Little Dorrit by Charles DickensOriginally published in monthly installments between 1855 and 1857, the novel focuses on the various forms of imprisonment, both physical and psychological, while also concentrating on dysfunctional family ties. Accordingly, Dickens avidly criticizes the social deficiencies of the time including injustice, social hypocrisy, the austerity of the Marshalsea debtors’ prison, and bureaucratic inefficiency.
The novel kicks off with the introduction of William Dorrit, the oldest prisoner in the Marshalsea prison, who is also referred to as The Father of the Marshalsea. His imprisonment is owed to poor business decisions, which have secured him a place in the debtors’ prison in London. Here he shares accommodation with his wife and children Fanny and Tip, and later the Dorrits welcome their second daughter Amy, who is born inside the prison and is incidentally the Dorrit of the title. The eponymous Little Dorrit grows to become a meek and benevolent young woman who despite her poor financial state, unselfishly takes care of her whole family without the slightest complaint. At the same time the novel welcomes Arthur Clennam, a somewhat idle man in his forties, who has just returned to London following his father’s death after years abroad on family business. Returning to see his mother, a cold and bitter woman, Arthur intends to discuss some details concerning their family business. Troubled by his family’s past, Arthur is determined to uncover the truth behind their fortune. Later, he becomes acquainted with Amy Dorrit, and a special friendship develops between the two, as Arthur sees it as his duty to take the young woman under his protection and unravel the mysterious past surrounding both their families. Consequently, the novel observes the mysterious intertwinement between the two families, as their carefully kept secrets slowly come to light.
Nevertheless, Little Dorrit offers a colorful set of characters, a gripping central plot, and several subplots which essentially bring about the notion of redemption. Moreover, it serves as a vivid example to support the idea that anyone is able to reverse their fortune and bring down the invisible walls that seem to confine one to their self-condemned imprisonment. A classic tale depicting Victorian England with its bleak shortcomings and enduring hope, Little Dorrit enthralls with its convoluted relationships, twists and a plethora of characters and subplots, which essentially makes the lengthy novel a pleasure to devour.
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