Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 10

By Charles Dickens

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Book 1, Chapter 10

Containing the whole Science of Government    

  • Dickens is not a fan of career bureaucrats.
  • Hang on a sec, Shmoop, not a fan of who now? Well, in all democracies there are two kinds of jobs in the government.  There are the elected guys – you know, "vote for me, I'm awesome" – who run on a party ticket and in theory can be voted out of office.  And then there are those who run the various departments and agencies under the elected guys – these are the career bureaucrats.  They don't lose their jobs when another party comes to power but are instead permanent office workers (which is in theory a good thing, because you need some kind of continuity somewhere).
  • The beginning of this chapter is a vicious satire on a made-up government department called the Circumlocution Office.  First off, the name: "circum" from the Latin for "around" and "locution" from the Latin for "talking." As in, these guys just talk circles around the business they are supposed to be doing.
  • Instead of doing anything, the Circumlocution Office workers make sure to do nothing.
  • Not only that, but the place is one giant pile of nepotism, since all the people who work there are from the Barnacle family and just keep on hiring more Barnacles for every available position.
  • This is also a joke. Way, way long ago, Plato (ancient Greek philosopher man) compared ruling a country to sailing a huge ship, "the ship of state."  This has since become a pretty famous metaphor.  Barnacles, meanwhile, are those small shellfish parasites that stick to the bottom and sides of ships and need to be cleaned off.
  • So the Barnacle family is not really all that helpful, Dickens is saying.
  • Anyway. Arthur goes to talk to Tite Barnacle, Circumlocution Office man, about Dorrit's debts.
  • He's not there, but his son is.  The son tells Arthur to go find Tite at home.
  • Arthur goes to Tite Barnacle's house, meets with him, and gets not a single straight answer. Instead, Tite Barnacle goes out of his way to avoid answering every question, sending him instead back to the Office to another department.
  • Arthur goes back to the Circumlocution Office and it's a totally surreal labyrinth of nonsense, as people send him back and forth from one bureaucrat to another.
  • Finally he comes across a Barnacle who levels with him, telling him that he can fill out all the forms in the world and talk to everybody in the Office, but he will never get a real answer to anything.
  • Arthur gives up, walks out, and runs into Meagles.
  • Meagles is yelling at Daniel Doyce, calling him a criminal. Arthur can tell immediately that Doyce is no such thing.
  • Finally Meagles calms down and Doyce tells his story.
  • Doyce is a factory owner who twelve years ago invented some awesome thing. If the country adopted his awesome thing instead of the crappy old-fashioned thing they're using now, there would be much saving of money and time, and much rejoicing of people.
  • (We're not told what this invention actually is, but Shmoop's thinking iPad.)
  • All Doyce needs is a patent and the approval of the government for everyone to start using his invention, and for that he needs to go through – you guessed it – the Circumlocution Office.
  • He's been trying for twelve years with no luck.
  • Doyce says he's not alone – it's this way for all inventors in England, and that's why so many of them take their inventions to other countries. He may do the same. Take that, England!

Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 10 Study Group

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