6 of Fire - the Merdles, Lammles, & Veneerings

Characters:

Hamilton Veneering; Mrs. Merdle;

Mr. Merdle, M.P.; Mrs. Lammle

née Sophronia Akershem;

Alfred Lammle; Anastasia Veneering.

Roman à Clef:

John Sadleir

Books:

Little Dorrit; Our Mutual Friend.

      The 6 of Fire depicts characters from two different Dickens novels, but they all represent various aspects of high society.

 

 Mr. Merdle from Little Dorrit is the card's central figure. He seems to be holding what looks to be a dinner party and is certainly holding a roast suckling pig. It will be remembered that he makes his fortune suckering people into contributing to what amounts to a Ponzi scheme. One tip-off that all is not what it seems is Mr. Merdle is afraid of his own man servant, who seems to know he is no gentleman. When he is found out, Merdle kills himself with a letter opener. His surname suggests murder, meddle, muddle, curdle, and cognates with the French word merde. Dickens based Merdle on John Sadlier, an Irish financier and politician also satirized by other writers, including Trollope. Not only did Sadlier swindle, forge, and embezzle to the tune of £1.5 million, but worst of all in the eyes of the Irish people: he became a Member of the House of Commons of Great Britain. By doing so, he broke the pledge to never take office made by all members of the Independent Irish Party - the phrase "To be another Sadlier" became common parlance for a political and national turncoat.

 

 Living high off the hog with Merdle is his self-respecting wife, Mrs. Merdle. She is an intimidating woman, often in the company of her unpleasant parrot. Certain Little Dorrit's sister Fanny is in no way good enough for her son Edmund, she tries to bribe the girl away from the relationship with a bracelet. Dickens' beloved sister was named Fanny, and like her namesake in Little Dorrit, she performed for a time in the theatre world. Fanny's husband, however, to Dickens' disdain, considered her career unseemly and forced her to retire from the stage.

 

 Alfred Lammle, from Our Mutual Friend, is a no-good scoundrel interested in nothing more than himself. He marries Sophronia because he believes she is rich – at least, that's what Mr. Podsnap led him to believe. She, for her part, marries him because she too believes what Mr. Podsnap leads her to believe, namely: that Alfred Lammle is rich. Having been duped, having duped each other, and having duped themselves, there is little left for them to do but become a criminal team of confidence tricksters.

 

 The Veneerings, for their part, are somewhat 2-dimensional. They own “a house out of the Tales of the Genji, and give dinners out of the Arabian Nights.” No one seems to know who they are and they seem to know nobody. No one seems to know where they come from - even they don't seem to know – and so nobody really seems to care. They are nouveau riche, and all their money and hauteur and seeming will never afford them the veneration of generations of truly cultivated British upper-crust snobs.

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Shorthandnews - gossip - hearsay - hollow victory - seeming success - too much, too soon - gift horse, foot in mouth: look to it - skillful maneuvering - pantomime - comedy of errors - matchstick men - upstarts - comeuppance - hogwash - high hopes - velvet glove - Greeks bearing gifts.