Little Dorrit (1855-1857; Bradbury and Evans 1857), did not receive at first the critical accolade other novels by Dickens obtained: too many references to contemporary figures and recent scandals loomed through a ‘thirty years ago’ story, causing scathing comments on the writer’s art (Stephen). In time, however, the symbolic core of the narration would acquire full relief and be identified with the prison-motif, merging ‘the point of view of imprisoning states of mind’ with the criticism of ‘oppressive institutions’ (Wilson). Thus, to account for the complex nature of the text of Little Dorrit, one has to follow the track of realism as well as the symbolic suggestions Dickens weaves into the text. The socio-political background against which events are set has been fully accounted for (Philpotts, Sadrin, Rem). Among these, at home, the railway-share speculation, failure and scandals touching the Royal British Bank and the Tipperary Bank; the ineffectual efforts of the Administrative Reform Association; the Roebuck Committee examining the mismanagement of the Crimean War; across the Channel, the political condition of Europe, and especially Italy, where Austria, Piedmont, France, the Bourbons and the Pope were at war, while Mazzini, the Carbonari, the Giovane Italia, and other supporters of Italian independence roamed Europe (Ledger, Parker); even more distantly, there looms Canton, the opium trade question, with the Opium war against China in 1855-56 (Lo, Tambling, Ghosh). These events, and the places they are set in, while lending political tension to a story in which Dickens is ‘deliberately telescoping periods, events and personages’ (Sucksmith), also endow Little Dorrit with a spacious geographical quality, a cosmopolitanism which will find adequate contrast only in the cultural stronghold of Podsnappery (Joseph, Huguet, Hollington, Livesey). The other aspect one has to consider is the visual quality of the narration: from its inception, the light / shade contrast asserts the primacy of perception, and emphasizes the symbolic potential of the opening episode. In Dickens’s world not only landscapes, portraits and generally descriptions lend their power to narration, but codes borrowed from Victorian visual technology are deployed to obtain a maximum of effect (Jordan and Christ). The discursive quality of the text mingles with the skilful adoption of the techniques of the observer, beckoning to contemporary mass visual culture (Crary, Flint, Armstrong, Vanfasse). ‘Eyes’, ‘gaze’, ‘stare’, are keywords from the very first chapter. In addition to these, the stereoscope, a popular gadget in Victorian drawing rooms (Briggs), described in Household Words in 1853 and advertised in the serial instalments of Little Dorrit (Curtis), seems to provide a tool through which the interweaving of word and image, as well as here and there, past and present, may be read. This optical tool, based on the notion of binocularity, offers the viewer a singularly in-depth image, resulting from two paired views of the same subject taken at slightly different angles in space, and consequently in time. Thus the stereoscope precipitates the separate notions of distant and near, then and now, into one vivid compound—the past, the distant, the blurred, acquire new poignant evidence and distinction of detail. Thus between Marseilles and Marshalsea there is only the space of an ocular quivering; prisons of the past keep pace with the condition of the present, so that the bulky structure of a jail, a lazaretto, a decrepit old house, a foundling institution, with roots deep in the past, is still to be felt in palaces, rooms, furniture, windows, furnished with spiritual iron bars. Clothes turn into manacles. Faces from the past are also of the present, as with Rigaud / Lagnier / Blandois. Altogether the very structure of the novel, in its fearful symmetry, albeit counterbalanced by a profusion of characters and places, and references to contemporary events, teaches—like a true classic—a memorable lesson about the human condition. But it also offers a modern classic, insofar as Dickens writes Britain all over the Continent (Patten), so that the Babel of many tongues—the steaming and drifting, climbing and descending of so many restless travellers along their beaten tracks—finds its core in a foregrounding of language, and the universe it stands for, which we may term Anglo-locution.
|Parole Chiave:||Dickens; Victorian literature; Victorian novel; Little Dorrit; stereoscopic view; cultural memory|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore L-LIN/10 - Letteratura Inglese|
|Data di pubblicazione:||set-2018|
|Tipologia:||Book Part (author)|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||03 - Contributo in volume|