Much of the novel takes place in the Marshalsea prison for debtors, an environment with which Dickens was familiar due to his own family history. William Dorrit, father of “Little Dorrit,” has been confined to the prison for so long when the book opens that he has become known inside its walls as “Father of the Marshalsea.” He has lost all hope of ever being released from the prison and has learned to enjoy the respect that he receives there from prison employees and fellow-prisoners alike. In fact, he has been imprisoned for so long that Little Dorrit, born inside the prison walls, is now a young woman working as a seamstress outside the walls in order to be able to bring her father some of the luxuries not provided to prisoners. She faithfully returns to the prison every evening in order to see that her father is as comfortable as possible.
Into this mix arrives one Arthur Clennam, only recently returned to
But this is only one of the book’s major plotlines. Dickens also spends hundreds of pages introducing a predatory Frenchman and describing how this despicable man is attempting to extort money from Clennam’s mother because he knows some dark secret of hers that she is desperate to keep hidden.
At its heart, Little Dorrit is a love story, one that seems destined for a sad ending because middle-aged Arthur Clennam feels that Little Dorrit can never see him as anything more than a friend and father-figure. She, on the other hand, living in complete poverty, does not feel worthy of Clennam’s attention. Pride proves to be a two-way street, and when Little Dorrit finally admits her love for Clennam, he is broke and refuses her because he does not want to leave the prison at her expense.
Little Dorrit is filled with side-characters who have distinct personalities and stories of their own to tell. It is through them that Dickens so successfully recreates the world of early nineteenth century
Rated at: 4.0