Jason R. Rudy, “Settled: Dorrit Down Under” (pp. 184–206)
Although the conclusion to Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1855–57) finds the protagonists Arthur Clennam and Amy Dorrit comfortably situated in London, the novel’s long and meandering narrative entertains alternate possibilities. This essay considers the relation of emigration to British middle-class identity, both in the historical context of the 1850s and in the fictional world of Dickens’s novel. Australian free emigration, which saw a significant rise in the 1850s, serves as a limit case against which to test the significance of remaining at home in England. Little Dorrit is a novel that “settles” on a domestic life of bourgeois stability, but it arrives at this conclusion only after contemplating less-predictable futures abroad. Dickens himself considered emigrating to Australia while writing Little Dorrit, and the novel’s quiet conclusion reflects the author’s own conflicted resolution to forego life beyond British shores. Dickens’s novel ultimately suggests that Victorian middle-class stability depended at least in part on the rejection of economic possibilities abroad.