Published in serial form December 1854-April 1857
Reprinted: Penguin Books, 2009
I did it! I've finished Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens! And a worthy, though very long read it was!
As is the case with most of the novels written by Charles Dickens there is one main plot and there are many subplots within a story. There are also one or two main characters and a host of supporting characters and extras. Little Dorrit is no different. I hesitated to write a summary of Little Dorrit as there are so many subplots to the main plot. In the end I decided to stick with the summary given by the publisher:
"When Arthur Clennam returns to England after many years abroad, he takes a kindly interest in Amy Dorrit, his mother’s seamstress, and in the affairs of Amy’s father, William Dorrit, a man of shabby grandeur, long imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea. As Arthur soon discovers, the dark shadow of the prison stretches far beyond its walls to affect the lives of many, from the kindly Mr. Pancks, the reluctant rent-collector of Bleeding Heart Yard, and the tipsily garrulous Flora Finching, to Merdle, an unscrupulous financier, and the bureaucratic Barnacles in the Circumlocution Office." (Summary courtesy of the publisher)
Little Dorrit as a story covers many things. It is considered one of the best satires on poverty, riches, and imprisonment. It is also about the journey of self-awareness: how do you see yourself and your circumstances and how do your circumstances (both good and bad) impact who you are, who you become, and how you treat those around you? Little Dorrit is also a love story -- love lost and love found. Last, it is a mystery. From the start of the novel the mystery is woven and the threads aren't tied up until close to the very end in typical Dickens fashion.
I loved Little Dorrit. It was a great read. And I won't deny that it is a long and at times a laborious read, but it was still a great read. At 859 pages and written in 19th century English with multiple characters, story plots and threads for the reader to keep track of, Little Dorrit is no potato chip novel... It's more like a steak. With slow and careful chewing one can finish the "steak novel" and will feel a lot more fulfilled as a reader than those living solely on a diet of "potato chip novels." Nor can one survive solely on a diet of "steak novels" -- a diet with something lighter is definitely required from time to time. At least, that is my opinion.
Without a doubt Dickens was a phenomenal writer. The fact his novels are still in print 150 years later is a testament to that fact. By why is he so phenomenal? His novels speak biblical truth without being the least bit preachy. Lessons are taught in entertaining and lasting stories. (Sometimes they are even applicable to modern times and events.) The plots are thick and rich with detail and social commentary. His characters are unique, entertaining, quirky, lovable, and even at times despicable. His prose paints vivid pictures of people, places, and things. It is no wonder that the writings of Charles Dickens are considered classics. It isn't just because they were written over 150 years ago, it is because they are well-formed, well-written works of art.
On a scale of 1-5, 1being horrible and 5 being excellent it should be no surprise that I rate Little Dorrit a 5. I loved this novel and am pleased to have it included in my personal library. I encourage readers everywhere to give Dickens a chance. His books are not snack reading. They are the entree. They might seem a lot to take on when the book is first opened, but a reader, with time and practice they become easier to read, understand, and enjoy.