7.02.2010

what i'm reading: little dorrit finally back on the shelf

None of us clearly know to whom or to what we are indebted in this wise, until some marked stop in the whirling wheel of life brings the right perception with it. It comes with sickness, it comes with sorrow, it comes with the loss of the dearly loved, it is one of the most frequent uses of adversity.

Charles Dickens, from Little Dorrit

I've finally finished reading this book. It took forever, as I struggle with making time to read and with my poor concentration. I loved it, because I love reading Dickens - his flood of language, his unerring conscience, the parade of crazy caricatures, the heartbreaking observations, the improbable coincidences, the total overkill.

The novel itself has some serious problems. Threads are left too long unattended, clues overly buried, loose ends tied up too suddenly, too much unwritten action suddenly revealed to force the conclusion. But if you like the lush, dense language, the melodrama, the great heap of characters more broad than deep - if you enter into the spirit of the thing - these faults don't matter. It's still wonderful.

Little Dorrit is a novel about poverty, class and the sins of capitalism. About the suffering caused by secrets and misdirected self-righteousness. About fortune's wheel - reversals of fortune, and who perishes and who withstands them. About, as always in Dickens, bad parents and the ruin they leave in their wake. Little Dorrit is about imprisonment - physical, emotional, spiritual - and true inner freedom, and what that might mean.

Reading Dickens makes me miss studying literature, analyzing it, writing about it, as I did in university and as I might have continued doing if I had followed a different path. But I only miss it in a momentary kind of way, not a deep regretful kind of way. I just see so much in a novel like this and want to spend more time pulling it apart.

* * * *

Now I have to re-read the two plays we're seeing in Stratford this year, which I find really increases my enjoyment of productions of Shakespeare. So between now and July 13, As You Like It and The Tempest are on deck.

After that, I don't know whether I'm up for another novel, or one of the many nonfiction titles crowding my list.

5 comments:

johngoldfine said...

Of course, there is no other Dickens, nor anyone who really imitated (or who could dream of imititing the inimitable Dickens)--but I found myself reading Wilkie Collins' 'Man And Wife' a few years ago and wondering if Collins might be having a bit of a go at Dickens and then imagining what Dickens might have done with the same edgy material.

If you don't already know the book, it might float your boat some slow day when the Head Librarianship of the Missasauga Public Library is not demanding all your attention.

L-girl said...

I don't know it, and it's now on the list.

There is a lot of Dickens in John Irving. I sometimes find myself thinking there is Dickens in Seinfeld!

I see CD's influence in so many places, but I don't see his antecedents anywhere. Is this just ignorance on my part? Or did he create something miraculously new?

(And thank you for your confidence in me.)

johngoldfine said...

Yeah, John Irving--that's right! I'd forgotten him.

Antecedents? You'd have to look to other people doing the same kind of sketches in the 1820s and 1830s he did as 'Boz' and in Pickwick (which I find unreadable mostly.) Washington Irving? Hazlitt and Lamb aren't quite really right. Laurence Sterne a few decades little earlier?

Brit lit was not my field though...so I dunno.

But a real recommendation--not just a curiosity like 'Man and Wife.' Have you ever read Hazlitt's 'Liber Amoris'? If you ever have been totally fucked-up in love, completely insanely irrationally obsessed, there's the book for you, and you can read it in the length of time it takes to beat the Orioles 3-2!

L-girl said...

Well, Brit Lit was my thing in university, and I never saw any antecedents. Distant ancestors, but nothing that would prepare you for Dickens. This is one reason I consider him such a friggin awesome genius.

JohnGF, you are either the most well-read person I know, or our reading references are totally different, because your title-dropping makes me feel like I haven't read anyone, ever! (I know that is not your intention.) But no, no Hazlitt, no Wilkie Collins, but yes, fucked-up, mad-obsessed-insane in love. A torturous state of being. Sounds like a good read. :)

johngoldfine said...

... the most well-read person...

Oh, pshaw--I've never read 'Little Dorrit'!