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Monday, April 13, 2009

Little Dorrit, Episode 3 (Guest Blog)

Guest Post by Catherine of

Installation 3 of Dickens’ workaholic machine made into a movie! I was pretty stoked from last week’s preview of this episode. Fortunes would be restored! People would get new clothes! The handsome Mr. Clennam would smile some more! Perhaps Fanny Dorrit would lose the makeup!

But alas, Installation 3 reminded me very much of my friend’s waitressing shift today. “Everyone was crabby and mean and nobody tipped well,” she reported after escaping from Red Lobster hell.

And speaking of hell, what’s with Monsieur Rigaud? (I can’t keep track of his new incognito name in this episode.) I might have taken French all through high school but when he speaks, I just strain. (“Huh?” Rewind. “Oh.”)

But moving on to the real hell… Dear Dad Dorrit got his earthly reward for suffering through debtor’s prison: money, a house and Mrs. General. He’s continuing on in a sort of King Lear stupidity (before the madness set in), dragging all assorted baggage with him which includes children, brother and Mrs. G. Last week’s ominous scene of Dad Dorrit being to afraid to stroll out of debtor’s prison when the chance was offered hinted at so much badness. He does his bad well in this episode, being generally insufferable and pompous (but more on that later).

And to counter him is his daughter. Though Amy is portrayed as our heroine, a woman without a speck of wrong in her heart, I have some major doubts about her. Andrew Davies claims he toned down the goodness of Dickens’ Victorian Amy and no doubt he did. Our post-deconstructionist ears and eyes could hardly bear it if he had not. Still, though…despite taking in account that Amy is a product of her times, I have serious doubts on Little Dorrit.

This came to light quite early in the episode. Dad casts Clennam out -- the man who went to some lengths to restore him -- and throws the most painful rant about paying him the measly 20 something pounds Clennam gave to him in the past. Clennam doesn’t want it but Dad insists on payment and receipt. Which is all so ludicrous in the face of the thousand pounds owed to Mr. Pancks for the work he did to discover the Dorrit fortune. Pancks will never see the light of that from Dad Dorrit, and Clennam will undoubtedly pay, but we’ll see less smiles from Matthew MacFayden because of it. You suck, Dad.

But yes, anyway. To continue, Clennam leaves rather insulted by Dad and Amy rushes off to try and make amends. And what happens?

“Stay here, Amy. Are you going to do as I say?”

“I will, Father, but it is hard.”

Oh Amy, how wonderful you are. You obey your narcissist father and you also throw the button away of a man you love when you think you can’t have him (cue Harriet Smith). You meet self-sacrifice with a few tears but mostly smiles.

No doubt about it, Amy is all about the duty. But this tears at me because the Victorians were all about duty and they fully embraced the frightening self-abnegation of it all.

Dickens, duty and women bring us to someone else who was on the screen a few years ago: Bleak House’s Esther Summerson. Esther’s a good girl too, and she does her duty as well. She too is surrounded by circumstances beyond her control; circumstances that control her situation in life fully. And while Esther submits with grace, she does so without seeming weak. There’s something strong in Esther and one gets the idea that despite her difficult circumstances, she deliberately thinks out her choices and resolves to do whatever she thinks as best, no matter how hard that choice is.

Amy, however…she’ll do her duty because she’s the good character. I never believe that Amy is weighing her choices; she just does the seemingly-good over and over to the point of mindlessness. Yes, father, I will obey you because I must honor you as I always honor you. I am your favorite because I rarely, if ever, cross you and always comfort you after your raging monologues that only serve to reveal your insufferable pride.

Amy Dorrit: Daughter who honors her father, or the enabler of an arrogant old man? Or are these really just the same things, one being an euphemism... As you can see, I’m full of a doubts about Little Dorrit.

With Miss Wade however, there aren’t doubts, just mysteries. She may just be the balance to Amy’s automaton “good girl” behavior. Is she a Victorian Feminist Fury or merely someone bent on making Mr. Meagles red in the face? If she gets Mr. Gowan shived in the gut by Rigaud, I may love her forever.

Finally, yes there are new dresses (thank God). And no, Fanny Dorrit doesn’t lose the makeup. Le sigh.


  1. Loving this post! I too began to have nagging ick about Amy Dorrit (and full-on ick about her dad). I don't have any particular insight to offer, but I'm glad to have read what you have to say because questions of obedience and sacrifice, particularly among women, come up a lot in my pop culture universe (Bollywood).

    Any idea of whether Rigaud does kill that poor dog in the book? Or is dog-killing just a badge of "This character is quite evil! See?" - it was in the recent Wuthering Heights on PBS, as well as in one of the Sally Lockhart episodes (though at least that poor animal was a protector in the fight). I'm pretty sick of it.

  2. Episode 3 reminded me how horrible those w/wealth can be. I went to school with some rich kids and they were as insufferable as Fanny and Tip Dorrit. Wretched snotty folk. But then again there are also nice kind people like Pet & Arthur Clennam. They are good hearted no matter what their financial circumstance.
    I'm fine with Amy Dorrit's obedience to her father. It should also be noted that she did keep a correspondence w/Mr. Clennam. And she set up her friends w/a business. I'm sure neither were sanctioned by her father.
    Also I have to say that I think Andy Serkis's performance his great. The man can bring on the creepy. The mustache and accent are hilarious. Enjoyed it.

  3. A very excellent episode, although I wish we could get on with the comeuppance already. One thing I love about Dickens is that he is not stinting on the comeuppance.

    I also love how all the wicked ones already seem to be in league with each other. So convenient, you could almost just take them all out during one well-timed dinner party. Well, we'll see.

    I definitely lucked out, though, getting the crying episode to guest blog. Lots of romance, lots of Arthur Clennam. This one had... lots of fainting.

    One bright spot, though -- Grace Poole is here! And almost as creepy!

    Looking forward to episode the next...

  4. I've got a bit of the ick (I feel like a goldfish, all of a sudden) about Amy, but somehow I think she'll grow a backbone sometime soon. It helps that I've never read the book. That enables me to live in hope.

    Whatever Rigaud is calling himself, I thought it ended in -ois. Did you catch the first syllable, by any chance?

    I did want to slap Amy's father - repeatedly - but the character that made the episode for me was Frederick Dorrit. He had a serious case of ick. I just wanted to hug him.

  5. If you think that Amy is irritating onscreen, you should read the book. She's so ickily good it's gross. Dickens couldn't really write "good" women with nuance (Esther Summerson, Agnes Wickfield are Amy-Dorritish, while Sissy Jupe is one step removed) except for older women of course. I think it has to do with his own issues. But I love Foy's performance, and I think it's understandable given how limited her world is and how much it revolves around her father that she would be timid. Still, it will be good, as Beth Dunn says, to see the comeuppance.

    Rigaud's other names are Blandois and Lanier.

    Thanks to Catherine E. for blogging and thanks to BethlovesBollywood for commenting!

  6. BethlovesBollywood: I'm so sick of animals being felled by psychos as well. and wow...obedience and sacrifice in bollywood. I can totally see it!

    gettsr: I'm totally with you on Serkis. Despite my lack of hearing, he pulls off a French maniac like no one else.

    Beth Dunn: Grace Poole! oh my goodness, I see it now.

    fellowette: hmmm...I never read Bleak House and so I Did wonder if the BBC and Davies gave Summerson more than what was due to her. I see they did! bleh! also...that's super creepy one of Rigaud's other names is "Lanier". I just finished "Someone at a Distance" by Whipple and there's a horrible woman by the name of Lanier in there. She could SO be Rigaud's sociopath daughter. minus the need to murder however.

    Thanks everyone for commenting! It's been great fun to see the different responses to my rather spastic blogging and what you all thought of this latest episode. Thanks again!

  7. I've been thinking about the Amy-Sue issue and trying to square her character as Dickens wrote it with modern values. In short, to make her likable to me as a modern reader. I've come to think that her extreme self-abegnation, if written by an author today, would be rooted in a great capacity for love, poor self-esteem, and constant self-doubting.

    In my minor character rewrite, Amy is naturally good, but not angelic. She has trained herself from a very young age not to feel irked or irritated by her family's treatment of her, first because she doubts herself, and second because it is an unhappy way to live (see: Fanny). So I tell myself Amy has actually exerted a great amount of will to train herself into the pattern of actions and thought that we see. It's a survival thing.

    I don't know if thinking about Amy that way makes her less good, but for me at least, it makes her more tolerable.

  8. I've seen the entire series but am still reading the book--and where I'm at is the stuff that I think will happen in the next episode. (I'm not watching it on PBS so I'm not sure where you are right now). I can say that Amy grows up a bit of necessity in the last part. I'm just getting there in the book, so I'll see if it is in the book as well. She's not quite as, er, saintly. But I think Dickens had some, um, how do I put this, sociological ideas in mind as well (nature/nurture, etc.). I don't want to give too much away so I'll leave it there!

    And yeah, Blandois/Rigaud killed the dog in the book. It's pretty clear, as it is in the movie. And Minnie knows it, if her idiot husband doesn't.