Little Dorrit: You Should Watch It

We’ve been on a Charles Dickens kick lately. Confession: the only Charles Dickens book I’ve read is A Tale of Two Cities. Like Shirley Jackson, symphonic band music, and the musical Into The Woods, Charles Dickens is one of those things that’s difficult to appreciate without awakening traumatic memories of junior high school.

Thankfully, there’s Masterpiece Classics. Now that Downton Abbey‘s over for a while, we’ve been making our way through other MC shows. We started with Oliver Twist (which I liked a lot) and now we’re deep into Little Dorrit, a 5-part miniseries about a family’s journey from fortune to poverty and back again.

It’s a story with a huge cast of characters and a lot of plot, so I won’t try too hard to summarize it here. But the general gist is that a wealthy family falls deeply into poverty and the patriarch is confined to a debtors’ prison. The “Little Dorrit” for whom the story is named is his daughter Amy, who was born in the prison itself. The prison is known as the Marshalsea, named for the fact that it was designed to house men under court martial for crimes at sea.

The Marshalsea was a real prison in London, and in fact the very one in which Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned for debt. Just like Amy Dorrit, Dickens was sent out to work to support the rest of the family at a young age. In fact, there are shades of Dickens’ shitty childhood all over Little Dorrit, including Arthur’s icy mother (it is believed that Dickens never forgave his own mother for making him keep his brutal factory job even after their debts were cleared).

And you thought your family was messed up.

One of the side characters is Pancks, a debt collector and amateur PI. Curious about whether he was based on anyone in Dickens’ personal biography, I did a quick Google search…


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