[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.]
he female character who saves her beloved man and creates a happy ending for the story appears in many Victorian novels. Several such works were written by female authors who display feminist tendencies in other areas of their books, but the same theme appears also in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit. Although Dickens's novel does not create quite the same effect as do the works of Browning, Brontë and Gaskell, but it does enhance the importance and necessity of Amy Dorrit in the novel and thus, indirectly, accentuate the importance (although not the power) of women.
Dickens, an author who often chooses boys or men as his protagonists, features the absurd little woman, Little Dorrit, as the heroine in the novel named after her. Amy Dorrit occupies a central role in this massive work and Dickens portrays her as the savior for his lead male character, Arthur Clennam.
At the end of the novel, Arthur Clennam falls into financial ruin and thus becomes imprisoned at the Marshalsea debtor's prison in what appears to be a hopeless and joyless situation. In addition to his povery, Clennam lacks sleep and has fallen ill: "Light of head and with want of sleep and want of food (his appetite and even his sense of taste having forsaken him), he had been two or three times conscious, in the night, of going astray (824). However, this circumstance changes abruptly when Little Dorrit appears and promises her love and care to Arthur: "As he embraced her, she said to him, "They never told me you were ill," and drawing an arm softly around his neck, laid his head upon her bosom, put a hand upon his head, and resting her cheek upon that hand, nursed him as lovingly, and as God knows as innocently, as she had nursed her father in that room when she had been but a baby (Dickens, 825). After this protective and motherly act, Little Dorrit swears to Arthur her undying love and this declaration allows Arthur to survive his awful prison term and live to marry Little Dorrit at the end of the novel.
The self-less and Christ-like character of Little Dorrit achieves a salvation for Clennam with no less certainty than Aurora Leigh, Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale do in their respective rescues. However, the purpose that Little Dorrit serves in her novel may be slightly different that of the other heroines. Throughout Little Dorrit, Amy takes it upon herself to care for and help others to the best of her ability. She does not wish to have independence and she posesses strange character quirks and insecurities that make her unlike the heroines of feminist authors. Little Dorrit seems to require someone to care for as an essential part of her existance. She lacks the pride and self-respect that are so apparent in heroines such as Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh. Dickens does not empower Little Dorrit in the same way that Browning does Aurora Leigh, but he nevertheless creates his heroine in an admirable and benevolent way that far surpasses the goodness or influence of any of his male characters.
Last modified 24 October 2002