Friday, 19 September 2003

Little Dorrit

Listening to:

Beethoven, Fidelio.

Just read:

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit.

I began reading this novel under the impression that it was one of three late, great, dark novels by Dickens. The other two members of the set were supposed to be Bleak House, and Our mutual friend. Having greatly enjoyed both of those novels, I had pretty high hopes for this one too. Sadly, I don’t think it’s as good, though it’s still pretty entertaining. The big problem is that the plot doesn’t develop organically. Instead it is jerked to and fro by too many deus ex machina moments.

A related problem is that none of the characters seem to change. The hero, Clennam, is of an under-specified age, but is probably about 40, and for a long time thinks only paternal thoughts about little Dorrit, when he should be being romantic. It doesn’t help that he spends far too much time telling himself that he is too old, and generally moping about. His one change, to decide that he should be marrying LD after all, is not described at all. Little Dorrit is a typical Dickensian heroine, saintly and meek to a fault. She and her family remain unchanging through-out.

The comic characters are good: I liked both Pancks, Mrs. Flintwich and especially Flora Finching. But the usual Dickens satire of society (in this case, directed at government bureaucracy in the form of the Circumlocution Office) seems flat in comparison with Jarndyce & Jarndyce in Bleak House, and Podsnap in Our mutual friend.

There’s some good drama in the novel, particularly when the dastardly villain is around, but it’s not as good as Martin Chuzzlewit, and I see that I gave that 7½ out of 10. Therefore I give Little Dorrit a 7.

I’m just back from four weeks in Europe, during which time I steadfastly refused to update this ’log, though I had the means to do so on numerous occasions. For example, I was particularly taken with the fact that I was able to read my e-mail on an Australian machine in the ANU while sitting in a cloister that used to be attached to S. Pietro in Vincoli, not far from the Colosseum in Rome. It’s going to get easier to take such technological miracles for granted. Anyway, I have two Pratchetts and two Iain M. Banks to report on over the next few days.