Part 1, Chapters 5-8 Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

The next morning, Arthur tells his mother that he is withdrawing from the family business. She takes offense at this, as Arthur knew she would. He also asks her if there is something that his father did that would cause the remorse that he saw in Mr. Clennam’s last days.

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At this, Mrs. Clennam calls in Flintwinch to report her son’s failings and accusations. Flintwinch has stood between Arthur and his mother before. Mrs. Clennam says that she is making Flintwinch a business partner in Arthur’s place, which pleases Flintwinch very much. Arthur notices Amy Dorrit, known as Little Dorrit, who serves as her mother’s seamstress. She does not fit in with the gloomy atmosphere. He wonders if she is somehow involved in the business that caused his father’s sadness and self-guilt. Arthur announces that he will not be living in his mother’s home but will be lodging elsewhere.

Mr. William Dorrit entered the Marshalsea prison for debtors, accompanied by his pregnant wife, son, and daughter. He is a quiet, retiring man, who comes to be known as the Father of the Marshalsea. His wife gives birth to a girl, Amy. Over the extent of his twenty-year imprisonment, visitors form the tradition of leaving some money for Mr. Dorrit as a kind of tribute. One poor man attempts to leave halfpence, which offends Mr. Dorrit. The man assures him that he would leave more if he could, but he meant well. What is more, he would even come to visit him after he himself left the prison. This touches Mr. Dorrit, and he asks for the halfpence back, vowing to leave it unspent.

As Mrs. Dorrit dies, Little Dorrit becomes the family manager, keeping track of whatever money comes their way and finding schooling, even though meager, for herself and her brother Tip and sister Fanny. She convinces a dancing master, one of the other prisoners, to give Fanny dancing lessons. When Fanny achieves some accomplishment in this area, she leaves the Marshalsea to live with her uncle, Frederick, who plays the clarinet for a local theater where Fanny becomes a dancer. Tip cannot keep a job and eventually winds up back in the Marshalsea, not as a visitor but as a prisoner. Little Dorrit learns sewing, by which she finds employment during the day.

Arthur Clennam tracks Amy Dorrit to the Marshalsea Prison. He encounters Frederick Dorrit, Little Dorrit’s uncle, who introduces him to his brother William. Mr. Dorrit welcomes Arthur and subtly explains the custom of leaving him some “testimonial”. Arthur gets the hint and leaves a few coins as he leaves to talk to Amy. He explains that he is interested in why his mother has hired Little Dorrit, but she says that she does not like to be in secret to her employer. Arthur finds that he is locked in the prison overnight because he did not leave at the warning bell. Tip, Little Dorrit’s brother, shows him where he can sleep until morning.

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