Little Dorrit

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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.

Much of Dickens' ire is focused upon the institutions of debtors' prisons—in which people who owed money were imprisoned, unable to work, until they have repaid their debts. The representative prison in this case is the Marshalsea where the author's own father had been imprisoned.

Most of Dickens' other critiques in this particular novel concern the social safety net: industry, and the treatment and safety of workers; the bureaucracy of the British Treasury (as figured in the fictional "Circumlocution Office" [Bk. 1, Ch. 10]); and the separation of people based on the lack of intercourse between the classes.


Original publication

Little Dorrit was published in 19 monthly instalments, each comprising 32 pages and featuring two illustrations by Phiz. Each installment cost a shilling, with the exception of the last, a double issue which cost two shillings.

Book the First: Poverty

  • I – December 1855 (chapters 1–4)
  • II – January 1856 (chapters 5–8)
  • III – February 1856 (chapters 9–11)
  • IV – March 1856 (chapters 12–14)
  • V – April 1856 (chapters 15–18)
  • VI – May 1856 (chapters 19–22)
  • VII – June 1856 (chapters 23–25)
  • VIII – July 1856 (chapters 26–29)
  • IX – August 1856 (chapters 30–32)
  • X – September 1856 (chapters 33–36)

Book the Second: Riches

  • XI – October 1856 (chapters 1–4)
  • XII – November 1856 (chapters 5–7)
  • XIII – December 1856 (chapters 8–11)
  • XIV – January 1857 (chapters 12–14)
  • XV – February 1857 (chapters 15–18)
  • XVI – March 1857 (chapters 19–22)
  • XVII – April 1857 (chapters 23–26)
  • XVIII – May 1857 (chapters 27–29)
  • XIX-XX – June 1857 (chapters 30–34)


The novel begins in Marseille with the notorious murderer Rigaud informing his cellmate that he has murdered his wife. Also in the town is Arthur Clennam, who is returning to London to see his mother following the death of his father, with whom he had lived for twenty years in China. As he died, his father had given Arthur a mysterious watch, murmuring, "Your mother." Naturally Arthur had assumed that it was intended for Mrs. Clennam, whom he and the world supposed to be his mother.

Inside the watch casing was an old silk paper with the initials D N F (Do Not Forget) worked into it in beads. It was a message, but when Arthur shows it to harsh and implacable Mrs. Clennam, a religious fanatic, she refuses to reveal what it means, and the two become estranged.

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