Sunday, February 05, 2012
Classics Challenge: Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
Posted by JaneGS
I'm only on page 82 (just finished chapter 6) of Little Dorrit, and I've only just met the title character of the book, and so I cannot go with the obvious selection for character analysis in this month's Classics Challenge prompt. Katherine of November's Autumn, host of the Classics Challenge, challenged participants in February to write a blog post about a character we find interesting.
At this stage in the novel, having but 8% of the novel read (by my Goodreads calculator), I'm going to have to go with Affery Flintwinch. She is introduced first in chapter 3 as a "cracked voice" coming "out of the dimness" to greet Arthur Clennam when he has returned home and is meeting with his mother for the first time in years. Affery is an old woman and an old servant of the family--she is described as a "tall hard-favored sinewy old woman, who in her youth might have enlisted in the Foot Guards without much fear of discovery," but who retreats in fear from her husband, a "little keen-eyed crab-like old man."
She tells Arthur that her husband and Mrs. Clennam decided she should marry him because it wouldn't be appropriate for the two to remain as the only servants to a bedridden woman if they weren't married. So she did--no courting, not much of a wedding, and a marriage of convenience to a man she fears. Poor Affery.
The next chapter recounts a scene in which she is sleeping, hears a noise and gets up to investigate, and sees her husband talking with someone in a stealthy way. When Mr. Flintwinch sees that his wife has seen him, he goes after her, choking her and telling her that what she saw was a dream. She is so afraid of him that she doesn't question his assessment of the situation.
I chose Affery because I anticipate her being a literary Fool--that is, a character who speaks the truth and provides a moral compass for the reader and other characters if they are wise enough to see and hear the wisdom in her ramblings. Miss Bates in Austen's Emma is such a Fool, and I'm wondering if Affery is another such character. Dickens used her to show the reader that Mr. Flintwinch is involved in some shady dealings and he will willingly resort to violence to quiet anyone whom he sees as a threat--but he does this in an oblique way. The narrator doesn't spell this out, but describes Affery's experience as a "dream."
According to my Penguin Classics Notes, Affery is an "old Puritan name, common in Kent. Variants include Aphra, Aphora, Afra, and Afferie. Dickens may have been alerted to the name by a tombstone in a churchyard at Folkestone, where he wrote the main part of Little Dorrit: 'To the Memory of Affery Jeffrey (a female)'."
Here's a photo of Affery from the BBC adaptation that I am very eager to see, as soon as I finish the book. I'm not sure that this woman could have "enlisted in the Foot Guards without much fear of discovery," but she seems frightened enough, which is her main character trait at this point in the story.