Little Dorrit

by Charles Dickens
848 pages, General Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

A dark but poignant tale with beautiful themes and Dickens' ready wit.


After many years abroad, Arthur Clennam returns home to London haunted by the suspicion that his father died with some great wrong weighing on his conscience. In London Arthur meets a timid young woman who works as a seamstress for his mother in order to provide for her father, who lives and has lived for many years in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt. Arthur takes it upon himself to watch out for the girl, whom he calls Little Dorrit, and from that inauspicious beginning their lives start to intertwine.


Amy ("Little") Dorrit is a model of selflessness. Although the youngest in her family, she cares for her father, older sister, and older brother without receiving any thanks, yet feels nothing but love for them. Her virtue is the shining light in the novel.

Arthur Clennam is driven by a desire to do what is right. His mother, however, is a hard and self-righteous woman who justifies all her pitiless actions by calling it "hatred of sin" (refusing to acknowledge that God is a God of mercy as well as of holiness). Rigaud, the major villain, is a murderer and all-around scoundrel. Many characters are selfish, but other characters are kind and giving. As with most of his novels, Dickens makes the line between Good and Bad very stark.

Spiritual Content

Arthur recalls his strict and loveless upbringing, centered around the wrath of God. Mrs. Clennam reads her Bible, but appears to disregard all mention of grace; her whole outlook is one of self-righteousness. Toward the end in a conversation with her, Little Dorrit speaks of the compassion of Christ; while Dickens himself was not a Christian, this one passage has a great deal of truth in it and shines when set against the background of Mrs. Clennam's hard heart.


Rigaud is said to be a murderer. A dog is poisoned. While the story is not strictly "violent," it is often very dark in its setting and in the thoughts of the characters.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine and other alcoholic beverages are used. A few minor characters appear drunk.

Sexual Content

A story is told about a man who had an affair, and of the child that was the result.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Rigaud swears frequently, such things as "Death of my life," "Death of my soul," and the like. "D*mn" is used, as well as "biggod" and "deuced". God's name is used in vain occasionally.


"Little Dorrit" is not one of Dickens' best-known works, but it deserves to be read by any fan of his writing. It is filled with wonderful characters, rich and witty prose, and a tense and intriguing plot. Amy Dorrit, though she does not usually narrate the story, is a jewel among story heroines, and the driving themes of forgiveness and love are beautiful. It is often dark - not the sort of book for a rainy day or a rainy mood - but it rises into light by the end and has sparks of humor along the way.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

Average rating: 4 stars
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