Table of Contents
II. Flora's Character
1. Being Flora
2. Flora and Mr. F's Aunt
IV. Works Citied
Dickens' Little Dorrit is known as a novel of physical and metaphorical imprisonment. Almost every character and especially all the main characters, such as Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, suffer under some kind of inner or/ and outer imprisonment. Therefore it is hard to find a truly free female character in Little Dorrit. However, in this paper I will argue that Flora Finching is the only free female character in Little Dorrit, who pursues her own longings and needs regardless of conventions or other people's opinions and is therefore not as imprisoned as everyone else.
This may come as a surprise as Flora has never been seen as free character before. On the contrary, it is a common practise to divide the female characters of Dickens' novels into (at least) three different categories or types of characters. There is the evil type like Mrs. Clennam or the so called fallen woman like Mrs. Wade, the angelic type also known as “the angel of the house” characterised as the Victorian ideal of a selfless woman devoted to their responsibilities as altruistic home-makers as it is personified in Little Dorrit and last but not least the comic type caricatured by a huge degree of entertaining silliness, which Flora always was seen as. Nevertheless this practise of categorising characters into certain types leads to an oversimplification of most characters into pure gender stereotypes. But once understood as a stereotype, in Flora's case as one of the “flat caricatures who delightfully repeat their signature tunes, coming and going without apparent significance in the same one-sided fashion” (Daleski 208), it is hard to define characters in a way that overcomes those clichés.
The common “experience of Flora Finching is [...] a silly fat middle-aged woman, endlessly babbling sentimental nonsense and indulging a girlish behaviour” (Slater 246), thus it is not surprising that in the past many critics reduced Flora to her function as a comic relief character (when they decided that she was even worth being mentioned) and put her in the box of the silly, comic stereotype. But reducing her purely to that function led to quick assumptions about her which are missing the complexity of this figure. Flora is not “a redundant women” (Vlock 181) or just a “grotesque figure” (Hollington 147) as it will be shown. Already Slater acknowledged in the 1960s without specifying his statement, that “the more we see [and hear] of Flora […], the more we come to accept her as a complex and sympathetic human being” (246).
As one of the minor characters of Dickens' Little Dorrit, in fact, she is only present in eight of seventy chapters, Flora Finching was overlooked as a complex figure and was never given any major attention by most of the literature critics. It is obvious that there are no books focussing on Flora and many books on female figures in Little Dorrit deal with Flora in less than five sentences. In this paper I want to approach Flora's character from a new angle. By examining Flora's characterisation and representation in the novel in terms of her language, her behaviour and her relation to other characters, I will demonstrate the individual freedom which lies in her actions and doings. In the first part of this paper, I will look at Flora's behaviour, especially the way she acts towards Arthur and her use of language to prove how her figure is free-spirited and how her actions are only determined by her own free will, which is very special for a Victorian women. In the second part of this paper I will examine the special relationship between Flora and Mr. F's Aunt and comment on her function as an alter ego, which gives her an extraordinary degree of freedom. Afterwards I will then focus on Flora's development, how she makes peace with Arthur' s rejection, and how this contributes to her being a admirable, free woman. My argumentation confirms Sirabian's interpretation of Flora's character, however there is one main deviation: He sees Flora as a “roleplayer”, while I will argue that everything we see and hear of Flora is part of her true and free self.
II. Flora's Character
1. Being Flora
Little Dorrit is commonly perceived as a dark and depressing novel, especially its first part. This makes a comic relief figure like Flora Finching necessary to release the reader's tension and more importantly to please and entertain the reader so that they will buy the next issue of the serial novel. With Flora's comic appearance it seems that the mood of the novel is easing, however, there is more to her than just calming the tense atmosphere. In the following paragraph I will argue that Flora is independent and free in a society, which is known for pressing their women into the role of home-makers and reducing the female individuals to a stereotype of the archetypical woman with no rights on her own.
What gives Flora, in general, a more free basic position to follow her own needs than most of the Victorian women is her social status. It is the simple fact, that she already has accomplished what is most desirable for every women in the Victorian age: getting married. She had been married to a man, who through his wealth and name was a suitable husband before, being the “statue bride of the late Mr. F” (Dickens 331) and therefore in society's eyes has fulfilled her destiny by birth and the society's expectations. A suitable marriage gave a woman in that time not only security for her future in terms of property and affluence, but also the consent and approval of society and family. Having accomplished that Flora, as a widow, was able to escape more or less the judging eye of society. She can make her own decisions more easily and freely due to the lack of a controlling husband and a caring father which supports my thesis claim. This makes it possible for her to follow her longing of messing around with Arthur. She knows from the beginning on, that she is not any more what a man such as Arthur Clennam could desire: “I know, I am dreadful” (Dickens 143) and “I am a disappointment as I very well know” (Dickens 253). Nevertheless, this does not stop her from bringing him into uncomfortable, but for her enjoyable, situations. One example for this is when Arthur uses Flora to get the chance to be alone with Affery, but Flora uses this as her chance to have “tight” (Dickens 650) physical contact with Arthur: “Flora, now permanently heavy [on his arm], did not release Arthur from the survey of the house” (Dickens 653). The narrator explains her odd behaviour towards Arthur as a desperate effort to renew the past, but Flora herself knows that their former love relationship “is past and what is past can never be recalled” (Dickens 390). Therefore there must be further reaching reasons for her behaviour than just the narrator's simple explanation.
 Cf. Showalter, Guilt, Authority and the Shadows of Little Dorrit, p. 20.
 Ingham for example provides a concept of five different female character types in her book “Dickens, Women & Language”.
 Compare Sirabian, Robert: Dickens's Little Dorrit, 216.
 For example Hollington in Dickens and the Grotesque and Halbrook in Charles Dickens and the Image of women mention Flora, but fail to really deliver insight into her character.
 Cf. Daleski, Dickens and the Comic Extraneous, p.214.
 Cf. Reynolds, Aristocratic women and political society in Victorian Britain, p. 42/60.