Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit isn’t like the other Dickens novels I’ve read (Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol).  It differs in two major ways. First, this book centers around a female character, the Little Dorrit of the title.  And second, one of the main plot lines is a possible romance between Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, the main male character. These two aspects of the book explain why I liked it so much. Sure, there were parts of this 850-page tome that held little interest for me, but we always returned, eventually, to Little Dorrit and/or Arthur.

Many people refer to Little Dorrit as “the one about debtors’ prison”. That’s because Little Dorrit (her first name is Amy, but few people use it) was born and raised in a London debtors’ prison where her father has been imprisoned for over 20 years.  Her mother is dead and so now Little Dorrit considers it her duty and her pleasure to look after her father, who is perfectly happy to let her make all kinds of sacrifices for him.  Meanwhile, Arthur has returned from many years abroad, and he meets Little Dorrit at his mother’s house, where she works as a seamstress.  Arthur takes a friendly interest in Little Dorrit, and the plot begins to move. Of course, there are lots of other characters and lots of other plot lines.  There’s Pet Meagles, the beautiful young woman who Arthur tries not to fall in love with since she’s in love with someone else. There’s the evil  Rigaud, who keeps popping up to complicate the lives of everyone he comes into contact with, especially Arthur’s cold, cruel mother.  There’s the paranoid Miss Wade, who is connected to the Meagles family and to Rigaud, and perhaps to Mrs. Clennam as well.

Oh, there are lots more, some comic and some tragic. Dickens knows how to develop characters and how to weave a compelling story. Little Dorrit is one of his best and most popular books, so if you’ve been considering reading more Dickens you might want to give this one a try.

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