Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1533
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, “a cruel gentleman with slender white hands.” Condemned to death for the murder of his wife, he escapes from the prison in Marseilles and makes his way to England, where, having gained knowledge of Mrs. Clennam’s deceptions and frauds, he attempts to blackmail her. He is killed when the rickety Clennam house collapses, burying him in the ruins.
Daniel Doyce, the engineer who becomes Arthur Clennam’s partner. Because he has been successful during a business trip abroad, he is able to free Arthur from the Marshalsea and to assure the future prosperity of the firm of Doyce and Clennam.
Mrs. Flora Finching
Mrs. Flora Finching, Arthur Clennam’s first love. Now widowed, she is still artless, sentimental, and gushingly foolish in her conversation. She lives with her father, Christopher Casby.
Christopher Casby, Flora Finching’s father, the miserly landlord of Bleeding Heart Yard. A complete hypocrite, he poses as a benefactor and philanthropist while his agent forces his tenants into greater poverty. To those unaware of his true nature, he is known as “The Last of the Patriarchs.”
Mr. Pancks, Mr. Casby’s agent and rent collector, who finally rebels against his skinflint employer and publicly humiliates him. He advises Arthur Clennam to invest in Mr. Merdle’s financial enterprises and thus helps to bring about Arthur’s bankruptcy.
Mr. Merdle, a financial wizard. His bankruptcy ruins many investors, and he commits suicide by bleeding himself with a penknife.
Mrs. Merdle, his wife, Edmund Sparkler’s mother.
Edmund Sparkler, the son of Mrs. Merdle and her first husband, an army officer stationed for a time in North America. It is reported that Edmund’s brains were frozen when he was born during a great Canadian frost. Claiming that Fanny Dorrit is a “doosed fine gal,” he marries her.
Mr. Meagles, a benevolent, sentimental retired banker who mistakenly prides himself on the fact that he is a practical man.
Mrs. Meagles, his homely but cheerful wife, a perfect partner in the marriage.
Minnie Meagles, their daughter, familiarly called Pet. Fair and mild of temper, like her parents, she marries Henry Gowan.
Henry Gowan, a young artist who marries Minnie Meagles. He is a distant connection of the Barnacle family.
Mrs. Gowan, his mother, somewhat aloof in manner because she is proud of her family connections.
Mrs. General, a wealthy widow who becomes the social mentor of the Dorrit family after they have become wealthy. Mr. Dorrit proposes to her shortly before his death.
Jeremiah Flintwinch, at one time Mrs. Clennam’s servant, later her rascally partner in her deceptions and acts of fraud.
Affery Flintwinch, Mrs. Clennam’s maid, whom Flintwinch married against her will. She is gentle and submissive to Mrs. Clennam, abused by her husband.
Ephraim Flintwinch, Jeremiah’s brother and confederate.
Harriet Beadle (Tattycoram)
Harriet Beadle (Tattycoram), a foundling taken in by Mr. Meagles. A headstrong girl, she runs away from her benefactors and seeks the protection of Miss Wade. Later, she recovers the papers that gave M. Blandois his hold over Mrs. Clennam and returns to service with the Meagles family.
Miss Wade, a strange, tormented, unhappy woman who persuades Tattycoram to desert Mr. and Mrs. Meagles. She gains possession of the documents with which Mr. Blandois is trying to blackmail Mrs. Clennam.
Lord Decimus Tite Barnacle
Lord Decimus Tite Barnacle, a pompous official high in the Circumlocution Office of the government.
Tite Barnacle, an official of the Circumlocution Office involved in the circumstances of Mr. Dorrit’s bankruptcy. Arthur Clennam interviews him while trying to secure Mr. Dorrit’s release from the Marshalsea Prison.
Clarence Barnacle, called Barnacle, Junior, Tite Barnacle’s son, a fatuous clerk in the Circumlocution Office.
Ferdinand Barnacle, Lord Barnacle’s private secretary, an airy, sprightly young man.
John Baptist Cavalletto
John Baptist Cavalletto, an Italian smuggler imprisoned with M. Blandois, then called Rigaud, in Marseilles. He later enters the employ of Arthur Clennam and is instrumental in tracking down Blandois.
John Chivery, the turnkey of the Marshalsea Prison.
John Chivery, Jr.
John Chivery, Jr., his son, in love with Little Dorrit.
Bob, another turnkey of the Marshalsea, Little Dorrit’s godfather.
Mr. Cripples, a schoolmaster who offers instruction to children of the prisoners confined in the Marshalsea.
Dr. Haggage, the brandy-drinking debtor who officiates at the birth of Little Dorrit.
Mrs. Bangham, a chairwoman, nurse, and messenger between the outer world and prisoners in the Marshalsea.
Mr. Plornish, a plasterer, one of Mr. Casby’s tenants in Bleeding Heart Yard.
Mrs. Plornish, his wife, a friend of Little Dorrit.
John Nandy, Mrs. Plornish’s father, considered by his daughter a “sweet singer.”
Maggy, Mrs. Bangham’s granddaughter, Little Dorrit’s friend. “Never to be older than ten,” she is blind in one eye and partly bald as the result of fever. She helps to care for the Plornish children.
Mrs. Tickit, housekeeper to the Meagles family.
Lord Lancaster Stiltstalking
Lord Lancaster Stiltstalking, an austere superannuated politician maintained by the Circumlocution Office in diplomatic posts abroad.
Mr. Rugg, Mr. Pancks’s landlord, an accountant and debt collector.
Anastasia Rugg, his daughter, the owner of a modest property acquired through a breach-of-promise suit.