The previous post in this series concerning Dickens’ novel Little Dorrit may be found here.
Arthur Clenham comes home to the dismal, dark house of his childhood. The only decorations were framed images of the Plagues of Egypt. He and his father have in China on business for 20 years. His father died and has returned to London and the house of his bed ridden mother:
‘I am able,’ said Mrs Clennam, with a slight motion of her worsted-muffled right hand toward a chair on wheels, standing before a tall writing cabinet close shut up, ‘I am able to attend to my business duties, and I am thankful for the privilege. It is a great privilege. But no more of business on this day. It is a bad night, is it not?’ ‘Yes, mother.’ ‘Does it snow?’ ‘Snow, mother? And we only yet in September?’ ‘All seasons are alike to me,’ she returned, with a grim kind of luxuriousness. ‘I know nothing of summer and winter, shut up here. The Lord has been pleased to put me beyond all that.’ With her cold grey eyes and her cold grey hair, and her immovable face, as stiff as the folds of her stony head-dress,—her being beyond the reach of the seasons seemed but a fit sequence to her being beyond the reach of all changing emotions.
At this place we see more evidence the grim legalism of Mrs. Clenham. The Plagues are not seen from the perspective of God’s people as a glorious rescue. She sees them from the perspective of the judged slave masters, “The old articles of furniture were in their old places; the Plagues of Egypt, much the dimmer for the fly and smoke plagues of London, were framed and glazed upon the walls.” The Egyptians were plagued with flies; the flies are in this dark house ( darkness was also a plague).
She revels in her misery. She bears her place with a false humility: “a grim kind of luxuriousness.”
She is a sort of Medusa although her head is the one of stone.