[This example of fine work written by a first-year university student in 1993 has historical importance because it exemplifies a very early (pre-Web) use of hypertext in education. The essay originated as a portion of one answer to a multipart seminar assignment, the results of which were then uploaded into a pre-WWW hypertext system, Eastgate System's Storyspace. I forgot to transfer full bibliographical information from the larger assignment, but I believe we used the Penguin edition of Little Dorrit. — George P. Landow.]

Many people say that they want to get rich, but exactly what does this mean? According to John Ruskin and Charles Dickens, a person's richness depends not merely on how much money he has, but also upon how much power he has over others. Unto This Last,"Traffic", and Little Dorrit argue that people strive for power rather than money.

In Unto This Last, John Ruskin reveals the true nature of riches: What is really desired, under the name of riches, is, essentially

power over men; in its simplest sense, the power of obtaining for our own advantage the labor of servant, tradesman, and artist; in wider sense, authority of directing large masses of the nation to various ends. And this power of wealth or course is greater or less in direct proportion to the poverty of the men over whom it is exercised, and in inverse proportion to the number of persons who are rich as ourselves, and who are ready to give the same price to an article or which the supply is limited... So that, as above stated, the art of becoming "rich", in the common sense, is not absolutely nor finally the art of accumulating much money for ourselves, but also of contriving that our neighbors shall have less. [182]

According to Ruskin, we strive for money so that we will have more power than the people around us. If everyone else always has as much money as we have, no amount of money will satisfy us. We must have more than the people around us or we do not feel satisfied. In his essay "Traffic", Ruskin explains again that money means nothing to us if it brings us no benefits:

I'll give you all the gold you want — all you can imagine — if you can tell me what you'll do with it. You shall have thousands of gold pieces; thousands and thousands — millions — mountains, of gold: where will you keep them? Do you think the rain and dew would then come down to you, in the streams from such mountains which God has made for you, of moss and whine-stone? But it is not gold you want to gather! What is it? Greenbacks? No; not those neither. What is it then? Not gold, not greenbacks, not ciphers after a capital I? You will have to answer, after all, "No, we want, somehow or other, money's worth. [245]

This passage shows that we want money not for the money itself, but for what it will buy us. We want money because it can bring us something more: as we saw in Unto This Last, money gives us power.

Charles Dickens confirms Ruskin's ideas about money and power in Little Dorrit. In the beginning of the novel Father Dorrit has no money and lives in a prison, yet he feels that he has power over those around him. Dickens shows Dorrit's sense of pride despite his poverty: "All newcomers were presented to him. He was punctilious in the exaction of this ceremony. The wits would perform the office of introduction with overcharged pomp and politeness, but they could not easily overstep his sense of gravity. He received them in his poor room with a kind of bowed down beneficence. They were welcome to Marshalsea, he would tell them. Yes, he was the Father of the place" (105). At this point, Dorrit's fellow prisoners respect and look up to him.

He becomes dissatisfied because he has lost his power, and thinks of his days in prison. We can see his inner conflict:

Manifold are the cares of wealth and state. Mr.Dorrit's satisfaction in remembering that it had not been necessary for him to announce himself to Clennam and Co., or to make an allusion to his having had any knowledge of the intrusive person of that name, had been damped over-night, while it was still fresh, by a debate that arose within him whether or not he should take the Marshalsea in his way back, and look at the old gate. He had decided not to do so... Still, for all that, the question has raised a conflict in his breast; and for some reason or no reason, he was vaguely dissatisfied. [690]

Dorrit feels unhappy because he is powerless despite his wealth. He misses the respect that he received when he was still in prison. Dickens demonstrates that power, not money, makes Mr.Dorrit happy.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Last modified 24 October 2002