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A Good Old Dickens Novel

Sometime before Christmas, I felt like I’d been reading new novels for quite a while and it was time to get back to something 19th century. I went through my Dickens collection for a title I hadn’t read yet and found Little Dorrit. After Christmas, I took a break from it to read Say You’re One of Them for book club and Thicker Than Blood for review and finally finished Little Dorrit just before my next books for review arrived.

As I read the novel, I thought of how novels have changed in the last two hundred years. What Dickens wrote was hugely popular with the readers of his day, but wouldn’t make it past an editor today. Little Dorrit begins with a long (albeit beautiful) description of Marseilles that leaves the reader wondering when on earth we’re going to get into the story. More long passages of description and even longer bits of satirical commentary on the state of English politics are scattered throughout the book. Nowadays, we expect more action and less description.

Yet among those slow, boring passages are the parts that keep readers coming back to Dickens today: the sentences you want to read two or three times, because they are so perfect; the hilarious and easily pictured characters; and the plot twists and turns to figure out. Several characters in particular made me think “only Dickens.” One is Flora, who talks in long, run-on sentences that make hardly any sense. Another is Pancks, always described as a steam ship in his comings and goings and “dockings.”

One passage that caught my attention was far towards the end of the book. In a beautiful statement of faith, Little Dorrit tells her bitter old mistress, “Be guided only by the healer of the sick, the raiser of the dead, the friend of all who were afflicted and forlorn, the patient Master who shed tears of compassion for our infirmities. We cannot but be right if put all the rest away, and do everything of remembrance of Him. There is no vengeance and no infliction of suffering in His life, I am sure. There can be no confusion in following Him, and seeking for no other footsteps, I am certain!” That statement is all the more powerful because we have seen Little Dorrit live it out through the novel.

Bleak House and David Copperfield are probably still my favourite Dickens novels, but Little Dorrit was a good read too—a satisfying Dickens story of complicated connections and happy endings.

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3 Comments

  1. Loren Christie February 9, 2010
  2. Koala Bear Writer February 9, 2010
  3. Eileen Astels Watson February 8, 2010

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