Part 1, Chapters 1-4 Summary

In a prison cell in Marseille in southern France lie two prisoners. John Baptist Cavalletto is awaiting his trial on smuggling. He listens uneasily to the pronouncements of his cellmate, Monsieur Rigaud. The prison guard brings them their noonday meal. Cavalletto looks enviously at Rigaud’s fine dinner while he eats his dry bread. The guard tells Rigaud that he is to be brought before the magistrates at a little past noon. While he waits, Rigaud tells Cavalletto that he is charged with murdering his wife, stating that it was during an argument in which she tumbled off the cliff. Rigaud is soon called for and, as he watches out the cell door, Cavalletto hears shouts from down below.

Mr. and Mrs. Meagles are among those travelers quarantined in Marseille, having come from the Orient. They are joined by their daughter, Pet, and her maid Tattycoram. Arthur Clennam has come to know them and is especially interested in Pet. Miss Wade, another Englishwoman, is self reliant and distant. On their last day of quarantine, Mr. Meagles looks back and thinks that in time he might come to love his “prison,” but Miss Wade questions this. As Miss Wade goes to her room, she overhears Tattycoram sobbing. She tries to comfort her, but Tattycoram says that she hates the Meagles, especially Pet, because they treat her badly. She plans to run away, she tells Miss Wade, who shows sympathy and interest. Tattycoram calms down and tells Miss Wade to ignore her rant, that she loves the Meagles and they treat her well.

Arthur Clennam arrives in London on a Sunday, which brings back memories of the strict and bleak Sabbaths of his childhood. He returns to his mother’s home, which is literally tumble-down and being propped up by support beams. He is met at the door by Flintwinch, his parents' old servant. Affery, his wife, still functions as the housekeeper, but is clearly under the thumb of her husband and mistress. Mrs. Clennam meets her son coldly. They discuss the watch that Mr. Clennam had asked Arthur to return to his mother. Affery prepares a room for Arthur, explaining that she had been forced to marry Flintwinch, since Arthur could not imagine that two so unlikely people would join together.

That night Affery has a strange experience. She awakens and notices that Flintwinch is not in bed. She goes downstairs and sees him seated by the fire, looking at his double, asleep in another chair. The double wakes up, asks for another drink, picks up an iron box, and leaves. Affery is terrified from seeing two of her husband. Flintwinch comes upon her standing in the hall. He grabs her throat, tells her that she has been dreaming, and orders her back to bed.