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A Letter from Little Dorrit
Dear Mr Clennam,
As I said in my last that it was best for nobody to write to me,
and as my sending you another little letter can therefore give you
no other trouble than the trouble of reading it (perhaps you may
not find leisure for even that, though I hope you will some day),
I am now going to devote an hour to writing to you again. This
time, I write from Rome.
We left Venice before Mr and Mrs Gowan did, but they were not so
long upon the road as we were, and did not travel by the same way,
and so when we arrived we found them in a lodging here, in a place
called the Via Gregoriana. I dare say you know it.
Now I am going to tell you all I can about them, because I know
that is what you most want to hear. Theirs is not a very
comfortable lodging, but perhaps I thought it less so when I first
saw it than you would have done, because you have been in many
different countries and have seen many different customs. Of
course it is a far, far better place--millions of times--than any
I have ever been used to until lately; and I fancy I don't look at
it with my own eyes, but with hers. For it would be easy to see
that she has always been brought up in a tender and happy home,
even if she had not told me so with great love for it.
Well, it is a rather bare lodging up a rather dark common
staircase, and it is nearly all a large dull room, where Mr Gowan
paints. The windows are blocked up where any one could look out,
and the walls have been all drawn over with chalk and charcoal by
others who have lived there before--oh,--I should think, for years!
There is a curtain more dust-coloured than red, which divides it,
and the part behind the curtain makes the private sitting-room.
When I first saw her there she was alone, and her work had fallen
out of her hand, and she was looking up at the sky shining through
the tops of the windows. Pray do not be uneasy when I tell you,
but it was not quite so airy, nor so bright, nor so cheerful, nor
so happy and youthful altogether as I should have liked it to be.
On account of Mr Gowan's painting Papa's picture (which I am not
quite convinced I should have known from the likeness if I had not
seen him doing it), I have had more opportunities of being with her
since then than I might have had without this fortunate chance.
She is very much alone. Very much alone indeed.
Shall I tell you about the second time I saw her? I went one day,
when it happened that I could run round by myself, at four or five
o'clock in the afternoon. She was then dining alone, and her
solitary dinner had been brought in from somewhere, over a kind of
brazier with a fire in it, and she had no company or prospect of
company, that I could see, but the old man who had brought it. He
was telling her a long story (of robbers outside the walls being
taken up by a stone statue of a Saint), to entertain her--as he
said to me when I came out, 'because he had a daughter of his own,
though she was not so pretty.'
I ought now to mention Mr Gowan, before I say what little more I
have to say about her. He must admire her beauty, and he must be
proud of her, for everybody praises it, and he must be fond of her,
and I do not doubt that he is--but in his way. You know his way,
and if it appears as careless and discontented in your eyes as it
does in mine, I am not wrong in thinking that it might be better
suited to her. If it does not seem so to you, I am quite sure I am
wholly mistaken; for your unchanged poor child confides in your
knowledge and goodness more than she could ever tell you if she was
to try. But don't be frightened, I am not going to try.
Owing (as I think, if you think so too) to Mr Gowan's unsettled and
dissatisfied way, he applies himself to his profession very little.
He does nothing steadily or patiently; but equally takes things up
and throws them down, and does them, or leaves them undone, without
caring about them. When I have heard him talking to Papa during
the sittings for the picture, I have sat wondering whether it could
be that he has no belief in anybody else, because he has no belief
in himself. Is it so? I wonder what you will say when you come to
this! I know how you will look, and I can almost hear the voice in
which you would tell me on the Iron Bridge.
Mr Gowan goes out a good deal among what is considered the best
company here--though he does not look as if he enjoyed it or liked
it when he is with it--and she sometimes accompanies him, but
lately she has gone out very little. I think I have noticed that
they have an inconsistent way of speaking about her, as if she had
made some great self-interested success in marrying Mr Gowan,
though, at the same time, the very same people, would not have
dreamed of taking him for themselves or their daughters. Then he
goes into the country besides, to think about making sketches; and
in all places where there are visitors, he has a large acquaintance
and is very well known. Besides all this, he has a friend who is
much in his society both at home and away from home, though he
treats this friend very coolly and is very uncertain in his
behaviour to him. I am quite sure (because she has told me so),
that she does not like this friend. He is so revolting to me, too,
that his being away from here, at present, is quite a relief to my
mind. How much more to hers!
But what I particularly want you to know, and why I have resolved
to tell you so much while I am afraid it may make you a little
uncomfortable without occasion, is this. She is so true and so
devoted, and knows so completely that all her love and duty are his
for ever, that you may be certain she will love him, admire him,
praise him, and conceal all his faults, until she dies. I believe
she conceals them, and always will conceal them, even from herself.
She has given him a heart that can never be taken back; and however
much he may try it, he will never wear out its affection. You know
the truth of this, as you know everything, far far better than I;
but I cannot help telling you what a nature she shows, and that you
can never think too well of her.
I have not yet called her by her name in this letter, but we are
such friends now that I do so when we are quietly together, and she
speaks to me by my name--I mean, not my Christian name, but the
name you gave me. When she began to call me Amy, I told her my
short story, and that you had always called me Little Dorrit. I
told her that the name was much dearer to me than any other, and so
she calls me Little Dorrit too.
Perhaps you have not heard from her father or mother yet, and may
not know that she has a baby son. He was born only two days ago,
and just a week after they came. It has made them very happy.
However, I must tell you, as I am to tell you all, that I fancy
they are under a constraint with Mr Gowan, and that they feel as if
his mocking way with them was sometimes a slight given to their
love for her. It was but yesterday, when I was there, that I saw
Mr Meagles change colour, and get up and go out, as if he was
afraid that he might say so, unless he prevented himself by that
means. Yet I am sure they are both so considerate, good-humoured,
and reasonable, that he might spare them. It is hard in him not to
think of them a little more.
I stopped at the last full stop to read all this over. It looked
at first as if I was taking on myself to understand and explain so
much, that I was half inclined not to send it. But when I thought
it over a little, I felt more hopeful for your knowing at once that
I had only been watchful for you, and had only noticed what I think
I have noticed, because I was quickened by your interest in it.
Indeed, you may be sure that is the truth.
And now I have done with the subject in the present letter, and
have little left to say.
We are all quite well, and Fanny improves every day. You can
hardly think how kind she is to me, and what pains she takes with
me. She has a lover, who has followed her, first all the way from
Switzerland, and then all the way from Venice, and who has just
confided to me that he means to follow her everywhere. I was much
confused by his speaking to me about it, but he would. I did not
know what to say, but at last I told him that I thought he had
better not. For Fanny (but I did not tell him this) is much too
spirited and clever to suit him. Still, he said he would, all the
same. I have no lover, of course.
If you should ever get so far as this in this long letter, you will
perhaps say, Surely Little Dorrit will not leave off without
telling me something about her travels, and surely it is time she
did. I think it is indeed, but I don't know what to tell you.
Since we left Venice we have been in a great many wonderful places,
Genoa and Florence among them, and have seen so many wonderful
sights, that I am almost giddy when I think what a crowd they make.
But you can tell me so much more about them than I can tell you,
that why should I tire you with my accounts and descriptions?
Dear Mr Clennam, as I had the courage to tell you what the familiar
difficulties in my travelling mind were before, I will not be a
coward now. One of my frequent thoughts is this:-- Old as these
cities are, their age itself is hardly so curious, to my
reflections, as that they should have been in their places all
through those days when I did not even know of the existence of
more than two or three of them, and when I scarcely knew of
anything outside our old walls. There is something melancholy in
it, and I don't know why. When we went to see the famous leaning
tower at Pisa, it was a bright sunny day, and it and the buildings
near it looked so old, and the earth and the sky looked so young,
and its shadow on the ground was so soft and retired! I could not
at first think how beautiful it was, or how curious, but I thought,
'O how many times when the shadow of the wall was falling on our
room, and when that weary tread of feet was going up and down the
yard--O how many times this place was just as quiet and lovely as
it is to-day!' It quite overpowered me. My heart was so full that
tears burst out of my eyes, though I did what I could to restrain
them. And I have the same feeling often--often.
Do you know that since the change in our fortunes, though I appear
to myself to have dreamed more than before, I have always dreamed
of myself as very young indeed! I am not very old, you may say.
No, but that is not what I mean. I have always dreamed of myself
as a child learning to do needlework. I have often dreamed of
myself as back there, seeing faces in the yard little known, and
which I should have thought I had quite forgotten; but, as often as
not, I have been abroad here--in Switzerland, or France, or Italy--
somewhere where we have been--yet always as that little child. I
have dreamed of going down to Mrs General, with the patches on my
clothes in which I can first remember myself. I have over and over
again dreamed of taking my place at dinner at Venice when we have
had a large company, in the mourning for my poor mother which I
wore when I was eight years old, and wore long after it was
threadbare and would mend no more. It has been a great distress to
me to think how irreconcilable the company would consider it with
my father's wealth, and how I should displease and disgrace him and
Fanny and Edward by so plainly disclosing what they wished to keep
secret. But I have not grown out of the little child in thinking
of it; and at the self-same moment I have dreamed that I have sat
with the heart-ache at table, calculating the expenses of the
dinner, and quite distracting myself with thinking how they were
ever to be made good. I have never dreamed of the change in our
fortunes itself; I have never dreamed of your coming back with me
that memorable morning to break it; I have never even dreamed of
Dear Mr Clennam, it is possible that I have thought of you--and
others--so much by day, that I have no thoughts left to wander
round you by night. For I must now confess to you that I suffer
from home-sickness--that I long so ardently and earnestly for home,
as sometimes, when no one sees me, to pine for it. I cannot bear
to turn my face further away from it. My heart is a little
lightened when we turn towards it, even for a few miles, and with
the knowledge that we are soon to turn away again. So dearly do I
love the scene of my poverty and your kindness. O so dearly, O so
Heaven knows when your poor child will see England again. We are
all fond of the life here (except me), and there are no plans for
our return. My dear father talks of a visit to London late in this
next spring, on some affairs connected with the property, but I
have no hope that he will bring me with him.
I have tried to get on a little better under Mrs General's
instruction, and I hope I am not quite so dull as I used to be. I
have begun to speak and understand, almost easily, the hard
languages I told you about. I did not remember, at the moment when
I wrote last, that you knew them both; but I remembered it
afterwards, and it helped me on. God bless you, dear Mr Clennam.
Do not forget your ever grateful and affectionate
P.S.--Particularly remember that Minnie Gowan deserves the best
remembrance in which you can hold her. You cannot think too
generously or too highly of her. I forgot Mr Pancks last time.
Please, if you should see him, give him your Little Dorrit's kind
regard. He was very good to Little D.