Little Dorrit HTML version

Mrs Merdle's Complaint
Resigning herself to inevitable fate by making the best of those people, the
Miggleses, and submitting her philosophy to the draught upon it, of which she
had foreseen the likelihood in her interview with Arthur, Mrs Gowan handsomely
resolved not to oppose her son's marriage. In her progress to, and happy arrival
at, this resolution, she was possibly influenced, not only by her maternal
affections but by three politic considerations.
Of these, the first may have been that her son had never signified the smallest
intention to ask her consent, or any mistrust of his ability to dispense with it; the
second, that the pension bestowed upon her by a grateful country (and a
Barnacle) would be freed from any little filial inroads, when her Henry should be
married to the darling only child of a man in very easy circumstances; the third,
that Henry's debts must clearly be paid down upon the altar-railing by his father-
in-law. When, to these three-fold points of prudence there is added the fact that
Mrs Gowan yielded her consent the moment she knew of Mr Meagles having
yielded his, and that Mr Meagles's objection to the marriage had been the sole
obstacle in its way all along, it becomes the height of probability that the relict of
the deceased Commissioner of nothing particular, turned these ideas in her
sagacious mind.
Among her connections and acquaintances, however, she maintained her
individual dignity and the dignity of the blood of the Barnacles, by diligently
nursing the pretence that it was a most unfortunate business; that she was sadly
cut up by it; that this was a perfect fascination under which Henry laboured; that
she had opposed it for a long time, but what could a mother do; and the like. She
had already called Arthur Clennam to bear witness to this fable, as a friend of the
Meagles family; and she followed up the move by now impounding the family
itself for the same purpose. In the first interview she accorded to Mr Meagles,
she slided herself into the position of disconsolately but gracefully yielding to
irresistible pressure. With the utmost politeness and good- breeding, she feigned
that it was she--not he--who had made the difficulty, and who at length gave way;
and that the sacrifice was hers--not his. The same feint, with the same polite
dexterity, she foisted on Mrs Meagles, as a conjuror might have forced a card on
that innocent lady; and, when her future daughter-in-law was presented to her by
her son, she said on embracing her, 'My dear, what have you done to Henry that
has bewitched him so!' at the same time allowing a few tears to carry before
them, in little pills, the cosmetic powder on her nose; as a delicate but touching
signal that she suffered much inwardly for the show of composure with which she
bore her misfortune.
Among the friends of Mrs Gowan (who piqued herself at once on being Society,
and on maintaining intimate and easy relations with that Power), Mrs Merdle
occupied a front row. True, the Hampton Court Bohemians, without exception,
turned up their noses at Merdle as an upstart; but they turned them down again,
by falling flat on their faces to worship his wealth. In which compensating