(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

John Harmon is thought to have been murdered soon after he left the ship upon his return to England to marry Bella Wilfer in compliance with the conditions of his father’s will; a body found by Gaffer Hexam is identified as Harmon’s. Actually, Harmon has not died; fearing for his life and shrinking from the forced marriage, he assumes the name of Julius Handford, then that of John Rokesmith.

As Rokesmith, Harmon becomes a secretary to Mr. Boffin, who inherited the estate of Harmon’s father after young John Harmon was pronounced dead. Before that, Mr. Boffin, who never learned to read, began to employ a street peddler named Wegg to read to him such books as took his fancy. Mr. and Mrs. Boffin enjoy their new wealth and leisure, but they both regret that the son and disinherited daughter of old Harmon did not live to enjoy the fortune that has come to them. They try to find a little orphan whom they can rear, hoping to provide a boy with some of the advantages little John Harmon did not have. The Boffins also bring Bella Wilfer to live with them in their grand new house, wishing to provide her with the kind of life she might have had as John Harmon’s wife.

Bella, who is beautiful but mercenary, intends to make a good match. When Harmon, in his role as Rokesmith, declares his love for her, she rejects him with disdain. When, much later, Mr. Boffin hears that Rokesmith had aspired to her hand, a bitter scene ensues in which he charges Rokesmith with impudence and discharges him. By that time, however, Bella has become wiser, having seen how money and wealth have apparently changed the easygoing Mr. Boffin into an ill-tempered, avaricious miser. She refuses to stay any longer with the Boffins and returns to the modest life of her father’s home.

Mr. Boffin begins to have trouble with Wegg, whom he has established in the comfortable house in which the Boffins live. Not satisfied with his good fortune, Wegg has become increasingly avaricious and spends all his time searching the house and the dustheaps in the yard for possible items of value that old Harmon might have secreted when he lived there. In his searches, Wegg finds a will dated after the will from which the Boffins have profited; in the later will, most of...

(The entire section is 922 words.)