[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.]

Throughout Little Dorrit, Dickens questions the pursuit of money. His characters wonder about the meaning of life and where monetary matters fit in:

'I like business,' said Pancks, getting on a little faster. 'What's a man made for?'

'For nothing else?' said Clennam.

Pancks put the counter question, 'What else?' It packed up, in the smallest compass, a weight that had rested on Clennam's life; and he made no answer.

'That's what I ask our weekly tenants,' said Pancks. 'Some of 'em will pull long faces to me, and say, Poor as you see us, master we're always grinding, drudging, toiling, every minute we're awake. I say to them, What else are you made for? It shuts them up. They haven't a word to answer. What else are you made for? That clinches it.'

'Ah dear, dear, dear!' sighed Clennam. [201-202]

Clennam simply cannot believe that man's sole purpose in life consists of wealth and working to gain wealth; nor do the other poor people that Pancks encounters believe it. Dickens does not make Arthur rebut Pancks's arguments but hopes instead that readers will find them hard to swallow and will come up with answers of their own.

John Ruskin, a contemporary of Dickens, would most certainly have seen Pancks's reasoning as faulty. Ruskin dealt with the pursuit of money in many of his writings since the coming of the Machine Age along with its lack of laws against swindling brought concern about money to the forefront. He argued that the notion of hoarding money was ludicrous, "Getting on — but where to? Gathering together — but how much? Do you mean to gather always — never to spend?" ("Traffic", 245). He tried to understand why people so desired money. As he saw it, they had no reason to want that much of it. The money itself has no real worth and the objects one can get with it cease to have meaning after a certain point. Eventually he concluded: "It has been shown that the chief value and virtue of money consists in its having power over human being; that, without this power, large material possessions are useless, and to any person possessing such power, comparatively unnecessary. But power over human beings is attainable by other means than by money . . . Many joys may be given to men which cannot be bought for gold, and many fidelities found in them which cannot be rewarded with it" (John Ruskin, Unto This Last, 188) He believed that all people simply desired power over other people and that money did not always provide the means for such power.

A debate between Mr. Thornton and Mr. Hale, in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South clearly illustrates Ruskin's point:

"I wonder when you Milton men intend to live. All your lives seem to be spent in gathering together the materials for life."

"By living, I suppose you mean enjoyment."

"Yes, enjoyment, — I don't specify of what, because I trust we should both consider mere pleasure as very poor enjoyment."

"I would rather have the nature of the enjoyment defined."

"Well! enjoyment of leisure — enjoyment of the power and influence which money gives. You are all striving for money What do you want it for?"

Mr. Thornton was silent. Then he said, "I really don't know. But money is not what I strive for."

"What then?"

"It is a home question. I shall have to lay myself open to such a catechist, and I am not sure that I am prepared to do it." [412]

The two men recognize that the gathering of riches does not hold any fulfillment in itself. Mr. Hale sees power and influence as the enjoyment that springs from wealth. Yet, Mr. Thornton does not seem to appreciate either. He intimates that he does not strive for money but for something more personal. He finds himself disillusioned by the power that money gives him over people and begins to see that it will take more than money to give him what he has discovered that he truly desires - the love of another human being. Ruskin comes to a similar conclusion, "Perhaps it may even appear, after some consideration, that the persons themselves are the wealth - that these pieces of gold with which we are in the habit of guiding them, are, in fact, nothing . . . perhaps even that the final outcome and consummation of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human creatures" (Unto This Last, 189). Ruskin tries to get the reader to realize that, if the pursuit of money translates into the desire for power over others, one should not seek to further one's self by hurting others because that will only destroy the power that you have over them. Making others happy and working for their benefit seems to best fulfill the reason for living. We should strive to win the love of the people around us.

Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002