Monday, September 29, 2008

Little Dorrit

It was a classic summer for me, starting it with "War and Peace" and ending it with another hefty tome, Charles Dickens' "Little Dorrit," weighing in at a little over 800 pages.

Written in serial form from 1855 to 1857, "Little Dorrit" is one of Dickens' later - but less well-known - novels. The reason might be that as far as the story line goes, it's a bit of a turkey. The story is weak; some of the characters are two-dimensional; and the climax is a confusing jumble of loose ends hastily tied. "Little Dorrit" was not, however, the end of Dickens' great work; two of his best novels, "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Great Expectations," would follow.

"Little Dorrit," like "Bleak House," is satire and a scathing assault on British life. Government bureaucracy, particularly the patent office, is targeted, along with the ruling class and its obsession for "society" and financial speculation. Characters consist of a handful of decent, practical and honest people surrounded by a crowd of greedy, self-important, vain, pretentious, cold-hearted villains.

As weak as the story may be, Dickens' language is strong: at times hilarious, often sarcastic, and elevated by brilliant description.

What makes "Little Dorrit" worth reading today - more than 150 years after it was written - is its exposure of timeless human weakness. The social attitudes are eerily familiar, and the characters are uncannily similar to the people we know and deal with every day.

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