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Monday, August 29, 2011

Henry Gowan

Henry Gowan is the fiancĂ© of Pet Meagles, whom Arthur realizes he loves after her engagement (Arthur is quite flexible in love).  The Meagles do not like Gowan personally, though they embrace the match due to the connection it provides to the Barnacles, the corrupt ruling family in the Circumlocution Office.  Nevertheless, the Gowans, though well-connected, are poor themselves, forcing Henry to earn his living.  Henry expresses disappointment that his distant relatives do not give him money so that he doesn't have to work.

'Why,' returned Gowan, 'I belong to a clan, or a clique, or a family, or a connection, or whatever you like to call it, that might have provided for me in any one of fifty ways, and that took it into its head not to do it at all. So here I am, a poor devil of an artist' (Book 1, Ch. 34).

Gowan's choosing art "partly to grieve the souls of the Barnacles-in-chief who had not provided for him" (Book 1, Ch. 17) shows he has no love for art and that he is lazy and wants an easy way to earn money. 

He appeared to be an artist by profession, and to have been at Rome some time; yet he had a slight, careless, amateur way with him—a perceptible limp, both in his devotion to art and his attainments—which Clennam could scarcely understand (Book 1, Ch. 17).

Gowan proves careless not only in his vocation but also in his words.  He repeatedly exhibits "dexterous impudence" through insincere praise.

It appeared, before the breakfast was over, that everybody whom this Gowan knew was either more or less of an ass, or more or less of a knave; but was, notwithstanding, the most lovable, the most engaging, the simplest, truest, kindest, dearest, best fellow that ever lived. The process by which this unvarying result was attained, whatever the premises, might have been stated by Mr Henry Gowan thus: 'I claim to be always book-keeping, with a peculiar nicety, in every man's case, and posting up a careful little account of Good and Evil with him. I do this so conscientiously, that I am happy to tell you I find the most worthless of men to be the dearest old fellow too: and am in a condition to make the gratifying report, that there is much less difference than you are inclined to suppose between an honest man and a scoundrel.' The effect of this cheering discovery happened to be, that while he seemed to be scrupulously finding good in most men, he did in reality lower it where it was, and set it up where it was not; but that was its only disagreeable or dangerous feature (Book 1, Ch. 17).

Though Gowan does not have evil intentions, one learns quickly not to trust his judgment of others.  Dickens furthers this perspective by Gowan's friendship with Rigaud and Sparkler, as well as his relation to the Barnacles.  Rigaud is a murderer and Sparkler is weak-minded and undistinguished.  If a man is defined by the company he keeps, Gowan is bad news.

His relationship to the Barnacles shows he shares sentiments with them.  His opposition to progress is illustrated in the following quote:

'Painters, writers, patriots, all the rest who have stands in the market. Give almost any man I know ten pounds, and he will impose upon you to a corresponding extent; a thousand pounds—to a corresponding extent; ten thousand pounds—to a corresponding extent. So great the success, so great the imposition. But what a capital world it is!' cried Gowan with warm enthusiasm. 'What a jolly, excellent, lovable world it is!'

'I had rather thought,' said Clennam, 'that the principle you mention was chiefly acted on by—'

'By the Barnacles?' interrupted Gowan, laughing. 

'By the political gentlemen who condescend to keep the Circumlocution Office' (Book 1, Ch. 26).

If one impedes progress, one avoids obligation to others for that progress.  Gowan does not believe in work and has no problem impeding the work of others.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Book of Nobodies

Dickens originally planned to name the novel Nobody's Fault, and though he changed the title, the theme of nobody remains a part of the work.  Many characters struggle with their identity throughout the novel.  One major reason for that struggle is the inability to define oneself through the family entity.  In the case of Miss Wade and Tattycoram, one's family is a mystery and both characters show a reluctance to adapt themselves to a familial unit.  Another cluster of characters deal with the loss of a parent:

*Clennam returns to London after the death of his father.
*Little Dorrit's mother dies soon after her birth
*Flora's mother as well as that of Young Chivery is never identified
*Edmund Sparkler is the son of Mrs. Merdle from a previous relationship

In addition to this, Pet Meagles deals with the loss of a twin sister while Maggy shows her confusion with her identity by calling the younger Little Dorrit "Little Mother."  Mrs. Clennam admits she is not Arthur's mother, a fact he learns after the novel ends.  Because of these issues, many characters have trouble coming to terms with their identity and understanding who they are.

Interestingly, two of the strongest family units in the novel are opposites.  On one hand are the Barnacles, a strong family, though corrupt, that runs England and never relinquishes power.  All positions of power remain within the family.  Though Dickens portrays this family and politically corrupt, he uses the Barnacles to show the power possible to a strong family unit.

On the other hand are the Plornishs, an extremely poor, though honest, family that lives in Bleeding Heart Yard.  Mr. Plornish is a hard-working plasterer, who has trouble finding work in order to feed his wife and many kids.  Nevertheless, the family is always happy and willing to help others.

Ultimately, the novel is about a bunch of nobodies trying to find their role in the world.  Dickens shows that the lack of knowledge about one's identity makes finding that role difficult.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Imprisonment in Little Dorrit, Part Two

Tattycoram feels she is imprisoned as a part of the Meagles household, only to learn true subjugation when she runs away to live with Miss Wade.  Adopted by the Meagles to serve as a maid to their daughter Pet, Tattycoram feels jealous of the attention Pet receives, forgetting the attention she herself receives.  Tattycoram's past of neglect and abandonment fuels her anger and fear of a similar future, though she acknowledges that she knows that the Meagles are good to her.  Miss Wade preys on the vulnerable Tattycoram, possibly as a love interest, and strengthens the cords of her imprisonment by making "Harriet" (her given name) totally dependent on her.  Tattycoram misses the Meagles, visiting their residence in their absences and eventually returns to them.

Miss Wade herself is imprisoned by her past, in which she was an orphan.  As a result, she seeks to control everyone she grows close to.  As a young girl, she suspects her peers are only nice to her because she is an orphan and she rejects their benevolent condescension.  She becomes upset when her one true friend makes friends with others.  She becomes engaged to a young man and provokes him to jealousy by flirting with Henry Gowan, later ending the engagement though nothing developed with Gowan.  She uses a similar past of uncertain birth to attract Tattycoram, only to make the life of the latter more miserable than previously perceived.  Miss Wade's past prevents her from developing proper relationships with others.

The residents of Bleeding Heart Yard are unknowingly imprisoned by Mr. Casby, their landlord.  BHY is a poor area of London in which live the Plornish's, a hard-working and honest, though impoverish family.  Casby hires Pancks to collect the rents, which causes the latter to be viewed as the antagonist of the residents while Casby is envisioned as philanthropic .  Pancks bleeds the residents of their money, though Casby pushes him to bleed them further, being unsatisfied with the results.  Casby knows but ignores the poverty of his tenants and only concerns himself with obtaining more money.

Almost all of society is imprisoned by the Barnacles, who run the Circumlocution Office.  Controlling the country through a hereditary oligarchy of sorts, the Barnacles prevent anything of significance from happening in the country.  Through exaggerated bureaucratic means, they follow the philosophy "How not to do it" in their governance.  As a result, society is prevented from making any progress, which is portrayed in the case of Doyce being denied for no reason a patent for his inventions.  Only Merdle is too rich to be under their control.

Ironically, Little Dorrit is imprisoned by the society outside of the walls of the Marshalsea.  She was born and grew up in the prison and she understand the role she is expected to perform there.  Nevertheless, once Mr. Dorrit receives his freedom and wealth, Little Dorrit no longer knows how to function in her family or in society.  She does not want to give up her old, tattered clothing and often has dreams of her days at the Marshalsea.  She cannot function in a false society and finds comfort when Clennam goes to jail and she can return to the role she once performed for her father.   She is only able to leave in peace when she leaves with Clennam.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Imprisonment in Little Dorrit, Part One

A recurring theme in Little Dorrit is imprisonment.  Obviously, the Marshalsea has an dominating presence in Part One of the novel.  Mr. Dorrit is imprisoned there over 20 years and sees his youngest child Amy born there.  Even after he is released, Mr. Dorrit is still haunted by the pervasive nature of the prison, as much as he tries to banish it from his memory.  Mr. Dorrit tries to maintain his dignity while in prison, acquiring the title of "Father of the Marshalsea," which is considered a moniker of respect.  Also, he pretends to be ignorant of his children's attempts to earn money for the family, so that the pang of his failure towards them will lessen.  The effect of the prison on its inhabitants is a role reversal.

One way in which this effect is illustrated is through the relationships Little Dorrit develops with her father and Little Maggy.  To her father Little Dorrit becomes the provider, making money for the family while guaranteeing that Mr. Dorrit has his meals.  With Maggy, though Little Dorrit is much younger, her maternal actions towards the Maggy causes the latter to call the former "Little Mother."  Mr. Meagles notices the stifling, suffocating atmosphere of the prison, causing him to have trouble breathing.  Dickens portrays that stifling dimension of the prison in Maggy's inability to conceive of herself as older than ten, and in Little Dorrit's small stature, despite her obvious maturity.  Tip, Little Dorrit's brother, leaves the prison on multiple occasions, only to return every time.  The prison refuses to relinquish its hold on him, in spite of his attempts to escape its grasp.  However, few are able to escape, including the turnkey who dies in the prison only to have his son succeed him.  The only persons to escape successfully are Arthur and Amy, and they do it together.  After Arthur becomes a victim of Merdle's scheme and is sent to prison, Amy with the help of Meagles, frees Arthur.  The shared trait between Arthur and Amy is that neither bows at the altar of Mammon and both show a willingness to sacrifice everything they have for just reasons.   Therefore, neither of the two remain within the hold of a prison whose inhabitants were jailed for debts, symbolizing greed.

Nevertheless, the Marshalsea is not the only prison on which those in Little Dorrit find themselves.  Others are imprisoned figuratively.  One example is Mrs. Clennam, who is a prisoner in her own house.  Bound to a wheelchair, Mrs. Clennam never leaves her room, though she receives visitors.  Everything about the house reminds one of a prison; it is an old, dilapidated edifice, always dark and airless, like the Marshalsea.  Mrs. Clennam's self-imposed sentence reflects her guilt over the unjust treatment of the Dorrit family at the hands of the Clennams.  Consequently, her imprisonment is an act of penance though she is only truly released from her prison when she decides to reveal the truth about the past.  Only then does she leave the premises (to go to the Marshalsea, ironically). 

Nevertheless, she is partly responsible for Affery's imprisonment in the same domicile.  Forced to marry the butler, Affery is trapped in a loveless relationship with an abusive husband.  She sees a lot that she is not supposed to see but is told that he has dreamed it.  Affery is stuck in a dream world and is only released when the truth is revealed at the end.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Rebuttal to George Eliot

In contrast to Eliot's assertion (quoted in the previous post) that Dickens rarely gives an internal examination of his characters to the extent that he illustrates external traits, Alan Palmer, in Social Minds in the Novel, explains in a chapter on Little Dorrit that Dickens' examination of the private thoughts of his characters is more subtle but not absent.  Dickens uses the external perspective to explore the internal workings of the mind.  Palmer uses examples of facial expression and nonverbal communication to show how the thoughts of characters are perceived by others.

Palmer uses the term "visible thought" to characterized one way in which a character's thoughts are discerned by those around him.  Palmer uses the example of Merdle's worrying, stating "Even a solipsistic character such as Mr. Dorrit is able to notice when Merdle is out of sorts" (108).  The reticent Merdle is one character about whom the reader learns more from other characters than from himself.  Facial expressions often offer opportunity to see these "visible thoughts, such as the "shade of disappointment" Clennam sees on Mrs. Plornish's face.  For this reason, many characters (e.g. Miss Wade) adopt stolid expressions to avoid detection of their thoughts.  Palmer uses this outward display of the inner life to refute claims of a lack of internal examination by Dickens.

Nonverbal communication between characters who know each other well provides an opportunity to know the thoughts of others.  For example, Fanny gives Amy a warning frown that stops Amy from speaking.  Palmer also gives examples of how just a look from different characters can communicate different things.  The look is used to give or get info, as a warning, to intimidate, and to thank someone, all of which communicate ideas with words.

Ultimately, I think Eliot wins the argument, though Palmer makes valid points.  Dickens does not make a psychological approach to his characters in Little Dorrit, which is, essentially, Eliot's contention.  Knowing the thoughts of a character does give an internal view, though only in a limited way.  Eliot, however, would want to know, not just the thoughts, but also exactly how one's mind works.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Contemporary Quotes about Little Dorrit

 "Some readers may honestly prefer other works by the same author to this work:  we ourselves have our own preferences: but we know of no other author in our time who could have produced Little Dorrit.  The spirits are fresh - the humours as droll - the pathos and tenderness as deep - as anything we know from the same hand.  What an invention is the Circumlocution Office!  What a marvel is Mrs. Clennam!  What a picture is that of the Marshalsea!  Except in Amelia where have we such another prison interior?   We see in Little Dorrit no decrease of power, no closing of eyes, no slackening of pulse.  There is enough of genius in this book to have made a sensation for any other name.  To say it is not worthy of Dickens, is to pay him an immense compliment.  (William Hepworth Dixon in the Athenaeum, June 1857)

We must confess to some disappointment at the explanation towards the close of the book, of the mystery connected with Mrs. Clennam and the old house with its strange noises.  It is deficient in clearness, and does not fulfill the expectations of the reader, which have been wound up to a high pitch.  Indeed, the woof of the entire story does not hold together with sufficient closeness - a fault perhaps inseparable from the mode of publication.  The writing, however, shows all Mr. Dickens singular union of close observation and rich fancy.  (Unsigned review in the Leader, June 1857)

...in these post-Pickwickian works the author aspires not only to be a humourist, but an artist and a moralist; and in his later productions...he aims at being, besides artist and moralist, politician, philosopher, and ultra-philanthropist.  If we direct attention to his weakness in these latter characters, it is solely because he has for years past evinced more and more his tendency to abandon his strong point as humourist and comic-writer, and to base his pretensions on grounds which we consider utterly false and unstable.  For as a humourist we prefer Dickens to all living men - as artist, moralist, politician, philosopher, and ultra-philanthropist, we prefer many living men, women, and children to Dickens.  It is because we so cordially recognised, and so keenly enjoyed, his genius in his earlier works, that we now protest against the newer phase he chooses to appear in...  (E. B. Hamley in Blackwood's Magazine April 1857)

We have one great novelist who is gifted with the utmost power of rendering the external traits of our town population; and if he could give us their psychological character - their conceptions of life and their emotions - with the same truth a their idiom and manners, his books would be the greatest contribution Art has ever made to the awakening of social sympathies.  But while he can copy Mrs. Plornish's colloquial style with the delicate accuracy of a sun-picture...he scarely ever passes from the humourous and external to the emotional and tragic, without becoming as trascendent in hi unreality as he was a moment before in his artistic truthfulness.  (George Eliot in article, "The Natural History of German Life," July 1856)

Long life to you dear F. and recommend me to Dickens; and thank him a hundred times for 'the Circumlocution Office'; which is priceless after its sort!  We have laughed long and loud over it here; and laughter is by no means the supreme result in it.  Oh Heavens...  (Thomas Carlyle in letter to Dickens editor John Forster, 1856)

Though Dickens states in his preamble that his readership increased during the serialization of Little Dorrit, I must agree with those quoted above that the ending is not satisfying and that one finds a preference for his earlier works.  Nevertheless, while the novel is not Dickens' best plot construction, undeniable is the ever-present Dickens humor.  As Eliot points out, Dickens has a knack for creating caricatures, many of which his contemporary audience could identify with.  Also, the appropriately-named Circumlocution Office, in its harsh but entertaining portrayal, provoked bouts of laughter from readers.  As with all of Dickens' writings, one cannot but admire his ability to illustrate masterfully his criticisms of society. 

Nevertheless, despite all of the usual Dickensian traits, one is surprised at how uninteresting the titular heroine is.  Amy Dorrit, though very active in the narrative, never captivates the reader.  In general, one finds oneself apathetic towards her story.  The history of Little Dorrit consist of her birth in prison and her workings to make life as comfortable as possible for her family, in spite of its position in society.  However, Little Dorrit lacks depth and, though noble, is quite boring.

Many other characters, however, are excellent drawn.  Flora, Pancks, Affery and Mrs. Clennam are all entertaining and Rigaud is a great antagonist, though Merdle personally does not seem as evil as his actions.  Ultimately, the ending is unsatisfying, but there are many elements that make it an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Maria (Beadnell) Winter and Little Dorrit Part 2

From this point, there is a stark contrast in Dickens' correspondence with Mrs. Winter.  Gone is the rapturous language of infatuation and present is a stolid, detached tone of a mere acquaintance.  In a letter dated Tuesday, 3 April 1855, Dickens describes a recent trip to Ashford and laments the hardships of being a writer.  He even suggests he will "put everything else away from me" to focus on writing.  A trip to the continent is in the future so that he can "shut myself up in some out of the way place I have never yet thought of, and go desperately to work there."  In a letter in June of that same year, Dickens offers his condolences to Mrs. Winter after the loss of her child but decides against seeing her:  "It is better that I should not come to see you.  I feel quite sure of that, and will think of you instead."  Dickens pursue nothing more than a friendly companionship.

Dickens began Little Dorrit in May 1855 with this episode fresh in his memory.  Though the novel focuses on government inaction and the corrupting ability of money, Dickens includes his characteristic humorous depictions, such as in the character of Flora, who was once the love interest of Arthur Clennam, the male protagonist.  Clennam returns to England after twenty years in China and visits the home of Flora's father Mr. Casby.  There, he finds out that Flora is a widow and Clennam entertains the idea of a renewed courtship.  But upon seeing Flora, Clennam is shocked at how she has changed:

Clennam's eyes no sooner fell upon the subject of his old passion than it shivered and broke to pieces (Ch. 13). 

Clennam, like Dickens, was expecting the same beautiful woman of his youth and is surprised at how changed she is.

Flora, always tall, had grown to be very broad too, and short of breath; but that was not much. Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become a peony; but that was not much. Flora, who had seemed enchanting in all she said and thought, was diffuse and silly. That was much. Flora, who had been spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled and artless now. That was a fatal blow (Ch. 13).

Clennam is not at much dismayed by her physical appearance as he is by her personality traits.  Among her chief flaws is her garrulousness.  After finding out that Clennam has not married, Flora volubly expresses surprise:

 'Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!' tittered Flora; 'but of course you never did why should you, pray don't answer, I don't know where I'm running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off their foreheads don't they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bells all over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don't they really do it?' Flora gave him another of her old glances. Instantly she went on again, as if he had spoken in reply for some time. 

'Then it's all true and they really do! good gracious Arthur!—pray excuse me—old habit—Mr Clennam far more proper—what a country to live in for so long a time, and with so many lanterns and umbrellas too how very dark and wet the climate ought to be and no doubt actually is, and the sums of money that must be made by those two trades where everybody carries them and hangs them everywhere, the little shoes too and the feet screwed back in infancy is quite surprising, what a traveller you are!' 

One can see the humorous light in which Dickens portrays the scene but he himself was disappointed in seeing his old love in such an unflattering state.  The woman who had inspired Dora had now inspired the chattering Flora (rhyming names likely done purposely).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Maria (Beadnell) Winter and Little Dorrit Part 1

Dickens met the beautiful Maria Beadnell in 1829 and immediately fell in love with her.  A young, shorthand court reporter, Dickens was two years younger than Maria, whose parents were suspicious of the poor boy from a family without rank.  Maria's father also found out that Dickens' father had been a prisoner in the Marshalsea, making Charles an even more unattractive mate for the Beadnell daughter.  The love affair last four years, but Maria begins to tired of Dickens about two years in and begins to discourage his attentions.  Ultimately, Dickens ends his unproductive pursuits, vowing never to recover, though he met his future wife two years later.

Dickens based the character Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield on Maria Beadnell.  In the novel, Dora is the love interest of the youthful titular character and eventually marries him, though she dies after a miscarriage soon after marriage.  Dickens never forgot Maria, who later married a poor sawmill manager, likely regretting her rejection of the man who would become England's most famous writer of his day.  In what was a shock to Dickens, Maria wrote him a letter out of nowhere in February 1855, after more than 20 years of silence.  Dickens is immediately captivated and the olden feelings began to be rekindled.  Dickens wants to arrange a quiet dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Winter and his own wife, though it becomes obvious, reading his correspondence with Maria, that he still has feelings for her.

There are things that I have locked up in my own breast and that I never thought to bring out any more.  But when I find myself writing to you again "all to yourself," how can I forbear to let as much light in upon them as will shew you that they are there still!

Dickens kept the correspondence a secret from his wife, writing to Maria,

No one but myself has the slightest knowledge of my correspondence, I may add in this place.  I could be nowhere addressed with stricter privacy or in more absolute confidence than at my own house.

After Maria suggests a clandestine meeting, Dickens explains how fame has erased his anonymity:

I am a dangerous man to be seen with, for so many people know me.  At St. Paul's the Dean and the whole chapter know me.  In Paternoster Row of all places, the very tiles and chimney pots know me.

Though Maria warned Dickens that she was no longer the beauty she once was but was now "toothless, fat, old, and ugly," Dickens refused to believe it but was shocked by her appearance upon meeting her 25 February 1855.  In addition to being fat and old, Maria had developed (or retained) a silly giggle and a discursive habit that repulsed Dickens.  The Maria of his youth was gone.


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