Charles Dickens

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Little Dorrit

by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit is a novel by Charles Dickens which was published in serial form between 1855 and 1857. The novel satirizes the inept bureaucracy (examplified by the almost Kafkaesque Government Ministry called the "Circumlocution Office"") and the social injustices of the time, particularly the debtors' prison called Marshalsea where the author's own father had been imprisoned.

The title character is the daughter William Dorrit, a man who has been imprisoned for countless years in the debtors' prison. The story concerns the adventures of Litte Dorrit and her love interest, Arthur Clenham with whom she falls in love but who does not immediately return her affections. Little Dorrit and Clenham eventually succeed in receiving a fortune, which changes everyone for the worse except Little Dorrit who remains optimistic and kind as ever. Eventually Clenham is himself imprisoned in the debtors' prison, where Little Dorrit takes care of him as she had her father.

Like all of Dicken's books, Little Dorrit contains an excellent cast of secondary characters which are interesting and well-drawn.


1. Sun and Shadow
2. Fellow Travellers
3. Home
4. Mrs Flintwinch has a Dream
5. Family Affairs
6. The Father of the Marshalsea
7. The Child of the Marshalsea
8. The Lock
9. little Mother
10. Containing the whole Science of Government
11. Let Loose
12. Bleeding Heart Yard
13. Patriarchal
14. Little Dorrit's Party
15. Mrs Flintwinch has another Dream
16. Nobody's Weakness
17. Nobody's Rival
18. Little Dorrit's Lover
19. The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three Relations
20. Moving in Society
21. Mr Merdle's Complaint
22. A Puzzle
23. Machinery in Motion
24. Fortune-Telling
25. Conspirators and Others
26. Nobody's State of Mind
27. Five-and-Twenty
28. Nobody's Disappearance
29. Mrs Flintwinch goes on Dreaming
30. The Word of a Gentleman
31. Spirit
32. More Fortune-Telling
33. Mrs Merdle's Complaint
34. A Shoal of Barnacles
35. What was behind Mr Pancks on Little Dorrit's Hand
36. The Marshalsea becomes an Orphan

37. Fellow Travellers
38. Mrs General
39. On the Road
40. A Letter from Little Dorrit
41. Something Wrong Somewhere
42. Something Right Somewhere
43. Mostly, Prunes and Prism
44. The Dowager Mrs Gowan is reminded that 'It Never Does'
45. Appearance and Disappearance
46. The Dreams of Mrs Flintwinch thicken
47. A Letter from Little Dorrit
48. In which a Great Patriotic Conference is holden
49. The Progress of an Epidemic
50. Taking Advice
51. No just Cause or Impediment why these Two Persons should not be joined together
52. Getting on
53. Missing
54. A Castle in the Air
55. The Storming of the Castle in the Air
56. Introduces the next
57. The History of a Self-Tormentor
58. Who Passes by this Road so late?
59. Mistress Affery makes a Conditional Promise, respecting her Dreams
60. The Evening of a Long Day
61. The Chief Butler Resigns the Seals of Office
62. Reaping the Whirlwind
63. The Pupil of the Marshalsea
64. An Appearance in the Marshalsea
65. A Plea in the Marshalsea
66. Closing in
67. Closed
68. Going
69. Going!
70. Gone


I have been occupied with this story, during many working hours of two years. I must have been very ill employed, if I could not leave its merits and demerits as a whole, to express themselves on its being read as a whole. But, as it is not unreasonable to suppose that I may have held its threads with a more continuous attention than anyone else can have given them during its desultory publication, it is not unreasonable to ask that the weaving may be looked at in its completed state, and with the pattern finished.

If I might offer any apology for so exaggerated a fiction as the Barnacles and the Circumlocution Office, I would seek it in the common experience of an Englishman, without presuming to mention the unimportant fact of my having done that violence to good manners, in the days of a Russian war, and of a Court of Inquiry at Chelsea. If I might make so bold as to defend that extravagant conception, Mr Merdle, I would hint that it originated after the Railroad-share epoch, in the times of a certain Irish bank, and of one or two other equally laudable enterprises. If I were to plead anything in mitigation of the preposterous fancy that a bad design will sometimes claim to be a good and an expressly religious design, it would be the curious coincidence that it has been brought to its climax in these pages, in the days of the public examination of late Directors of a Royal British Bank. But, I submit myself to suffer judgment to go by default on all these counts, if need be, and to accept the assurance (on good authority) that nothing like them was ever known in this land. Some of my readers may have an interest in being informed whether or no any portions of the Marshalsea Prison are yet standing. I did not know, myself, until the sixth of this present month, when I went to look. I found the outer front courtyard, often mentioned here, metamorphosed into a butter shop; and I then almost gave up every brick of the jail for lost. Wandering, however, down a certain adjacent 'Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey', I came to 'Marshalsea Place:' the houses in which I recognised, not only as the great block of the former prison, but as preserving the rooms that arose in my mind's-eye when I became Little Dorrit's biographer. The smallest boy I ever conversed with, carrying the largest baby I ever saw, offered a supernaturally intelligent explanation of the locality in its old uses, and was very nearly correct. How this young Newton (for such I judge him to be) came by his information, I don't know; he was a quarter of a century too young to know anything about it of himself. I pointed to the window of the room where Little Dorrit was born, and where her father lived so long, and asked him what was the name of the lodger who tenanted that apartment at present? He said, 'Tom Pythick.' I asked him who was Tom Pythick? and he said, 'Joe Pythick's uncle.'

A little further on, I found the older and smaller wall, which used to enclose the pent-up inner prison where nobody was put, except for ceremony. But, whosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea jail; will see its narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered if at all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free; will look upon rooms in which the debtors lived; and will stand among the crowding ghosts of many miserable years.

In the Preface to Bleak House I remarked that I had never had so many readers. In the Preface to its next successor, Little Dorrit, I have still to repeat the same words. Deeply sensible of the affection and confidence that have grown up between us, I add to this Preface, as I added to that, May we meet again!

May 1857


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