Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010 Book Three: Little Dorrit

"I hope," said Arthur, "that he and his dupes may be a warning to people not to have so much done with them again."

"My dear Mr. Clennam,' returned Ferdinand, laughing, "have you really such a verdant hope? The next man who has as large a capacity and as genuine a taste for swindling, will succeed as well. Pardon me, but I think you really have no idea how the human bees will swarm to the beating of any old tin kettle . . ."
While reading Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit I cannot help but think of Bernie Madoff, whose massive Ponzi scheme defrauded thousands of investors before that house of cards came tumbling down, and Madoff was carted off to prison. His predecessor is found in the pages of Little Dorrit.

Like Madoff, Mr. Merdle, is a celebrated man; renowned for his wisdom and for his contributions to the nation and to society. Until his fraud is revealed, there are rumors that a baronetcy or more may be settled upon Mr. Merdle. And his fraud, like Madoff's, ensnares all manner of investor; from the privileged to the pensioner -- all driven by the belief of a sure thing.

Unlike Madoff, Mr. Merdle has a enough pride, sense of shame and good manners to take his own life.

Mr. Merdle is far from a central character in Dickens' sprawling novel that revolves around the infamous Marshalsea debtor's prison. But Merdle's fraud, and its impact upon the novel's central characters, is a critical part of Dickens' tale.

It can be said, I think, that one Dickens' novel is much like another. The author is both a romantic and a realist. You will find coincidence, mystery, sentimentality, unadulterated evil, unadulterated goodness, vivid minor characters (Mr. Pancks comes most to mind here), sly humor and an unrestrained tendency to puncture pomposity and pride.

It has taken me 16 days to complete Little Dorrit. Two or three days per book is more common. But I can think of no author that I would rather spend as much time with and to joyfully immerse myself in his writing, his characters, his narrative and his powerful, entertaining vision.

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