Our Novel: Little Dorrit

Our book for 2023-2024 will be Little Dorrit, which was published serially between December 1855 and June 1857. Charles Dickens’s father John was incarcerated in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison when the author was a young boy, and that experience helped to shape the novel.


The setting in the Marshalsea was only one of the elements Dickens drew from his own life when writing the novel. He had spent a good deal of his time in Italy, and even wrote a travelogue about that country called Pictures from Italy. In Little Dorrit, this experience again came in handy, as Dickens was able to send some of his characters to Italy to explore the same foreign landscape that he by then knew quite well.


Dickens’s increasingly unhappy marriage might also have played a role in his writing the novel, which features characters making themselves and those around them miserable out of a sense of duty to vows and promises made long ago. Dickens had recently renewed his acquaintance with Maria Beadnell, a woman he had loved and wanted to marry in his youth, but who by 1855 had grown into a very different woman than the one he remembered. Beadnell became his model for the hilariously comic Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.


Britain’s disastrous handling of the botched Crimean War influenced the book, too. Bureaucratic mismanagement of the war led to outbreaks of disease, similar to the plague that causes characters to be placed in quarantine at the beginning of the novel. Bureaucracy itself became the focus of some of Dickens’s most blistering satire as he introduced to Little Dorrit the Circumlocution Office, which no matter what it is supposed to do, inevitably finds a way not to do it.


Please join us for a year-long study of one of the most ambitious and beloved novels Dickens ever wrote.



Past novels:

2022-2023: Oliver Twist

2021-2022: Martin Chuzzlewit

2020-2021: David Copperfield

2019-2020: The Old Curiosity Shop

2018-2019: Dombey and Son

2017-2018: Barnaby Rudge

2016-2017: Great Expectations

2015-2016: Our Mutual Friend

2014-2015: Nicholas Nickleby (Part Two)

2013-2014: Nicholas Nickleby (Part One)

2012-2013: Bleak House (Part Two)

2011-2012: Bleak House (Part One)

2010-2011: A Tale of Two Cities

2009-2010: Pickwick Papers

2008-2009American Notes and Hunted Down (short story collection)

2007-2008: Hard Times and The Mystery of Edwin Drood

2006-2007: Little Dorrit

2005-2006: Oliver Twist

2004-2005: David Copperfield

2003-2004: Martin Chuzzlewit

2002-2003: Barnaby Rudge

2001-2002: The Old Curiosity Shop

2000-2001: Nicholas Nickleby (Part Two)

1999-2000: Nicholas Nickleby (Part One)

1998-1999: Dombey and Son

1997-1998: Pickwick Papers

1996-1997: Our Mutual Friend

1995-1996: Great Expectations

1994-1995: A Tale of Two Cities

1993-1994: Bleak House