Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 2, Chapter 5

By Charles Dickens

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Book 2, Chapter 5

Something Wrong Somewhere

  • Shmoop here, pointing out things that probably should be pointed out. Check out how the vague words "something" and "somewhere" in the titles of Chapters 5 and 6 of Book 2 correspond with the word "nobody" in the titles of Chapters 16, 17, 26, and 28 in Book 1. What does it mean? Not sure. We're just sayin' is all.
  • During a little break in his social life, Dorrit summons Mrs. General. The way he does it shows how pretentiously the Dorrits now live: one servant is told to find a second servant to pass a message to a third servant to ask Mrs. General to join Dorrit in the study.
  • Turns out Dorrit kind of wants to do a parent-teacher meeting about Amy and how she doesn't seem to be adjusting to their fancy-pants new lifestyle. From the conversation, it's obvious that Mrs. General just thinks that this was a poor gentleman's family that suddenly became rich; she doesn't know about the whole prison thing.
  • In any case, Mrs. General points out that Fanny and Amy are totally different. Fanny is probably too independent and self-willed (at least for the tyrant that is Mrs. General), but Amy is just a lump of sad, depressive nothingness.
  • With some long, elaborate, ridiculous talking around the subject, they finally decide that Dorrit will tell Amy to shape up himself, because maybe she'll listen to him. But this takes a crazy amount of roundabout conversation to get to. It's like they're trying to out-polite each other.
  • There is some more elaborate servant-to-servant nonsense, and finally Amy comes in.
  • Mr. Dorrit starts lecturing her about being more lively and less comatose. She starts to answer and calls him father. Mrs. General immediately interrupts with this awesome (and by now really famous) bit of teaching: "Papa is a preferable mode of address, [it] gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism" (2.5.40). Nice, right?
  • (We'll talk more about Mrs. General in the Characters section, but for now check out this fun brain snack: "prunes and prism" became such a byword of what governesses are all about that Oscar Wilde named the nanny who loses the baby in The Importance of Being Earnest Miss Prism.)
  • Where were we? Oh, yes, being lectured by Dorrit.
  • So Amy is bummed that dear old dad is harshing her mellow with all this "cheer up" stuff.
  • Mrs. General leaves and Dorrit gets to the point: stop bringing up the prison every five seconds, OK? We all want to move on.
  • Amy gets all self-sacrificing like she always does, and Dorrit throws himself a pity party. She calms him down, kisses him, and does that creepy maternal thing she always does. The narrator tells us that that's the last time Dorrit ever mentions his prison time.
  • So things go in Venice. Frederick Dorrit likes to walk around the portrait galleries for some reason, and Amy starts coming with him.
  • One day at breakfast, Fanny mentions that they ran into the Gowans.
  • Amy asks if it's OK to try to make friends with Pet Gowan.
  • Fanny doesn't know if the Gowans are suitable company, meaning they might be too low-class. But as soon as Tip points out that Gowan's mom is BFFs with Mrs. Merdle, who is the pinnacle of high society, everyone is psyched to have Amy make friends.
  • Also, it turns out that Tip is now friends with Edmund Sparkler, Mrs. Merdle's son. Tip kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudges Fanny and says Edmund is reasonably fun, but also a little annoying because he has a huge crush on someone. Hint, hint.
  • Mrs. General and Amy leave the room. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the usually quiet and meek Frederick Dorrit decides to chew everyone out for how obnoxious they are to Amy.
  • He yells and calls them names, and it's a pretty shocking scene.
  • Fanny starts to cry and feels like a victim. Dorrit, meanwhile, chalks it up to Frederick's being senile. Tip doesn't say anything but clearly feels guilty. They decide not to tell Amy that her uncle said any of this.

Little Dorrit Book 2, Chapter 5 Study Group

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