[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 both MacDonald's Phantastes and Dickens's Little Dorrit allegorical settings embody the moods of the protagonists. MacDonald relied on setting to convey Anodos's innermost thoughts as he journeyed through Fairy Land.

I stood on the shore of a wintry sea,with a wintry sun just afew feet above its horizon- edge. It was bare, waste, and gray. Hundreds of hopeless waves rushed constantly shorewards, falling exhausted upon a beach of great loose stones, that seemed to stretch miles and miles in both directions. There was nothing for the eye but mingling shades of gray; nothing for the ear but the rush of the coming, the roar of the breaking, and the moan of the retreating wave...A cold death-like wind swept across the shore, seeming to issue from a pale mouth of cloud upon the horizon. Sign of life was nowhere visible. I wandered over the stones, up and down the beach, a human imbodiment of the nature around me...I could bear it no longer. [125]

Here setting unveiled the desolate mood of the protagonist on "the dreary part of his passage." The differing moods of Anodos as described in the settings display the spiritual change he underwent on his search for the ideal.

Many facets of Dickens's Little Dorrit presented a psychological portrait. Setting often proved parallel with the moods of the characters, particularly Arthur Clennam. However, unlike in Phantastes which presented fantasical settings in an imaginary world, the settings of Little Dorrit proved realistic. This symbolic realism created a melodramatic effect which mirrored mood. Dickens utilized the prison setting very effectively throughout the novel. Prison mirrored Dickens's view that society captures and imprisons individuals. Every character in the novel appears trapped in his or her own prison. For example, Arthur Clennam viewed his parent's home as prison-like.

The deserted counting-houses, with their secrets of books and papers locked up in chests and safes; the banking houses with their secrets of strong rooms and wells, the keys of which were in a very few secret pockets and a very few secret breasts; the secrets of all the dispersed grinders in the vast mill, among whom there were doubtless plunderers, forgers, and betrayers of many sorts, whom the light of any day that dawned might reveal; he could have fancied that these things, in hiding, imparted a heaviness to the air. [596-597]

Many of Dickens's settings conjured up visions of cells. Houses in Little Dorrit, commonly filled with stale dead air, embody the value of their inhabitants. Frederick Dorrit's apartment is "close," with "an unwholesome smell." Tite Barnacle's home is a bottle, in which he is squeezed and stopped up. " The suffocating closeness is most evident in the actual prison, the Marshalsea, near the end of Little Dorrit. But even this prison house can be as much a projection of character as a description of external fact (Gerald Coniff,"The Prison of This Lower World," Charles Dickens: New Perspectives).

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Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002