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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).

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