Dickens Champions: plot, people, prunes & prisms, process and points
13 July 2012 / 0 Comments
Our Dickens Champions Belper Book Chat met recently and discussed their reading experiences of Little Dorrit under the above headings. Here are some of the group's thoughts and comments:
Prunes and Prisms
(notes collated by Jade)
When it comes to themes and the language he uses in Little Dorrit, Dickens divided opinion in Belper Book Group. In fact, the one thing we all agreed on what that his writing is like Marmite - you either love it or hate it.
Those who were more enthusiastic about the novel said one of the main themes was rags to riches, and the characters were used as devices to illustrate his points. Most of the main characters were taken out of their comfort zones during the course of the story and yet many also found that in the end they had travelled full circle and returned to where they had started.
It was suggested that Dickens' many characters work by giving every reader at least one person they can identify with.
Another big theme was time - the marking of time and daily routines, killing time, and how the passage of time altered circumstances and personalities. For some characters time lagged as a penance, while for others it passes too quickly and changed their lives irrecoverably. Some had "gone to seed" over time.
Those members who were more critical felt that many of the themes of Little Dorrit, such as social issues and class, the infrastructure of society, poverty and abuse, had been repeated in his other novels. And some even suggested they blurred with our previous Dickens book, The Old Curiosity Shop, too closely.
Linguistically, the group agreed that there are moments of brilliance in Little Dorrit. We all liked Flora's dialogue and his powerful descriptions of London that brought buildings and places to life.
However, while some characters were "written really well" others did not strike such a chord and many were simply the same stereotypes that Dickens has wheeled out in other novels.
Some members felt there were too many characters and places, "too much plot" and quite simply too many words. One member, who works for our local newspaper, felt that Little Dorrit would have been much better it if had been subject to the rigorous editing process that modern day novels and other published works face.
Another member felt that Dickens' style was more fitting to that of an on-going script or soap opera than a novel. And another suggested that Dickens "rambles and ambles" in a style that is much too long-winded.
(one of Bill's contributions)
For some it ended well: Arthur (employed and married); Amy (married, a mother and monied -did she get the 1,000 guineas?); Doyce (renowned and successful); Sparkler (honoured, employed, married to a girl with no nonsense about her, and parenthood); Cavelletto (happy, employed and at home in Bleeding Heart Yard); Maggy (returned to the bosom of 'little mother'); Tattycoram (reconciled with the Meagles in their cosy cottage); Flintwinch (moneyed in Antwerp); Mrs Merdle (still with her bosom, still supported financially, still in demand socially); and the Plornishes (popular entrepreneurs with devoted customers and more security, in spite of cash flow problems).
For some it ended badly: both Fanny (dissatisfied and aspiring) and her brother (dissatisfied and reckless), neither of whom attended Amy's wedding; Pet (married to a delusional waster); John Chivery (left to a lonely life of dedicating tombstones); Miss Wade (alone with her shoulder chips in Calais); Mr. Casby (humiliated and exposed); Flora (stuck with Mr. F's Aunt, stuck without Arthur, though not too down-hearted I'll be bound); Mrs. Clenham (exposed, homeless and stroke-affected)
For some it just ended: William and Frederick Dorrit; Fintwinch's twin, Ephraim, and Rigaud-Blandois; Mr. Merdle; and Lion, Henry's dog - all dead.
And some just carried on as usual: Mr Chivery (still on the lock); Pancks (puffing for Doyce and Clenham); Affery (still serving Mrs Clenham); Henry Gowan and his mother (still self-important and self-obsessed); Mrs. General (still practising her prunes and prisms); and the Barnacles (an unmoveable, intransigent institution).
We've certainly got to know them all, and my favourites would be, in order: Affery (first), Flora, then Sparkler, and Mr. Merdle's butler - the ones who made me laugh.
(compiled by Hilary)
Dickens published all his books (except the Christmas books) in instalments. The Wikipaedia entry, based on David Lodge's Consciousness and the Novel, says:
The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience's reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.
Modern-day writers do something similar e.g. TV script writers, fairly comparable to Victorian series writers and also the modern day idea of new and aspiring authors publishing books online is an example where reader feedback can affect plot development.
In order to try and imitate the reading experience of the 19th century, some members followed an instalments scheme suggested and devised by group members. This covered breaking the book down into 19 parts at approximately weekly intervals; a few members circulated comments by email each week, with a key member summarising the main points in the section last read and raising pertinent issues.
One issue for some with this was that we began to get confused with characters from Tale of Two Cities and The Old Curiosity Shop (e.g. confusing Little Dorrit/Nell/Lucie Manette). Some found this method was too 'laboured' and a bit like 'homework'- out of the 11 at the discussion meeting, 6 had finished the book, of whom 3 had read by instalments in this way. Only two of the instalments-finishers really enjoyed the book.
Several people used audio to some extent, again not exclusively 'finishers' or 'enjoyers' So in this group the method of reading probably didn't impact on enjoyment/success dramatically.
The average score was 4.8 out of 10 for the reading experience (range 1 - 9). We usually end our Book chat meetings by allocating a score - and at the end of the year draw up a score chart!