Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Reading Group

Little Dorrit. Second Installment: Mysteries and Money

Second Installment: Book I, Chapters V-VIII.

One thing you need to know when you’re reading Charles Dickens: He wrote his stories in installments. 

Do you think that he’s a bit much to get through sometimes? That’s because, well, he kinda is. He’s not really meant to be read in one sitting. I mean, if you can sit down and read Little Dorrit in one sitting, then I’m just absolutely impressed with you. Because it’s a solid 850+ pages. So kudos to you. The rest of us need small doses of him. But Dickens has always been among my favorites. In fact, we named our first dog Dickens. 

Here are some helpful little thoughts for this second installment.

~Little Dorrit is a novel full of waiting. I think there are many reasons for this. One simply could be Dickens wanted to keep his readers guessing at what would happen next. Isn’t that more realistic? We don’t know what is going to happen next in our own lives, so it would make sense in a realism novel like Little Dorrit, we as readers constantly guess what might happen next. However, a more interesting and historical hypothesis comes from Jacob Jewusiak.

In an article I’ve linked here, Jewusiak proposes the waiting and mysteries are historically based because of the financial crisis in the 19th century. Dickens warns against “getting rich quickly” by making a long novel full of intricate secrets (Jewusiak 280.)  Jewusiak compares the mysteries in the novel to speculation: neither the speculator nor the reader know the outcome immediately. Jewusiak proposes “Little Dorrit stabilizes character  by rooting it in the temporality of the domestic” (281).

If Dickens wrote to encourage his serial readers to remain wise and careful in their financial decisions, I think his novel is just as  important in today’s digital society. We want to know, and we want to know now, you know. In this installment of Little Dorrit, Arthur Clennam wants to “know, you know” inside the Circumlocution Office. He comes out none the wiser. We don’t have to go inside an office full of Barnacles. We unlock our phones using our fingerprints, and we have access to the World of Information. Do we actually start knowing, though? Or can we simply answer trivia questions? Do we just watch the trailer and read the spoiler and the 30 minutes of news highlights? Or do we really sit and watch a movie, read a book, and digest the news to truly understand what happened?

While the rest of the article makes some extremely interesting hypotheses between the characters as the plot line develops and the financial situations each of the characters finds him or herself bound to accept, it is too early on in the book reading for that to make much sense right now. I won’t bore you with the details. But I will offer a word of advice: Pay attention to money in Little DorritNotice if characters gain money or lose money. How do they react? How do others around them react? 

Questions to Consider for Installment Two.

~Why does Dickens include Arthur’s thoughts in the scene of Maggy and Amy’s interaction? What does this do to the character of Arthur and Amy?

~Do any of the names of people or places stick out to you? Why?

~What questions as Dickens raised in this installment that need answers? What do you think will happen?

And now, time to read installment 3, Book I, Chapters IX-II. 

Happy Reading!

~Izzie

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