Ohhhh Dickens, you do know how to write a secondary character, you ole dog you.
Today I’m looking at Little Dorrit, the social satire that focused on life in the Marshalsea (debtor’s prison.) The book centers on Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam and has dozens of wonderfully drawn secondary characters, including:
- Maggie (Amy’s simple-minded, kind-hearted friend),
- Flora Finching (Arthur’s former fiance who has never gotten over the fact that he left for the Far East 20 years ago. She still dresses and acts like a spoiled teenager),
- Mrs. Clennam (Arthur’s mother — and the reason he and his father left for the Far East 20 years ago — she’s cold, stingy and mean-spirited),
- John Chivery (Assistant Turnkey of the Marshalsea Prison, a good-hearted lad who moons over Amy).
Best of all there’s Mr. Pancks, the snorfling, simpering, rent collecting lackey who is more than first appears.
WHO: Mr. Pancks
FROM: Little Dorrit
BY: Charles Dickens
PUBLISHED: 1857 (it was serialized from 1855 to 1857)
PROS: He’s a complex figure who is kinder and much more intelligent than he first appears. He’s good a finding things and people. He’s also good with numbers, and at hiding in plain sight. He’s resourceful, loyal and proves a good friend to Arthur.
CONS: When we first meet him Mr. Pancks is a heartless rent collecting scum. He seems to take a special pleasure at our “Squeezing” the money out of the poor residents of Bleeding Heart Yard. (Spoiler: In reality it is his boss Mr. Casby — who everyone thinks is the face of generosity — who is bent on bleeding them dry. Pancks is only following orders.)
MOST SHINING MOMENT: When he helps Arthur track down Little Dorrit’s fortune so the family can be release from the Marshalsea. “…He had felt his way inch by inch, and ‘Moled it out, sir’ (that was Mr Pancks’s expression), grain by grain.” [Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens, Chapter 35]
- Little Dorrit (mansfieldseastroom.wordpress.com)