[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.]

Like Aurora Leigh, Amy Dorrit attempts to remain an unmarried woman. After it becomes obvious that she loves Arthur Clennam, the ascetic waif tries to suppress her natural emotions. Dickens suggests that one who is so dedicated to serving others tries to ignore normal personal desire. When Little Dorrit tells her protege Maggy a fairy tale about a beautiful princess who visits a strange woman at a spinning wheel, it seems clear that Amy describes her own thoughts and fantasies of Clennam — visions which she believes she will carry to her grave. In her tale, the mysterious woman keeps a shadow in her cottage, a memory of someone. When the woman dies and her wheel stops turning, this shadow goes with her into her grave (Ch 24, Penguin ed., 341-343).

The following passage reveals that Little Dorrit negates her own intense emotion, her love for Arthur Clennam. Also, Amy's dialoque supports the theme of self-sacrifice. "He saw the devoted little creature with her worn shoes, in her common dress, in her jail-home; a slender child in body, a strong heroine in soul. . . 'So far removed, so different, and so much older, I am the better suited for your friend and adviser. . . Why have you kept so retired from me? Tell me.' 'I am better here. My place and use are here. I am much better here,' said Little Dorrit faintly" (Ch 32, 433). She goes on to stammer that she keeps no secret from Clennam, and Dickens also describes her as possessing a bleeding breast.

Obviously, she longs for Clennam, but, according to Natalie McKnight, she is prepared to endure intense self-deprivation. "In mythologizing her love for Arthur in a fairy tale. . .Amy tries to kill off her love for Arthur into art. Through the story, Amy tries to convince herself of the impossibility of fulfilling her desire, envisioning for herself a lonely, sexless life," (McKnight, p.118). So, Little Dorrit's fairy tale seems meant to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, a prediction of the lonely life Amy has planned for herself. She gives up this loneness, however, when she marries Clennam at the end of the novel. The theme of the selfless person living alone is slightly altered at this point, but one continues to believe that Little Dorrit will not cease to devote herself to helping others because her character remains almost angelic.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002