Daniel M. Stout, “Little, Maybe Less: Little Dorrit’s Minimal Moralia” (pp. 207–238)

Against our ordinary ways of reading the novel, this essay argues that Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1857) represents a stark refusal of the logics of accountability that necessarily underwrite any program of social reform. In pairing its critique of Circumlocution (which programmatically undervalues desert) with its critique of the Marshalsea (which programmatically overstates debt), the novel points not toward a future of happy proportionality—in which innovation might be meaningfully recognized and infractions responded to humanely—but toward a way of thinking that stands outside the liberal logics of exchange (of action and consequence, of sin and redemption, of debt and repayment) that animate both social critique and social reform. Rather than a reformist text, Little Dorrit’s horizon is a world beyond good and evil—or, as we might also call it, after liberalism.

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