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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Post written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

In 1754 David Garrick became the lessee first and finally bought the house, which was to become his villa beside The Thames.

Garrick's villa, 1783

It became his country retreat and the place where he and his wife entertained friends. He began to alter the original building, which had parts that dated back to the middle ages, and employed his friend Robert Adam to redesign the façade in a classical style.Capability Brown advised on the layout of the gardens. The Kingston to Staines Road runs outside the front of the house today and it did also in the 18th century.

Temple doorway. Image @Tony Grant

Garrick had a tunnel dug  from the front of his villa under the road to his gardens beside The Thames which today is called, Garrick’s Lawn. On this lawn, beside The Thames, Garrick had a temple to Shakespeare built. Inside was placed a very fine statue of Shakespeare designed by Roubiliac, another friend. When Garrick died, his wife Eva, gave it to the British Museum. A copy of the statue now has been placed inside the temple.

Garrick's dorric Temple. Image @Tony Grant

Garrick  added an orangery at the far end of the main garden which backs onto Bushy Park. Adam also designed the orangery in the main garden with a corinthian façade and classical entablature. Garrick owned much of the farmland, which is now Bushy Park. He also bought other houses in Hampton, including Orme House in Church Street, The Six Bells pub, later named The White Heart, Garrick’s Ait, the island opposite the temple and the villa and three other aits on The Thames. Just before his death, Garrick bought The Cedars, now called Garrick House, which you drive past on the Kingston Road.

The villa under wraps after the fire. Image @Tony Grant

In 2008 some work was being done on the villa when a fire broke out. The entire roof of the grade 1 listed building collapsed. The second floor also caught fire. It took ten fire engines to bring the blaze under control and save the shell of the house. It is now undergoing extensive rebuilding. The house is a symbol  of the English Theatre and must not be lost to the nation and the world.

David Garrick in Hamlet. Image @Wikimedia Commons

David Garrick came from humble origins in Leicestershire. His family were Huguenot immigrants who had to struggle and fight for their survival and success. Garrick  continued this need for success. He had an incredible talent as writer, actor and innovator. His greatness can only be measured by his influence on theatre and acting today.

Garrick Estate Auction, 1921

What is interesting is his need to acquire property and land, to have the best in architecture and to keep acquiring, throughout his life. Was this the sign of an inner drive to stay successful, to gain security, to not allow himself to revert to lowly circumstances? Was he a driven personality? This reminds me of another driven personality, Charles Dickens, who literally worked himself to death. He too saw property and one house in particular, as a sign to himself and others that he was at the top, that he had made it.

Tony Grant at Gads Hill. Image @Tony Grant

The house was Gads Hill in Kent just outside of Rochester and Chatham. After Dickens death, John Foster, a great publishing friend of Dickens wrote, “ upon first seeing it (Gads Hill) as he came from Chatham with his father and looking upon it with much admiration he had been promised that he might himself live in it or in some such house when he came to be a man, if he would only work hard enough.”

Gads Hill front door. Image @Tony Grant

Of course Dickens did work. He probably had more need to stay at the top than even Garrick. His father was notorious for getting into debt and had ended up in debtors prison. Cahrles Dickens had had to work in a blacking factory in almost slave like conditions. This affected Dickens for the rest of his life.

Ducks on the Thames. Image @Tony Grant

Both Dickens and Garrick were influenced greatly by Shakespeare. Garrick as actor and theatre owner. Garrick’s greatest performance was playing Richard III. Dicken’s house at Gads Hill was the very spot, in Henry IV part I, where Prince Hal waylays and robs Falstaff as a  prank or joke. Of course Dickens absolutely loved this connection. There is another rather obscure link with Garrick. David Garrick had a tunnel dug under the road in front of his villa to get to his garden beside The Thames. Dickens purchased the land on the opposite side of the road to his house at Gads Hill and had a tunnel dug in front of his house under the road to get to it.

Gads Hill tunnel. Image @Tony Grant

Dickens had a small wooden Swiss Chalet built on the other side of the road where, towards the end of his life, he wrote. Passing through a tunnel to the beautiful scenery of The Thames or to a place to work could be read as having deep psychological meaning I am sure.

Dickens's Swiss Chalet. Image @Tony Grant

David Garrick’s  villa can be seen as his badge of success. A symbol of all his striving and hard work.

Where do our middle class ambitions get us? Are we driven? Where have we come from and where do we want to go? Are we working like Garrick and Dickens to prove something? How desperate are we and are we happy with it? I wonder if Dickens was ever happy? Maybe in the heightened hyper reality that he achieved  in his live readings, but that was fleeting. He was driven, so was Garrick and are we?

Garrick's villa, 1824

I know this an odd request on this site but you never know who might read this stuff. To any Hollywood Super Star out there. You owe everything, your whole profession, to David Garrick. If you have some spare cash, go on, pay for the refurbishment of Garrick’s Villa. It could be your real contribution to the world.

Garrick's temple, sunset. Image @Tony Grant

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Happy 200th Birthday, Elizabeth Gaskell! Although your life was cut short at 55, you still cast a bright light in our world.

Elizabeth Gaskell around the time of her marriage, 1832

“No, I tell you it’s the poor, and the poor only, as does such things for the poor. Don’t think to come over me with th’ old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don’t know, they ought to know. We’re their slaves as long as we can work…” – Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

Since babyhood Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell nee Stevenson experienced profound sorrow and a sense of loss and displacement. Her parents, Elizabeth and William Stevenson, had eight children, but only two survived – baby Elizabeth and her older brother John. Her mother did not live to raise her, for she died a year after her daugher’s birth. Sadly, her widowed father did not feel up to taking care of his young daughter and sent Elizabeth away to live with her Aunt Lumb in Knutsford, Chesire.

Knutsford, the model for Cranford, 1863

Under this loving aunt’s care, Elizabeth experienced a happy childhood. She played with cousins in the rural town of Knutsford where lived “11 widows of respectability who kept house, besides spinsters innumerable”. In later life, Elizabeth would use Knutsford as the idealized setting for Cranford. She was to return there often to recall the rare happy memories of her early childhood.

Knutsford in 1860, before the railroad came

Elizabeth’s father continued to reject her even after his remarriage. When she was nine years old, he finally sent for her to visit him in London, but Elizabeth and her stepmother did not hit it off. In addition, her father and his new wife favored the children of their union. Although often reduced to tears by their indifference, Elizabeth did have one person she could turn to, her beloved brother John.

William Gaskel

When Elizabeth was twelve, John joined the merchant navy. She would never see him again, for he drowned six years later off the coast of India. Within six months of John’s death, her griefstricken father also died. And thus, at the tender age of eighteen, Elizabeth was alone again.

William Turner, a distant relative, took Elizabeth in to live with his family. As a Unitarian minister he influenced her religious beliefs and introduced her to charitable works. It was through William Turner’s daugher that Elizabeth met William Gaskell, whom she married in the Knutsford Parish Church on August, 1832.

Gaskell was also a Unitarian minister and a lecturer and educator. After their honeymoon, the young couple moved to industrial Manchester, where William had acquired a post as minister of the Cross Street Chapel. Gaskell was also to hold the chair of English history and literature in Manchester New College.

Manchester in 1840. Note the factory chimneys.

Elizabeth would eventually bear her husband six children, the first of whom was a stillborn daughter. Considering the losses she had already experienced in her life, the death of this little girl, born in 1833, must have grieved her deeply. Three years afterward she penned this touching poem:

On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl

I made a vow within my soul, O child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of Death on every tender part,
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, thou
Whose eyes ne’er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose suff’ rings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.
– Elizabeth Gaskell’s poem for her stillborn daughter, 1836

Then three healthy girls arrived in succession: Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), and Florence Elizabeth (1842). In 1844 she gave birth to her son William. These years marked a busy and productive period in Elizabeth’s life. Both the Gaskell’s divided their time between his ministry, their social life, and charity work. In Manchester, Gaskell witnessed the dire poverty of the textile workers, which was to have a lasting effect on her writing.

Elizabeth Gaskell by George Richmond, 1851. @National Portrait Gallery, London.

Between raising children and visiting the poor, Elizabeth managed to find the time to write. Her husband supported her in this endeavor, helping her with research and editing. The year she gave birth to her daugher Margaret, Elizabeth sold her first story to Blackwoods Magazine entitled “Sketches Among the Poor.” In 1846, she gave birth to another daughter, Julia.

Factory Kids, Manchester 1836

Elizabeth’s life was a fulfilling and happy one until her nine-month old son, William, caught scarlet fever during a visit to Wales in1848, and died. The blow was too much. When a devastated Elizabeth was unable to rise out of bed, William encouraged her to concentrate on her writing and begin a novel. The result was Mary Barton, which told about the desperate poverty of those living in industrial cities like Manchester, a topic with which Elizabeth had become all too familiar during her charity work.

Illustration by Alexy Pendle from Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton brought  success to Elizabeth. She was paid £200 for the book, which was published anonymously. Charles Dickens sang its praises. Other admirers included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, and Thomas Carlyle. Although critics took a jaundiced view towards her championing of the poor and calls for social reform, the novel led to her writing other books, each one making her more money. From then on she published her books under her own name, Mrs. Gaskell.

Houshold Words, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens admired Elizabeth so much that he serialised her next novel, Cranford, in his journal, Household Words (1851-1853). More novels followed in rapid succession, including Ruth (1853), North and South (1855), and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). These books did not represent her sole literary output. Elizabeth wrote several novellas, of which Cranford was one, as well as short stories and articles for periodicals.

Gilbraltar Tower House, Carnforth. Mrs. Gaskell often wrote in the top room of the tower.

After her good friend Charlotte Bronte died, Gaskell wrote her acclaimed biography, using firsthand accounts and sources. This led her into some legal trouble, for shortly after the book’s publication a few of the people mentioned in it threatened to sue for having been represented incorrectly.

She made many other important friends, and was an avid correspondent, writing thousands of letters to friends and near strangers with the rapidity and ease of someone who, had she lived in the future, would most likely have embraced email.*

Mrs. Gaskell's letter to Dante Gabriel Rossetti about William Wordsworth, Princeton Collection

Elizabeth’s novels were enormously popular with the public, and the Gaskells lived well, traveling around Europe, hiring servants, and moving into a bigger house, Plymouth Grove, which still stands. Even with the income from her books and her popularity, Elizabeth continued to remain involved in her husband’s ministry and charity work.

Interior of Plymouth Grove, National Trust

“He is very shy, but very merry when he is well, delights in puns & punning, is very fond of children… 6 foot high, grey hair and whiskers….I do believe he does like Manchester better than any other place in the world; and his study the best place in Manchester” – Elizabeth Gaskell, in describing her husband.

While Gaskell loved her husband dearly and was faithful to him, she did meet a young man in her later life who flattered her womanly ego. On one of her trips to Italy with her daughters, she met an American, Charles Norton, who was 20 years her junior and clearly worshipped her. One cannot be surprised by his attraction, for Elizabeth was a successful, intelligent, and passionate woman. But their friendship remained platonic and they corresponded until Elizabeth’s death. Her Roman flirtation left an indelible memory in Elizabeth’s mind: “It was in those charming Roman days that my life culminated,” she later wrote to a friend. “I shall never be so happy again. I don’t think I was ever so happy before.”**

Mrs. Gaskell towards the end of her life.

Years of loss, sorrow, hard work, and success took a toll on her. Once a vibrant and lovely woman, she looked drawn and tired in later photographs. Elizabeth’s death came suddenly and unexpectedly on a visit to her cottage near Alton in Holybourne, Hampshire. Unknown to her husband, she had secretly purchased the house for their retirement.

“On Sunday November 12, 1865, she and her daughters spent a lazy morning before Elizabeth walked up the lane to church. The vicar thought she looked extremely well.

At 5pm, everyone sat in the drawing room for tea. Elizabeth was gossiping, relating a conversation she’d had with a judge when, mid-sentence, she stopped, gasped and slumped down dead from a heart attack.” – The Daily Mail Online, 2007

Manuscript of Wives and Daughters

Elizabeth had been witing her last work, Wives and Daughters, which remained unfinished. After her unexpected death, a friend wrote, “The world of English letters has lost one of its foremost authors,” a sentiment the Anthenaeum echoed: “If not the most popular, with small question, the most powerful and finished female novelist of an epoch singularly rich in female novelists.”

Burial spot for Elizabeth and William Gaskell

Elizabeth is buried at Brookstreet Chapel in Knutsford. William Gaskell survived her by two decades and never retired, serving as Minister in Cross Street and living in Plymouth Grove with two daughters until his death in 1884. He is buried beside her.

In terms of her legacy, this 1989 letter by Henry Rollin, Chairman, History of Psychiatry Group,  sums up Elizabeth Gaskell’s body of work:

But of greater importance to the medical historian are the glimpses she gives in her novels of the socioeconomic diseases of the period of which she writes. Life is cheap. Alcoholism and prostitution are rife. Cholera and typhus are commonplace. Women die in childbirth. And she reveals in harrowing detail the prevalence of opium addiction. John Barton, the father of Mary Barton in her novel of that name, is portrayed as a man so bitterly humiliated by his abject failure in all departments of his life that he degenerates into the quintessential opium addict. But even more haunting is the intense pathos of her description of the relationship between opium and the grinding poverty and near-starvation of the underprivileged. “Many a penny that would have gone little way enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bought opium to still the hungry little ones, and make them forget their uneasiness in heavy troubled sleep”, she writes of the Manchester she knew in her day-to-day work as the wife of a Unitarian minister.”

Gaskell's great great great granddaughter, Sarah Prince, lays a wreath in the Poet's Corner

In honor of the Bicentenary, Mrs. Gaskell was included in the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey, a top honor indeed. Rest in peace, Elizabeth Gaskell, and happy, happy birthday!

Gentle Reader: This blog has joined fourteen others in celebrating the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour, sponsored by Austenprose. The next blog on your tour is Mary Barton (1848) Book: Kelly’s of the Jane Austen Sequel Examiner. She will discuss Mary Barton, Gaskell’s first book.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. Deadline October 7th, midnight PT

Sources:

Thank you, Austenprose, for arranging this web tour!

The Gaskell Blog Tour:

Biography

Novels/Biography

Novellas

Resources

  • 14.) Your Gaskell Library – a select bibliography of written resources and links to MP3′s, ebooks, audio books, other downloads and reading resources available online: Janeite Deb – Jane Austen in Vermont
  • 15) Plymouth Grove – A Visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester:  Tony Grant – London Calling

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With The Old Curiosity Shop, Masterpiece Classic aired its last special for the 2009 season last night. Which film was your favorite? Curious minds want to know.

the-old-curiosity-shop-1b1d7ef6-7e9c-4c39-adea-f899b8e38345

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Society was aware of Mr and Mrs Merdle. Society had said ‘Let us license them; let us know them.

The Merdles and Sparkler

The Merdles and Sparkler

Mr Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was in everything good, from banking to building. He was in Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other. The weightiest of men had said to projectors, ‘Now, what name have you got? Have you got Merdle?’ And, the reply being in the negative, had said, ‘Then I won’t look at you.’

This great and fortunate man had provided that extensive bosom which required so much room to be unfeeling enough in, with a nest of crimson and gold some fifteen years before. It was not a bosom to repose upon, but it was a capital bosom to hang jewels upon. Mr Merdle wanted something to hang jewels upon, and he bought it for the purpose. Storr and Mortimer might have married on the same speculation.

Like all his other speculations, it was sound and successful. The jewels showed to the richest advantage. The bosom moving in Society with the jewels displayed upon it, attracted general admiration. Society approving, Mr Merdle was satisfied. He was the most disinterested of men,–did everything for Society, and got as little for himself out of all his gain and care, as a man might. – Charles Dickens, Book the First: Poverty, Chapter 21: Mr Merdle’s Complaint

Mr. Merdle kisses Fanny's hand

Mr. Merdle kisses Fanny's hand

For those who have not read the book or seen the last installment, spoilers ahead:

The Merdles  take front and center stage at the start of the last installment of PBS Masterpiece Classic’s Little Dorrit, fulfilling the promises that this film’s theme of bankruptcy and fallen fortunes is a relevant one in today’s world. Mr. Merdle, played by Anton Lesser, was the Man of the Age. He made money for his investors seemingly out of thin air and they loved him for it. Yet Mr. Merdle (the last name is a play on the French word Merde, meaning shit) seemed to be chronically unhappy, despite his showy wife, elegant house, and sterling reputation.  The viewer soon learns what had been keeping him preoccupied: he was stealing from one fund to pay for another (shades of Bernard Madoff), and issuing shares without collatoral.  His house of cards tumbled down, and along with it, all his investors. Instead of facing the consequences, Merdle committed suicide with a pen knife he has borrowed from his daughter-in-law Fanny. To deaden the pain of stabbing his jugular vein with a blunt knive, he drank laudanum, leaving others to literally clean up his messes. Merdle’s demise affected a score of people, but except for the money they lost and their uncertain financial future, his wife, daughter-in-law and stepson did not seem greatly affected by his suicide. Fanny wondered when her pen knife would be returned and the butler took off  soon after learning that the family was bankrupt, leaving his post without notice. With a few deft touches, Charles Dickens showed how quickly the mighty can fall and that the world really doesn’t give a shit except in the instance where it is affected.

Anton Lesser and Nick Jones as Mr. Merdle and his butler

Anton Lesser and Nick Jones as Mr. Merdle and his butler

Most people could and still can lose other people’s money without much conscience, but during this and the Regency era debt was considered to be a matter of honor (would that it was today).  Social historian Eric Hobsbawm argued that “Bankruptcy was, according to economic theory, the penalty of inefficient businessmen, and its spectre haunts the novels of Victorian England.”  (Victorian Web) Mounting debts affected people in different ways. George Brummel fled to France in 1817 rather than face debtor’s prison when he fell out of favor with the Prince Regent and could not repay his creditors. He was not the only gentleman to flee to the continent due to insolvency. The cost of gambling, bad investments, horses, carriages, fine food and a decent wardrobe could tip a modest – even a great – fortune over the edge. Other individuals, like William Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, were sent to debtor’s prison. Some chose suicide, like Mr. Merdle, leaving their families to face the consequences.

Bath house where Merdle committed suicide

Bath house where Merdle committed suicide

The tale of Little Dorrit is not only based on Dicken’s personal experience of watching his father incarcerated in the Marshalsea, but the novel is also set against the backdrop of real bank failures:

Little Dorrit was originally published between 1855 and 1857 (many of Dickens’ works first appeared in serial form) at a time when the collapse of the Royal British Bank was receiving much publicity. The collapse was a result of the bank having channelled most of its capital into Welsh gold mines in the vain hope the Wales would prove to be the next California. (The discoveries which sparked the California Gold Rush had been made in 1848). After the bank’s collapse it was discovered that the directors had made secret loans to themselves and their friends.

Dickens used the preface to Little Dorrit to defend what he called “that extravagant conception, Mr. Merdle, by alluding to “a certain Irish bank” – the Tipperary Bank which failed in 1857 – and he also mentioned “the curious coincidence” that the public examination of the former directors of the Royal British Bank took place when he was finishing the book. – The Financial Fiction Genre

Arthur and Amy on their wedding day

Arthur and Amy on their wedding day

After losing his and his partner’s investments in Merdle’s schemes, Arthur Clennam (Matthew Mcfadyen) went willingly to the Marshalsea instead of escaping his obligations. After his debts were paid he settled for a “modest life of usefulness and happiness” by marrying Amy Dorrit (Claire Foy).

More links:

Missed an episode? Watch episodes online at this link through May 3rd.

A happy ending after all

A happy ending after all

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Dickens recounts how when his father and he went into the prison they both wept very much and his father warned him that if a man had 20 pounds a year and spent 19 pounds, 19 shillings and sixpence, he would be happy, but that a shilling spent the other way would make him wretched. – A.S. Byat, Within Those Walls

Born in prison

Born in prison

The first surprise I encountered watching Little Dorrit on Masterpiece Classic was to see little Amy born in the Marshalsea, the debtor’s prison to which her father had been sentenced for owing £400. William Dorritt, also know as the “Father of the Marshalsea”, was incarcerated for 23 years, slowly rotting from the inside out and living a life without hope of becoming a free man again. He was allowed to bring in his family, a tradition of those bygone days. Sadly, Mrs. Dorrit died before her husband could repay his debt. Amy has never known a life other than in prison.

Life without hope for William Dorrit

Life without hope for William Dorrit

John Howard, a reformer, visited Marshalsea eight times between 1774 and 1783, and made the following observations:

There are in the whole near sixty rooms; and yet only six of them left for common-side debtors. Of the other rooms – five were let to a man who was not a prisoner; in one of them he kept a chandler’s shop, in two he lived with his family; the other two he let to prisoners….The chamber rent wants regulation, for in several rooms where four lie in two beds, and in some rooms where two lie in one bed, each pays 3 p 6d for his lodgings.

The prison is greatly out of repair. No infirmary. The court is well supplied with water. In it the prisoners play at rackets etc., and in a little back court, the Park, at skittles.

In March 1775 when the number of prisoners was 175, there were with them in this incommodious prison wives and children 46. – The Chronicles of London, Saint and Darley, New York, 1994, p 150.

william-dorrit

The prison had not much changed when Charles Dickens lived there, for William Dorrit’s nightmare was his own. In 1824, when Dickens was twelve, his father, John, had been taken there for debts he could not repay. Instead of going to school, Dickens left the Marshalsea each day to work at Warren’s boot-blacking factory, where he was paid six shillings a week.

The family [Dickens] writes, lived more comfortably in prison than they had done for a long time out of it, They were waited on still by the maid of all work from Bayham Street, the orphan girl from Chatham workhouse from whose sharp little worldly, yet also kindly, ways I took my first impressions of the Marchioness in The Old Curiosity Shop. Old and new London a narrative of its history, its people and its places By Walter Thornbury, Edward Walford

His father’s experience in the Marshalsea left an indelible impression. Dickens must have written these lines from the heart: “She looked down into the living grave on which the sun had risen, with her father in it.” Unlike William Dorrit, who spent nearly a quarter of a century in prison, John Dickens walked out after six months when one of his relatives died and left enough money in the will to pay off the debt.

"It was an oblong pile of barrack building, partitioned into squalid houses standing back to back, so that there were no back rooms; environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed in by high walls duly spiked at top."

"It was an oblong pile of barrack building, partitioned into squalid houses standing back to back, so that there were no back rooms; environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed in by high walls duly spiked at top."

Once a man of substance, William Dorrit (played by Tom Courtenay) tried to live with some dignity inside the high spiked walls, but much of his self-consequence came at the expense of his youngest daughter, Amy (Little Dorrit), who devoted her young life catering to her father.  “In his deepest heart he knows that he’s made an utter mess of his and his beloved children’s lives, but he would never openly admit to this failure. For his sake, the family all keep up the pretence of respectability.” ( BBC)  Even at his lowest ebb, William Dorrit finds comfort in the title of “Father of the Marshalsea.” He adheres to social standards, blinding himself to his son’s Edward’s dissolute lifestyle and daughter Fanny’s less than acceptable career as a dancer,  and dines in state on the food that Amy has set aside from her own repasts.

The family’s ability to come and go from prison within the curfew hours so surprised me that I wanted to research the topic. Only the debtor remained imprisoned. In reality, as Dickens attests, life inside those walls was not much worse than life outside it – for the destitute. The friendship between Amy and John Chivery was genuine. John performed his duties with humanity, and Amy recognized that the Assistant Turnkey was simply following orders.

Leaving the Marshalsea in state

Leaving the Marshalsea in state

Even when freed, William Dorrit does not step outside his prison. When he is finally released, due to an inheritance found through Arthur Clennam’s perseverance, his heart is as pinched as his confined world had once been.  Charles Dickens wrote about the character:

Crushed at first by his imprisonment, he had soon found a dull relief in it. He was under lock and key; but the lock and key that kept him in, kept numbers of his troubles out. If he had been a man with strength of purpose to face those troubles and fight them, he might have broken the net that held him, or broken his heart; but being what he was, he languidly slipped into this smooth descent, and never more took one step upward.

Instead of thanking Arthur, he avoids him and puts on airs of grandiosity. His children are given lessons of deportment by Mrs. General as they traipse across Europe on a Grand Tour. They are lessons in futility, for Fanny and Edward are beyond help, and Amy is uninterested in the trappings of wealth. And yet despite his opulent surroundings, William was unable to escape the effects of the Marshalsea and his mind remained imprisoned. He returns to London, but instead of enjoying the high life, he is constantly plagued by reminders of his past and falls into a great depression.

William Dorrit in London

William Dorrit in London

In real life, a man who was confined in the Marshalsea just like William Dorrit, reacted to his imprisonment in a much different way. John Howard recalled:

Mr. Henry Allnot, who was many years hence a prisoner here, had during his confinement a large estate bequeathed to him. He learnt sympathy by his sufferings, and left £100 a year for discharging poor debtors from hence whose debts do not exceed £4. As he bound his manor of Goring in Oxfordshire for charitable uses, this is called the Oxford charity.  Many are cleared by it every year. – The Chronicles of London, p. 150

remaining-wall-of-the-marshalsea-prison

Marshalsea Prison was closed in 1842, and all that remains today is a long brick wall and two gated arches.

In 1856 whilst engaged in the purchase of Gad’s Hill, Charles Dickens paid a visit to the Marshalsea, then in the course of demolition, to see what traces were left of the prison of which he had received such early and vivid impressions as a boy, and which he had been able to rebuild almost brick by brick in Little Dorritt by the aid of his wonderfully retentive memory. He writes to his friend John Forster, “Went to the Borough yesterday morning before going to Gad’s Hill to see if I could find any ruins of the Marshalsea. Found a great part of the original building now Marshalsea Place. I found the rooms that had been in my mind’s eye in the story…There is a room there still standing that I think of taking. It is the room through which the ever memorable signers of Captain Porter’s petition filed off in my boyhood. The spikes are gone and the wall is lowered, and any body can go out now who likes to go and is not bed ridden.”  Old and new London a narrative of its history, its people and its places By Walter Thornbury, Edward Walford

My other Little Dorrit Reviews:

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