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And Finally on Dickens and China – Little Dorrit and Chinese Women

Posted: January 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Thanks to University of Westminster’s Anne Witchard (author of the soon to be published Lao She, London and China’s Literary Revolution, Hong Kong University Press) for sending me this China reference from Little Dorrit (published between 1855-1857). The text refering to Chinese women is reproduced below.

I have one question – what is a ‘Pagodian dissenter’?

Anne notes that in the recent BBC TV adaptation starring Claire Foy and Matthew McFadyen, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, inserted the comment, “…and are Chinese ladies different down there?” which, of course isn’t in Dickens but refers to the long held myth that Asian vagina’s are horizontal rather than vertical, a strangely long persisting myth certainly still current among American GIs during the Second World War in the Pacific. Of course for some websites that would be a cue to post some rather risque photos, of which the Internet is full. I’ll stick with Claire Foy as little Amy Dorrit stuck in the Marshalsea debtors prison.

‘Indeed I have little doubt,’ said Flora, running on with astonishing speed, and pointing her conversation with nothing but commas, and very few of them, ‘that you are married to some Chinese lady, being in China so long and being in business and naturally desirous to settle and extend your connection nothing was more likely than that you should propose to a Chinese lady and nothing was more natural I am sure than that the Chinese lady should accept you and think herself very well off too, I only hope she’s not a Pagodian dissenter.’
‘I am not,’ returned Arthur, smiling in spite of himself, ‘married to any lady, Flora.’
‘Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!’ tittered Flora; ‘but of course you never did why should you, pray don’t answer, I don’t know where I’m running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off their foreheads don’t they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bells all over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don’t they really do it?’ Flora gave him another of her old glances. Instantly she went on again, as if he had spoken in reply for some time.
‘Then it’s all true and they really do! good gracious Arthur!—pray excuse me—old habit—Mr Clennam far more proper—what a country to live in for so long a time, and with so many lanterns and umbrellas too how very dark and wet the climate ought to be and no doubt actually is, and the sums of money that must be made by those two trades where everybody carries them and hangs them everywhere, the little shoes too and the feet screwed back in infancy is quite surprising, what a traveller you are!’
In his ridiculous distress, Clennam received another of the old glances without in the least knowing what to do with it.
‘Dear dear,’ said Flora, ‘only to think of the changes at home Arthur—cannot overcome it, and seems so natural, Mr Clennam far more proper—since you became familiar with the Chinese customs and language which I am persuaded you speak like a Native if not better for you were always quick and clever though immensely difficult no doubt, I am sure the tea chests alone would kill me if I tried, such changes Arthur—I am doing it again, seems so natural, most improper—as no one could have believed, who could have ever imagined Mrs Finching when I can’t imagine it myself!’

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One Comment on “And Finally on Dickens and China – Little Dorrit and Chinese Women”

  1. 1 D said at 12:31 pm on May 19th, 2019:

    Thank you for this correction of the story. I was appalled seeing it (the above film/movie reference) on this program, of which it cannot be said to not to be overtly playing with contemporary racial political ideology. Modern editorial quite unfitting anything Dickens would write jumped out prompting my search find this page. In my opinion this can be summed up as just another sign of how trashy the press has become of late–this trash is not novel or avant garde: simply post-Soviet propagandists on drugs thinking they are radical. Thank you


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