[This example of fine work written by a first-year university student in 1993 has historical importance because it exemplifies a very early (pre-Web) use of hypertext in education. The essay originated as a portion of one answer to a multipart seminar assignment, the results of which were then uploaded into a pre-WWW hypertext system, Eastgate System's Storyspace. I forgot to transfer full bibliographical information from the larger assignment, but I believe we used the Penguin edition of Little Dorrit. — George P. Landow.]

In Little Dorrit, Dickens uses allegorical setting not only to provide the reader with the time, place, and circumstances of the story but also to give the reader unique insight into his characters. Unlike the allegorical settings of George MacDonald, which reflect an individual's emotions, those in Dickens reflect an individual's whole character.

For example, in Little Dorrit Dickens painstakingly describes a room in Mrs. Clennam's house that reflects her nature:

Meagre and spare, like all the other rooms, it was even uglier and grimmer then the rest...Its movables were ugly old chairs with worn-out seats, and ugly old chairs without any seats; a threadbare patternless carpet, a maimed table, a crippled wardrobe, a lean set of fire-irons like the skeleton of a set deceased, a washing-stand that looked as if it had stood for ages in a hail of dirty soapsuds, and a bedstead with four bare atomies of posts, each terminating in a spike, as if for the dismal accommodation of lodgers who might prefer to impale themselves. (77-78).

Dickens' choice of adjectives not only applies to the furniture in the room, but it also applies to Mrs. Clennam, who has not left her room in over ten years. Like the table, the wardrobe, and all of the other furniture in the room she is "worn-out," "maimed," and "crippled": "I have lost the use of my limbs...I know nothing of summer and winter, shut up here" (73-74).

Mrs. Clennam, a cold and domineering woman, intimidates others and jealously conceals her husband's attempt to recompense the girl he had abandoned. Dickens's description of the setting reflects Mrs. Clennam's nature and effectively conveys her evil and pitiful character. From the "lean set of fire-irons" that looks like the "skeleton of a set deceased," to the bedstead which appears ready for the "accommodation of lodgers who might prefer to impale themselves," the whole room projects an aura of decay and a certain degree of malevolence that aptly fits Mrs. Clennam.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002