By a strange turn of events, both Mr. Pickwick and his housekeeper, Mrs. Bardell, have been sent to prison. Pickwick has ended up behind bars for failing to pay money that he owes to Mrs. Bardell. And Mrs. Bardell has been sent to the slammer for failing to pay her lawyers in her recent suit against Pickwick.
While Mr. Pickwick is thinking about how to get himself out of this sticky situation, he is visited by his fellow Pickwickian Mr. Winkle, who's accompanied by his new bride, Arabella. The two newlyweds are very happy, but they are understandably upset over the fact that their in-laws don't approve of the match.
That being the case, they want Pickwick to pay off the money he owes to Mrs. Bardell, thus securing his release from prison. Once free, he will then be able to approach Arabella's brother in an attempt to reconcile him to the marriage. He will also be able to pay a visit to Winkle's father, as he is implacably opposed to his son's getting hitched to Arabella.
Pickwick agrees and pays off his debts. Not long after being released from prison, he secures the approval of Arabella's brother for her recent marriage. However, convincing old Mr. Winkle is an altogether more challenging proposition as he threatens to cut off his son without so much as giving him a penny.