Cite This Page
Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 6 Summary Page 1
The Father of the Marshalsea
- The Marshalsea is a prison that was originally divided into two parts: one part for those who couldn't pay their debts and the other for smugglers. (In other words not-that-bad guys vs. pretty bad guys). But over time, the prison buildings have fallen into disrepair, and all these prisoners now mingle together.
- One day Mr. Dorrit is taken to Marshalsea.
- He is in his 40s, married, with two children and another on the way. He has almost no idea what his debt is.
- (But Shmoop does. Check it out: back in early 19th century, all companies were called "partnerships" because anyone who invested in one became a partner. What that meant was that all investors/partners owned the company equally. And also that every investor/partner could be personally responsible for all of the company's debts, regardless of what the other partners were doing. What's happened to Dorrit is this: his partners in the company ran off with the goods and the money (legally, since they owned them) – and left him with the company debts (again, all perfectly legal). In the middle of the 19th century, corporations were finally invented, and investing in a company became much more like what we think of today – you can buy some stock in General Motors, but that doesn't make you responsible for that company in any way.)
- So, yeah. Mr. Dorrit. Debts. Prison.
- His wife and kids come with, because where else are they going to go? They aren't actually prisoners, though, and can come and go as they please. A few months later, his youngest daughter is born inside the prison.
- Eight years later, his wife dies.
- Mr. Dorrit has become very used to prison life.
- His son takes over from Mrs. Bangham as the prison's errand-boy.
- Eventually he is the longest-serving prisoner and gets the nickname Father of the Marshalsea.
- He starts to be proud of this title, and exaggerates how many years he's been in prison, how fancy a gentleman he used to be before, and how much debt he really has.
- Other prisoners who are leaving start giving him tips as a kind of charity and token of respect. He starts to expect, and then demand, these handouts.