Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 2, Chapter 12

By Charles Dickens

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Book 2, Chapter 12

In which a Great Patriotic Conference is holden

  • OK, guys, get psyched, because in this chapter the narrator changes course a little bit and really lets the bitter satire fly. Check out the "In a Nutshell" section for some thoughts about Dickens and his dislike of completely unregulated capitalism, then you'll have some sense of why the narrator is so vicious here. Go ahead. We'll wait for you.
  • Oh, Merdle, Merdle, Merdle. Everyone worships the ground he walks on because of his money. Which is sort of a crazy reason, especially since none of that money does anyone any good.
  • While Mrs. Merdle is gone, society still hangs out at the Merdle house. Merdle himself lurks there too, but since he's not really all that social, and since he's terrified of his butler, he kind of keeps in the shadows.
  • But suddenly Merdle starts getting urgent letters from Mrs. Merdle saying that Edmund Sparkler needs to finally be set up with some kind of job. And what she means by job is an appointment of some sort where he will be paid money for not doing much of anything. (Since he's an imbecile, obviously.)
  • So Merdle decides to organize a small dinner for some powerful people.
  • Basically, the idea is that at this dinner, Merdle and Lord Decimus (important Parliament guy) will do a quid pro quo, a totally illegal and unethical trade of power. Merdle owns three rotten boroughs, each of which is supposed to elect a member of Parliament. He will get whomever Decimus wants elected in exchange for a position for Sparkler in the Circumlocution Office.
  • (OK, quick brain snack. Why does Merdle have this kind of magical power? This novel is set before the electoral reform system of the 1830s, when there were still places in England called "rotten boroughs." A rotten borough was a piece of land that was zoned to be represented in Parliament – like the U.S. states are represented in Congress – but didn't actually have any people living in it because it was all just one giant piece of property. Thus, whoever owned the rotten borough got to just pick someone for Parliament. That's some powerful stuff, right there.)
  • Merdle and Decimus are social idiots. Everyone does their best to keep up the party around them, since this is such an important meeting.
  • Bar, the lawyer, is particularly impressive and able to chat up every single person there.
  • Finally, after dinner, everyone goes upstairs and waits for the Merdle-Decimus convo.
  • There is no convo. They are so inept that they can't move toward each other in the room. It's hilariously ridiculous.
  • Finally, Bar steers Merdle toward Decimus, and Frederic Barnacle (Decimus's private secretary) steers Decimus toward Merdle.
  • They have a chat.
  • Hooray! Business accomplished.
  • The next day the papers announce that Edmund Sparkler has been appointed to a high Circumlocution Office position.
  • Maybe Shmoop is a little cynical, but we're betting this is the way government still sometimes works.

Little Dorrit Book 2, Chapter 12 Study Group

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