Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 2, Chapter 13

By Charles Dickens

Book 2, Chapter 13

The Progress of an Epidemic

  • The narrator does a little thing about infections – mental ones are kind of like physical ones, spreading and spreading until they are epidemics.
  • (Shmoop word of advice: keep that idea in mind as you read the chapter – and also think about the investment manias of our own day and age. The dot-com bubble, anyone? How about the mortgage securities economic catastrophe?)
  • So. Merdle, Merdle, Merdle.
  • His name is on everyone's lips, even the poor people in Bleeding Heart Yard.
  • When Pancks goes around to collect rent, those who don't have money say they wish they were Mr. Merdle. Or that Pancks himself were Mr. Merdle. Either way, it would be much better for everyone.
  • After a hard day of harassing people for rent money, Pancks goes to visit the Plornishes, with whom he's now friends.
  • The Plornishes have a little grocery business (which Dorrit bought for them). Maggy lives with them, as does Old Nandy.
  • Their little house has been decorated with a trompe l'oeil mural of a country cottage. Mrs. Plornish loves it, and is so happy that her father is out of the workhouse. One of the kids comes in with homework – which involves spelling out the words "Merdle" and "Millions" as a way to practice the letter M. (Ahem... infection. Spreading! Watch carefully!)
  • But when Pancks asks about business, she confesses that it's not so great. They sell stuff just fine, but everyone buys on credit, and then can't pay.
  • While they are chatting, Pancks sees Mr. Baptist doing something odd out the window. He looks terrified and is running up and down the Yard, as if looking around for someone in fear. Finally he runs into the shop.
  • He explains that he has seen a very, very bad man – whom he personally knows to be "a baddest man" (2.13.37), and whom he hoped never to run into ever again. Hmm... who might that be?
  • They calm him down, and Arthur comes in.
  • He tells them all about Little Dorrit and her letters, and everyone is psyched to hear about her.
  • Finally Arthur and Pancks leave, and Arthur invites Pancks over, since Doyce is away on business.
  • They have a nice little evening, then Pancks suddenly starts talking about Merdle and how everyone is talking about him. Arthur is all, I know, right? But Pancks unexpectedly reveals that he has actually invested all of his savings in a Merdle enterprise. Whoa!
  • Arthur is kind of dubious, but Pancks tells him that he's run all the numbers, and it's a sure bet. (OK, everyone say it with us – there's no such thing as a sure bet. If it's a bet, it's by definition unsure.)
  • Arthur then fesses up that he's worried that all his money might actually belong to someone else, and tells Pancks about his suspicions about his mom and the weirdness with Little Dorrit and Blandois.
  • Pancks meanwhile tells him not to be so selfish and to think what a bunch of money could do for Doyce.
  • After Pancks leaves, Arthur thinks more and more about the idea of putting all of the firm's money into the Merdle machine. He's been infected.

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