[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.]

The shadow has great symbolic significance in both Dickens's Little Dorrit and MacDonald's Phantastes However, the two authors use the image for vastly different effects. In Little Dorrit, the shadow represents hidden secrets; secrets of a hidden past or of corruption, whereas in Phantastes, the shadow represents selfishness and egotism. In the very first chapter of Little Dorrit, the narrator explains: "To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches — dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging — was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade" (40). People find the shadows relaxing and comforting in the way they conceal their rude habits and the shallowness of their piety. The sun does not treat people so kindly. It serves as a baptism of fire, revealing their true selves.

Mrs. Clennam's house contained such corruption and such a dark, torrid history that "If the sun ever touched it, it was but with a ray, and that was gone in half an hour; if the moonlight ever fell upon it, it was only to put a few patches on its doleful cloak, and make it look more wretched" (220). Shadow enveloped the entire house because of the secret evil abiding within its walls. The sun itself refuses to touch it, afraid of what its revealing rays might discover. At this point in the story, the nature of this evil remains a mystery to the reader, but this grotesque description of the house foreshadows what he will find inside.

Dickens also refers to the shadow as a more personal thing, a stifling memory of some hidden or frightful past that haunts people wherever they go. He writes, for example: "the shadow of the Marshalsea wall was a real darkening influence, and could be seen on the Dorrit Family at any stage of the sun's course" (300). The Dorrit family, now living very lavishly, cannot forget their past, as distant as it may seem from their present position.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002