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by Charles Dickens
William Dorrit Timeline and Summary
In his 30s, Dorrit loses out in some partnership and gets saddled with all the debts. He is put in debtors' prison, where his children and wife come to live with him. (His wife eventually dies.) Dorrit grows into a bitter, selfish, deluded old man who goes around begging for money from his fellow prisoners and ignoring the fact that his daughter Amy is the only one keeping the family afloat. He meets Arthur Clennam and immediately dislikes him because Arthur won't keep giving him money. After a bad day, Dorrit tries to get Amy to lead on the son of the prison turnkey in order to improve his own place in the prison's pecking order. One day he learns that he is heir to a huge fortune and thus can go free. Dorrit takes his family abroad. There he spends money freely and lives in constant fear that his prison past will be discovered. He hires Mrs. General to teach his daughters the ways of the aristocracy. His money is enough to get Dorrit into the highest society. To his displeasure, though, Amy is not great at learning to be a highborn lady. Dorrit commissions a portrait of himself from Henry Gowan. He approves the marriage of his daughter Fanny and Merdle's son-in-law Sparkler. All this time, Dorrit's paranoia keeps growing, and he misinterprets every action of his servants as a sign that they know he used to be in jail. Dorrit returns to England to take care of his affairs and gets a visit from the son of the turnkey. He is furious at this visit and scares the young man. After meeting Merdle, Dorrit gives him all of his money to invest and returns to Italy ready to propose to Mrs. General. After starting to woo her, Dorrit goes to a dinner party and has some kind of mental collapse where he thinks that he's back in prison and that the party guests are his fellow prisoners. Amy takes him home. He dies a few days later.