"Prunes, And Prism"

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Last Updated on May 22, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195

Context: William Dorrit, confined to debtor's prison for twenty years, is released when it is discovered that he has become the heir to a large fortune. The sudden wealth goes to his head, and he begins to play the part of a cultured gentleman. In an attempt to wipe away the memories of the past and to attain social polish, he takes his family to Europe. In Venice he meets a widowed Englishwoman, Mrs. General, who has dedicated her life to impressing others with her dignity and aristocratic manner. When Dorrit's daughter, Amy, enters the room, Mrs. General, the "eminent varnisher," attempts to improve the girl's social gloss. She gives her a number of words which, when spoken, form the lips attractively and advises her to say them to herself at social gatherings.

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. . . The word Papa . . . gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism, are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company–on entering a room, for instance–Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.

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