William Dorrit, a quiet, shy, self-contained man so long imprisoned for debt that he has become known to all as the “Father of the Marshalsea.” Never able to understand the complexity of business details that reduced him to bankruptcy, he accepts his fate and “testimonials,” as he calls small gifts of money given him by visitors to the prison, with the same equanimity. His wife and two children had joined him in prison, where a third child, their daughter Amy, had been born; and Mrs. Dorrit had died there. Over the Dorrit family hangs the shadow of some great but mysterious wrong. When it is discovered that Mr. Dorrit is the heir at law to an unclaimed fortune, he leaves the prison and begins a life of extravagance and display on the fringes of society. His mind, weakened by twenty-five years of imprisonment, slowly deteriorates. He dies, in a palace in Rome, believing he is back in the Marshalsea.
Amy Dorrit, called Little Dorrit because she is the youngest child of the family, born in the Marshalsea Prison. After her mother’s death, she becomes the stay and protector of the family, ministering to the needs of her gentle father, her sister Fanny, and her brother Tip. A seamstress, she sews for Mrs. Clennam, who has suppressed the codicil to a will that gave Little Dorrit an inheritance of two thousand guineas. Little Dorrit is never at ease surrounded by the splendor and wealth of the Dorrits once they are freed from the Marshalsea, and she returns to the prison to nurse Arthur Clennam after his confinement there. The wrongs done to both are eventually righted, and they marry.
Fanny Dorrit, Mr. Dorrit’s older daughter. A ballet dancer, she is able to make her way into society, and she marries Edmund Sparkler.
Edward Dorrit, nicknamed Tip, a ne’er-do-well and spendthrift for whom, before their restoration to affluence, Little Dorrit secures a variety of jobs, none of which he holds very long.
Frederick Dorrit, Mr. Dorrit’s brother, also a bankrupt. After losing his money, he gave up bathing and supported himself by playing a clarinet in a theater orchestra. He had taken in and cared for Arthur Clennam’s real mother. He remains simple in tastes and heart.
Mrs. Clennam, a stern, implacable, cold-hearted woman, an invalid who for years has managed from her sickbed the English branch of her husband’s business. She has kept from Arthur Clennam the knowledge that he is the son of a woman whom his father had loved but never married, and she has withheld Little Dorrit’s rightful inheritance. Threatened with exposure by M. Blandois, who is trying to blackmail her, she confesses the wrong to Little Dorrit and is forgiven.
Arthur Clennam, the son of the woman his father put aside when he married Mrs. Clennam. For twenty years, he has lived with his father in China. After Mr. Clennam’s death, he returns to England, bringing with him his father’s last bequest, an old watch inscribed with the letters DNF (Do Not Forget). On his arrival, he is attracted to Little Dorrit, who is partly a servant and partly a friend in the Clennam household. Arthur incurs Mrs. Clennam’s displeasure when he withdraws from the family business and goes into partnership with Daniel Doyce, an engineer and inventor. Ruined when Mr. Merdle’s involved financial structure collapses, he is imprisoned in the Marshalsea. There, during an illness, he is nursed by Little Dorrit. They marry after his release.
M. Blandois, alias Rigaud,...
(The entire section is 1533 words.)