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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.

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