"Who passes by this road so late? Compaignons de la Marjolaine! Who passes by this road so late? Toujours gai!" -- Monsieur Rigaud in "Little Dorrit"

Dickens is probably my favorite author, but it's always hard to pick just one of anything, so I'll say he's in my top three for sure. I've read and re-read everything he's written and I never tire of the profound tenderness in his wit, the mercy and love of humanity he shows alongside his biting social commentary, and his absolutely unique, hilarious, imagination-provoking way of looking at the world which is STILL relevant today!

I adored "David Copperfield", "Nicholas Nickleby", "Great Expectations", "A Christmas Carol", and "The Old Curiosity Shop", they are my favorite Dicken's books, but my all-time Dickens choice is the masterpiece "Little Dorrit".

I just finished re-reading this book for the third time this morning. It has such an unprepossessing look to it, you wouldn't know by the title what a BIG book it really is. It has a deceptively simple premise about a young girl born into a debtor's prison, but in reality the book contains the entire world inside of it. All of humanity is there in its pages, parading about with all of its vanities and weaknesses as well as its courage, loyalty, and ability to love.

(On a side note, really people, who needs a bible? "Little Dorrit" is my good book, and teaches more about the terrible trials of life and the deliverance of mercy than the new testament ever did. And, like the bible, there are all kinds of plot sidelines that do not seem like they happened hundreds (thousands) of years ago. They could have happened this very year! Just switch the name Merdle for Madoff and there you go.)

The characters in "Little Dorrit" are especially compelling to me, out of all of Dicken's books. First and foremost there is the terrifying assassin Rigaud aka Blandois who might just be one of the scariest villains I have ever encountered. He is alternately savage and suave, overbearing and sickeningly gentle. He is a killer trying to masquerade as a gentleman. His "moustache went up under his nose and his nose came down over his moustache" and his falsely ingratiating and overly-familiar ways mask a deadly threat simmering just below the surface. In this excerpt we find him speaking creepily to himself:

"Blandois, you shall turn the tables on society, my little child. Haha! Holy Blue, you have begun well, Blandois. At a pinch, an excellent master of English or French, a man for the bosom of families! You have humor, you have ease, you have insinuating manners, you have a good appearance; in effect, you are a gentleman! A gentleman you shall live, my small boy and a gentleman you shall die. You shall win, however the game goes. They will all confess your merit Blandois. You shall subdue the society which has greivously wronged you, to your own high spirit. Death of my soul! You are high spirited by right and by nature, my Blandois!"
The casting director for the BBC series ought to have won an award for any one of their choices, not the least of which was the genius choice of Andy Serkis as Rigaud. Possibly the scariest french man that ever was.

Then by contrast we have the loyal Mr. Pancks who Dickens likens to a tug boat, steaming into his dock emitting a peculiar snort and a blast. This role was played to perfection in the most excellent BBC series starring the wonderful Eddie Marsan as the snorting and steaming and very hardworking Mr. Pancks.

Mr. William Dorrit  (one of the finest perfomances I've ever seen is Tom Courtenay's portrayal of Mr. Dorrit.) aka "the Father of the Marshalsea" (the debtor's prison where he has been incarcerated for 18 years, where his daughter Amy aka Little Dorrit was born and has lived, tending to him ever since.) is an incredible character. A shallow man with the arrogance of his more affluent years, and yet with a tender pathos that makes you love him despite his witless exploitation of friends and family. He is a charming man, a gentle man on the whole and Little Dorrit's devotion to him is infectious.

Equally attached to him is his brother Frederick Dorrit who really caught at my heart strings. Unlike his brother William, Frederick is not confined to the Marshalsea Prison but spends his time there anyway, no longer a part of society. "Humbled, bowed, withered and faded..." he is a clarinet player in a run down theater and is quite content to spend his days with his beloved brother and niece inside the prison.

Another of my favorite Dicken's creations is Mr. Casby, the Benevolent Benefactor and the snorting Mr. Panck's employer. Leaving the dirty work of collecting the rent from his poor tenants to Pancks, Mr. Casby is then free to roam as benevolently and benignly as possible through the streets, shining his light on all those who flock to him, transfixed by his soft expression and god-like grey beard: "The shining bald head, which looked so very large because it shone so much, and the long grey hair at its sides and back long floss silk or spun glass which looked so very benevolent because it was never cut..."

and..."Patriarch was the name which many people delighted to give him. Various old ladies in the neighborhood spoke of hims a The Last of the Patriarchs. So grey, so slow, so quiet, so impassionate, so very bumpy in the head, Patriarch was the word for him....Oh, with that head is he not the father to the orphan and the friend to the friendless!"

Providing some truly hilarious comic relief in the story we have the ineffective but kindly Mr. Sparkler who is the Awkward Dork with a heart of gold who really "has no nonsense about him!"
and the venerable and obviously mentally ill Mr. F's Aunt who takes a disliking to our hero of the story, the completely un-hateable Mr. Clennam (played to perfection by one of my crushes Mathew MacFadyen xox).

A much tougher specimen than Mr. Sparkler, the aged Mr. F's Aunt appears in one scene thusly: "Mr. F's Aunt was so stiffened that she had the appearance of being past bending by any means short of powerful mechanical pressure. Her bonnet was cocked up behind in a terrific manner; and her stony reticule was as rigid as if it had been petrified by the Gorgon's head."

"Holding out like a grim fortress" and referring to the innocent Mr. Clennam, Mr. F's Aunt repeatedly calls out to "bring him for'ard, and I'll chuck him out o'winder!"
(Again, not to belabor the point, but the BBC version of this book has the best possible Mr. F's Aunt ever, played by Annette Crosbie, brava!)

Dickens loves to animate inanimate objects. One such character in the book is the Bosom. Being made of flesh and blood I don't know if it completely qualifies as an "inanimate" object, but it is represented as a separate character than the woman who it is attached to. The Bosom is a place to display the wealth of the Bosom's husband. The owner of the Bosom, Mrs. Merdle, has her own chapters and her own personality, but it is the Bosom and the jewels upon it that are the real guests of honor.

I could go on and on, and I'm sure Dicken's scholars already have, about other themes and characters such as the prim and proper Mrs. General and her love for the words "Prunes and Prism" (because of they way those particular words make a young lady's mouth look). Or, I could rave about the poignant, un-requited love of the honorable young John Chivery, the steely, hard-hearted mother Mrs. Clennam (played by the amazing Judy Parfitt) or heavens, I forgot about the lopsided servant Mr. Flintwinch (Alun Armstrong, I love you!) and I haven't even described the ethereal goodness of Little Dorrit herself, but you'll find it all out for yourself if you give this book a try. Don't rush it, take your time and read just two pages at a sitting, then put it down. Savor the language, the descriptions, the hilarious commentary and dialogue. There's nothing like Dickens, and I suspect, like Shakespeare, there never will be again.