January 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm (Uncategorized)

Over the holidays, I watched the 2008 BBC production of Dickens’ Little Dorrit. It’s one of those masterful period pieces, the BBC seems to do so effortlessly, employing as it  does a vast cast of British acting talent.

Watching the grimy scenes of London, I couldn’t help but be reminded of William Blake’s poem “London.” 

 In Little Dorrit, the rawness and savagery of  capitalism is evident.  The story begins in the debtors prison the Marshalsea, where those who cannot pay are cast.  Much of the story takes place in and around the prison, and its shadow hangs over the characters (when Arthur Clennam is bankrupted after the collapse of the Merdle’s bank, it is to the Marshalsea he goes).  

The world in the story is society, where those of good breeding dwellNot necessarily the rich mind you. Even after William Dorrit becomes wealthy, he is not accepted into this world because he was formerly in the debtor’s prison. This also takes on a comic form. After he is informed of Merdle’s suicide, the family butler sneers at Merdle because, after all, he was a businessman, not a part of the nobility.   

Blake’s poem, written in 1792 a half century before Dickens, are just as powerful as Dickens.

 I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow, 
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man, 
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.  
How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls; 
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh 
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse 
Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear 
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


  1. Stuart said,

    Happy New Year!
    Not seen Little Dorrit, but I did get my first taste of Dickens over Christmas – Great Expectations. Oh Dickens, where have you been all my life?!
    Love the poem.
    All the best

    • fischerzed said,

      Happy new year too.

      When I was in university, I read A Tale of Two Cities. Or rather I should say, I read the first fifty papges or so. Then I gave up. I found it dreary and lifeless. Several decades later, I’ve coem to the conclusion, the problemn wasn’t Dickens, it was me. I’m not sure when I will leap back into the man’s work, but the time is
      edging closer to the top of the list.

      Blake is wonderful.

      Funny though, my first exposure to his work was singing Jerusalem in those school assemblies all those years ago.

  2. Richard S. said,

    Hi, there. I just read this post (a little late, admittedly,) and I decided to write to you from within WordPress this time, which means with a link to my (mostly) Indian film blog …which is appropriate, because I wanted to mention that on Christmas, I watched something that was a bit like Dickens, with an equal willingness to show the rawness and savagery of capitalism (with a special emphasis on the consequences to children). But this film was also infused with an overtly socialist hopefulness often characteristic of a country that had, just a decade earlier, broken away from hundreds of years of British colonial rule. Here’s the post that I did on December 26 about one very touching song from this movie, Boot Polish:

    • fischerzed said,

      It’s a pretty good clip. I watched it with my wife and her brother, and began to read the lyrics to them. “We know, we know,” they said. It’s how how easily overt and natural politics and appear in some art, and how forced and constrained in others (this, needless to say is the former).

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