Little Dorrit is a serial novel by Charles Dickens published originally between 1855 and 1857. It is a work of satire on the shortcomings of the government and society of the period.
The novel begins in Marseille with the notorious murderer Rigaud informing his cell-mate that he has murdered his wife. Also in the town is Arthur Clennam, returning to London to see his mother following the death of his father, after twenty years of life in the East.
In London, William Dorrit, imprisoned as a debtor, has been a resident of Marshalsea debtor's prison for so long that his children snobbish Fanny, idle Edward ,and doting Amy have all grown up there, though the girls are free to pass in and out of the prison as they please.
Once in London, Arthur is reacquainted with his former fiancée Flora Finching, though she is now overweight and simpering. Arthur's mother, Mrs Clennam, lives housebound with her servant Jeremiah Flintwinch and his down-trodden wife Affery, and decides to employ Little Dorrit as a seamstress. There Little Dorrit meets Arthur and soon falls in love with him, though he fails to recognize it, much to the dismay of the son of the Marshalsea jailer, John Chivery, who is in love with Little Dorrit. Intrigued by his mother's interest in Little Dorrit, Arthur follows her to Marshalsea and tries to investigate William Dorrit's debt at the poorly-run Circumlocution Office. Whilst there he meets struggling inventor Daniel Doyce, whom Arthur decides to help by becoming his partner. Aided by debt-collector Pancks, Arthur discovers that William Dorrit is the lost heir to a large fortune and he is finally able to pay his way out of prison.
Mr Dorrit decides that as a now respectable family they should go on a tour of Europe and travel to Italy, carrying, with the exception of Amy, an air of conceit at their new-found wealth. Eventually Mr Dorrit dies there after a spell of senility, and his distraught brother Frederick soon also passes away, leaving Amy to return to London alone to stay with newly-married Fanny and Edmund Sparkler.
The fraudulent dealings of Mr Merdle lead to the collapse of Merdle's bank, taking with it the savings of both Arthur and the Dorrits, with the former thus finding himself imprisoned in Marshalsea. Whilst there he is taken ill, but is nursed back to health by Amy. Rigaud, now in London, discovers that Mrs Clennam has been hiding the fact that Arthur is not her real son, and that Amy is herself heir to an estate, and attempts to blackmail her. At the eleventh hour she reveals the secret to Amy, and dies soon after. Rather than hurt Arthur, Amy chooses not to reveal what she has learnt, though this means that she misses her legacy.
However, when Daniel Doyce returns from Russia a wealthy man, Arthur is released and his fortunes revived. Arthur and Amy are married.
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