Hard times

By JUSTINE ELIAS  |  March 24, 2009

Halfway through, there's a stunning reversal of fortune: the Dorrits get rich, get out of jail, and embark on grand tour of Europe — where, in true Dickens style, they keep running into people they know. Amy frets over her beloved father and suffers the tutelage of a society dame, Mrs. General (Pam Ferris), who counsels, " 'Papa' is a preferable form of address. 'Father' is rather vulgar. Besides, the word 'Papa' give a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips."

Sounds like: prison. Worrying words, particularly for Dickens, whose father did time in the Marshalsea. As a child, the author had to go live there, and he never got over it. This Little Dorrit conveys both the thrill of riches and the hangover that results when risk goes wrong. And this London looks bracingly familiar.

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