of the arts and sciences we shall do in our lifetimes, done; because, after the picnic, we do have a minor irritation in becoming ever so slightly aware that, if the picnic were enjoyed at the top of the hill, on the hill's sunshiney summit, where does that locate us, vis-à-vis hilltop geography, now?

So Charles Dickens, in his mid-forties, met his actress.

Ellen Ternan was a few years younger than he was. Little Dorrit was quite a few years younger than Arthur Clennan. But Ellen was no Amy. Charles Dickens, the keen intellectual writer, was about as stupid as most of us men are; and that was why he was having such a bad time of keeping England together during his forties. England was falling apart at its seams, despite its Amys' collective stitchery; and Charles was having difficulty with his happy endings and formula understanding. That was why his Fanny, as I mentioned above, became perhaps a more interesting woman than he might have intended; from bimbo to babe in a few easy chapters. Dickens was discovering things in himself that England hadn't taught him.

He was so on time for meeting his actress.

In theory, Ellen happened along within months of the completion of Little Dorrit. I don't know, but I think he met Ellen before he completed the novel. If he didn't, then he simply had to meet Ellen: he must have so ordered the universe that he would. So Herman Hesse's poor philosopher king in Steppenwolf had to meet his pretty companions, who would have the sorry intellectual so belatedly realizing that God Himself was no intellectual. The world has frequently mentioned that various saints and prophets were without money. Less often it might be realized they rarely had university degrees, either.

In other words, Little Dorrit is a real mess of a novel, because it was written by a man immediately before his meeting the woman who was going to change his life. A woman could have written Little Dorrit much better, because most of the maladies in the novel were an elderly middle-aged man's maladies. Of course, had a woman written Little Dorrit much better, there would have been no Little Dorrit at all. Little matter? Not so; the novel's importance is in its folly. It is entirely worth reading. It is a very good novel.

Charles was wandering all over the place, as I mentioned, as he began writing. I knew he was. Since mentioning that, I've read that he said so in a letter at the time. He was mildly active in politics then, at least as a famous writer; and as he wandered a bit hopelessly into his new novel, he became ever more gloomily conscious that he really didn't have the solutions for England, nor for Mr. Clennam, nor for himself.

Worse, neither did Little Tiny Amy, be her ever so humble.

Amy is remarkably stupid throughout Little Dorrit, considering that a man so genteel as Mr. Clennam might eventually find her attractive. Apparently her great attraction for him was her being in love with him—um, whatever love was understood to be; for it seems doubtful that Charles, Arthur, or Amy knew. I believe love was a martyrish self-sacrificing sense of loyalty to another person reflecting the same.

No wonder there was a tremendous amount of inaction going on throughout England at the time.

Well, I really enjoyed this book. Little Dorrit is an astounding foreshadowing of Charles' imminent affair with a lady much less pathetic than little, little, Little Dorrit. If ever a man described his lostness before meeting his inevitable mistress, here is the book of it. As I said, I doubt the chronology of things for Charles Dickens in 1857. My guess is that he was beginning to see Amy would not have satisfied Arthur Clennam; Charles' formulas for the British good and the individual good were really not good enough. I wonder, too, what Mr. Dickens' wife Catherine thought about toward year's end. No chance she was glad to have him at somewhat more of a distance, was there?

Well, throughout Little Dorrit, there are strange quiet groanings and night-sounds of great old beams that are in grave need of a house-inspection. I suppose Charles felt the solution to these warnings was maybe to lay some new carpet. But, Mr. Dickens: you had better get out; you had better leave. Say your eight hundred pages, and go see a play, or something. There must be something good on stage.

09-24-2009, 04:04 PM
I just began and appreciate reading your thoughts. I am listening to this remarkable book on CD on my commute to work (an hour each way). I adore Dickens and appreciate the many facets of human virtue and folly he so beautifully illustrates. And I love that you posted all this!