Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 20

By Charles Dickens

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Book 1, Chapter 20

Moving in Society    

  • Little Dorrit goes to check out Fanny dancing in the theater.
  • It's a gross hole in the wall and seems like a totally crazy and chaotic place to Little Dorrit. Still, she goes backstage to talk to her sister.
  • Fanny is floored that Little Dorrit was able to find the place, let alone get backstage. Which is funny, since Little Dorrit is the one who sets everything up for the family and clearly knows her way around life, but whatever.
  • Finally, the show is over and Fanny collects her uncle Frederick, a walking coma. They drop him off to have dinner at a cook's shop – basically a diner.
  • Little Dorrit tells Fanny that she's worried about a bracelet that a fancy lady gave to Fanny.
  • Fanny's response at first is, stay out of my business. Then she invites Little Dorrit into her business and asks her to come along to meet the fancy lady – Fanny was just about to go talk to her anyway. For the last time.
  • They get to Cavendish Square – a very posh address – and are let into a huge mansion by a servant.
  • They walk into a room and meet Mrs. Merdle.  She is as beautiful as genes and makeup can make her.  Also, she is totally stacked.  No, seriously, her boobs are constantly talked about as being ginormous – and a very handy place to display large, expensive necklaces.
  • Mrs. Merdle is very cold, but extremely polite.  She talks constantly about how she'd like to have been born a "Savage in the Tropical seas" (1.20.47) and not have to deal with all the strict rules of society. But obviously that's not the way her life panned out.  This is a verbal tic with her and is clearly baloney.
  • Fanny introduces her sister and asks Mrs. Merdle to tell the story of how they know each other.
  • It turns out that Mrs. Merdle has a son who is kind of an idiot but obviously heir to big money. He is way into Fanny – to the point of almost proposing marriage.  But marriage between someone as high up as him and as low as her would obviously not be approved of by society, so Mrs. Merdle decided to intervene and buy Fanny off with a bracelet.
  • But to give Fanny credit, she herself told Mrs. Merdle that there was no way she would have married her idiotic son, and that she considers the Dorrits to be far too superior to the Merdles to even think about such a thing.
  • But still, Fanny took the bracelet.
  • Fanny and Little Dorrit leave, and Little Dorrit tells her sister that taking the bracelet was a bad call.
  • Fanny flips out and yells at Little Dorrit that the only way to get over the insults of women like Mrs. Merdle is to make them pay – literally.  Then Fanny accuses Little Dorrit of bringing the Dorrit family down into the gutter when clearly they belong at the height of the elite. Um, OK.
  • Little Dorrit gets sad, and Fanny feels bad and apologizes.  Little Dorrit thinks there might be a grain of truth there – maybe the prison has had a worse effect on her than on her sister.

Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 20 Study Group

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