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Little Dorrit, like many of Charles Dickens’ novels, was originally published in serial form over a period of about 18 months, before appearing in book form in 1857.
The novel focuses on the experiences of its protagonist Arthur Clenham, who has spent some twenty years in China helping his father run the family business there. After his father dies, Arthur returns home to London. His mother gives him little in the way of welcome. She is a cold, bitter woman who has brought Arthur up under a strict religious regime concentrating on the punitive aspects of the Old Testament. Despite this upbringing, or perhaps in reaction to it, Arthur is a kind, considerate man. He is intrigued by a slight young woman he encounters working as a part-time seamstress for his mother, whom his mother calls simply “Little Dorrit.” Arthur senses some mystery about her mother’s employment of Little Dorrit, and proceeds to investigate.
There are several subplots and a whole host of characters. Compared to some of Dickens’ work, Little Dorrit features a good deal of intrigue and tension. There are also some strong strands of humor, in the form of the fictional “Circumlocution Office,” whose sole remit is “How Not To Do It,” and which stands in the way of any improvement of British life. Also very amusing are the rambling speeches of Flora, a woman with whom Arthur was enamored before he left for China, but whose shallowness he now perceives only too well.
Little Dorrit has been adapted for the screen many times, and by the BBC in 2010 in a limited television series which featured Claire Foy as Little Dorrit, Matthew Macfayden as Arthur Clenham, and Andy Serkis as the villain Rigaud.
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