The Gospel in Dickens
Click the image to order my book!

« 'Little Dorrit,' part five | Main | Further thoughts on 'Little Dorrit' »

April 26, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The impression I got was that the Grand-uncle's will was made a lot earlier before Amy Dorrit was born. It stipulated that, if Frederick Dorrit had a "youngest daughter", the money would go to her; but if he had no daughter, then the money would go to William Dorrit's "youngest daughter." Frankly I think the will makes no sense. Why "the youngest daughter"? But basically what I got was that Arthur's mother died soon after she lost her child (since there was no "born on the same day as she died" business) rather than almost 20 years later.

A problem with the ending of the TV series in which the real mother business was revealed to Arthur: Amy Dorrit should inherit the legacy from Gilbert Clennam's uncle. She would not be poor and penniless. Plus, Mrs. Clennam was dead (not so in the book) and thus Arthur would inherit whatever money left from the Clennam silk and fabric business (their assets couldn't be only the fallen house). There was really no need for Dan Doyce to ride in and rescue his partner, was there? In the book, Amy's poverty is passably explained away by burning the piece of paper that contained Arthur's lineage information.

Thanks for posting this, Gina. I totally didn't understand it tonight in the adaptation and found myself asking, "What? Are they half-brother and -sister? And they're still getting married???" Ugh. Thanks so much for clearing it up.

Very confusing, though. I have a couple questions. Was 1,000 guineas really a lot? Seems like it wouldn't have been, unless you were living in abject poverty (which, I guess Amy was). And why, oh why, couldn't the Clennams have fixed their house so it didn't fall down?? Was that their store in the first floor? I didn't really get what the "House of Clennam" business endeavors really were.

I may have to read the book...

Lori -- I don't think it's explained why the house wasn't kept up, but I kind of got the impression that Mrs. Clennam just sat there in her room all the time and didn't really care if the rest of the house rotted away, since she wasn't living in it. (I don't believe she was the sort of person who would care much if Jeremiah and Affery found things inconvenient and uncomfortable!)

Jun -- I got that "born on the same day" part from what Blandois said to Mrs. Clennam about the terms of the will; I can go back and check to make sure I didn't misunderstand it, though. You're right that the business about Amy's legacy was never really explained. Perhaps the money had all been spent by that time?

1 guinea was worth at least 1 pound and could be more. $1000 guineas plus interest over 2-3 decades could be quite a bit of money.

Gina: Right. I forgot to mention that my impression ("the will was made >20 years ago") was from the book, although the book was not explicit, as far as I remember, about exactly when all these things happened. Tracing the plot in the book, Frederick Dorrit took care of this unnamed young woman when he owned the hotel that was frequented by actresses, ie, when his brother's misfortune had not wiped him out. The TV series completely removes this connection between the two families, and therefore had to use some other excuse (Amy is born on the day the woman died).

There are times when I find it a bit frustrating that Dickens wrote like a mystery writer but without meticulously plugging all the holes and tying up all the loose ends. That's not necessarily bad, although I wonder if he was a bit biploar... The ending of LD seems particularly hasty. The TV series seem to have a similar spirit -- relatively slow and winding most of the time and boom! rush to the end.

Not quite completely -- remember Frederick saying to Arthur "I knew your father" way back when? But it's VERY frustrating that they put that in and then took other mentions out. It's like they expected us to do all the work of ferreting out the connection, which really isn't fair when you're dealing with an already complicated story.

I have heard it suggested more than once that Dickens was bipolar. Though I'm no psychologist (or psychiatrist? I always get those mixed up), I'm inclined to think it might be true. It would explain a lot about his behavior -- and yes, possibly some things about his writing as well!

Thank you very much for the explanation of the Clennam family secret, Gina. I wasn't able to understand the whole thing when I watched the final installment.

Thank you, too, for the great commentary on Little Dorrit! Your posts have been a delight to read the past couple weeks. :)

I am looking forward to reading the book.

Gina, thank you a million times for this post! It answered most of my questions and definitely cleared up my confusion regarding the will. I'm really looking forward to "experiencing" the book now...

This explanation was sorely needed. Just linked to it from my blog... enjoying your Dickens-blogging tremendously.

I think it took a great deal of "wiring" on Dicken's part to make out in the end that the connection between Little Dorrit (Amy) and Arthur was through her family's kindness (in effect) to his mother and his family's returned kindness in trying to make up for it. It isn't very plausible, but even life can be stranger than fiction. And again, the love between the two, Amy and Arthur, was an unlikely chance that had to happen in order to make the story end a certain way, otherwise, the secret would never have been broken. The genius of Dickens, in one way to look at it, was that he could come up with this ending and then write the story backwards, basically, and start at a beginning, to fill it in, and have this deep continuing pattern through out. That he was a genius is not to be questioned, and he had to make a living as well by keeping people interested. I never stop being amazed by Dickens.

And it is not just the plots. Some scenes in his novels never made it into any TV/movie productions but are most haunting. The brief scene in the novel about Amy and Maggy's encounter with a prostitute in the harsh London night with a prostitute is somewhere between realism and magic realism, simply breathtaking. There is a similar London night scene of a wandering character in Our Mutual Friend that is both a plot-moving flashback and a psychologically revealing exercise. I think his reputation has been overshadowed by critics' attention to colorful characters and complex plots, but these small gems are quite ahead of his time.

Gina, thanks for the post. I linked your explanation to my blog. I think a lot of people were confused about the Clennams. Vic

Thanks for your explanation. I was very unhappy that more things weren't explained. What were Arthur and his father doing in China all those years? If they were sending cloth--where is it? Clearly nobody was selling anything in that shop. Where did Tattiecora come from? Why did she hate the family she was with? Who was the blonde woman and why did she want Tattiecora? Did Mrs.Clennam have 1,000 guineas--or any money at all?
I'm so confused!

Understood, Sal's Girl! Let me try to help you out.

What were Arthur and his father doing in China? There I'm afraid we don't know much. I don't think the book ever said a thing about what kind of business they were running -- I used to think it was some kind of a savings and loan, actually -- and the movie just suggested it was textiles or cloth or whatever. But neither the book nor movie really gets into it. Just "running the Chinese branch of the business" is the best I can do with that one.

Where did Tattycoram come from? She was an orphan who came from an orphanage. The Meagleses took her in to be a maid for their daughter (as I've mentioned elsewhere, it wasn't such an uncommon practice in those days).

Why did she hate the family? She didn't like being a maid, even though the family was kind to her, and she was jealous of Pet, who was adored and spoiled by everyone.

Who was the blonde woman and why did she want Tattycoram? Miss Wade was a young woman (also an orphan, like Tattycoram) who had had a romance with Henry Gowan, and got dumped. So she hated Henry for that. When she found out Henry was courting Pet Meagles, she also came to hate the whole Meagles family, and looked for any opportunity she could find to hurt them. Luring Tattycoram away from them, by playing on her feelings of anger and jealousy, was the best way she could find. (And also paying Blandois to spy on Pet and Henry while they were traveling in Europe.)

Did Mrs. Clennam have any money? There you have me. I tend to think she had spent a lot of her money keeping the business afloat, and didn't have a whole lot left. But I'm not certain about that. Someone else may be able to help you more with that one.

Hope that helped!

Thank you so much for clearing everything up! After one viewing of part 5 I came out of it thinking Arthur and Amy were cousins or something. LOL! When I post my review of part 5 I am going link to your post, I think...very, very helpful!

I got confused about how Amy fit into the secret watching the series - I wasn't sure if Amy and Arthur had the same mother, but then I was sure even in a modern TV adaptation that would have precluded their marriage! So I realized I got that wrong when they did get married.

Reading the book after watching part V was very helpful in clearing up the secret. I'm glad you posted this to help everyone else who was confused.

You hit the nail on the head about understanding all the details, which "-- all get blurted out pretty fast, some of them in a French accent, with lots of Tattycoram intercutting to boot". That's exactly what I was thinking as I watched it last night. I was thankful that I taped it, so I could rewind but I still found myself confused, so thanks for the great explanations.

One thing, though. You mentioned dancing shoes, but I assumed those were Arthur's baby booties in the box. They were quite small and didn't they have blue ribbons on them?

I wish I'd found your blog before the series ended! thanks!

Did they have blue ribbons? I don't remember them, but I may have missed them. I'll have to go back and look again. You may be right!

Wow, thanks for that explanation. I still kind of took it to mean something else though.

In the movie, it sounded to me that Mr. Clennam (Arthur's father) had an extramarital affair with a dancer (AMY's mother), who was tossed into poverty by Mrs. Clennam, but wrote to Gilbert Clennam after marrying William Dorrit, which spurred Gilbert to include Amy in his will.
Then, it sounded like Mrs. Clennam also found out about a SECOND affair, which produced a child, Arthur, which she stole.

So confusing!

Because I was also confused by the revelation of the Clennam family secret in Part V of Little Dorrit on Masterpiece Theater, I read the conversation between Rigaud and Mrs. C as Dickens wrote it.

One of the things I picked up from the text, though it's not spelled out very clearly, is that Arthur's mother, the singer whose patron was Frederick Dorrit, was imprisoned in a lunatic asylum by Flintwinch's brother, at the behest of Mrs. C. Did you get that? You didn't mention it, though it's just one more complicated detail to add to the story, so maybe you thought it was simpler to leave it out.

You're right, Larisa, and thanks for mentioning it. As you say, the situation already has us drowning in details. :-) And I wanted to focus on the main ones (and did include the fact that his mother went mad with grief). But that is an interesting part of the story.

Different Larisa speaking here (I didn't post the comment above)...

Just a line to say your explanation was really helpful to us over at the TWOP Masterpiece Theatre discussion!

It's funny, even PBS added an explanation onto their episode 5 synopsis page. :-)

Since then I actually plowed through the book and gained a greater appreciation for the film! It was quite good, I thought!

Always happy to be of service!

I see PBS is also calling Pet "the Ditz." I should've copyrighted it. (Poor Pet, we're pretty hard on her. But she did seem -- well, fluffy, at least at first.)

Thanks for the explanation. I was definitely a bit confused. I've just started the book, and I'm really enjoying it!

Gina, an idea suddenly struck me about this terribly confusing Clennam family secret. It is really too convoluted in the original novel and not the most effective. Both TV adaptations have had tremendous difficulties in revising it into something more comprehensible while keeping it logical. The 1988 version was even more drastic in rewriting "the secret". Although it did succeed in simplifying the history, it basically removed all connection to Amy Dorrit (as far as I can tell).

So, perhaps you can start a game of "How would I adapt the novel to explain the Clennam family secret?" -- perhaps even devise a whole new "family secret" to explain the connection between the two families! :)

Some comments on monetary values in the miniseries. I can preface these remarks by providing some benchmark values during the Regency period (1800-1820). To maintain an independent gentleman's position required approximately 300 pounds per annum income. An average laborer earned between 16 and 20 pounds per annum. The nineteenth century gold standard produced a relatively stable price level during the century so these benchmarks are likely to be somewhat applicable to the world of Little Dorrit.

There were 12 pence in a shilling, and 20 shillings in a pound. Mrs. Clennam tells Amy she will be paid 7 shillings 6 pence a week. On an annual basis this comes to 19.5 pounds per annum. Recall that in the coffeehouse, Amy indicates that she intends to pay Tip out of prison (he is in prison for a 40 pound debt). Given that Any's income must first cover subsistence for herself, her father, and now Tip, we can see how difficult it would be for her to free her brother and we can more fully appreciate the immense gratitude she feels for Arthur when he pays off the debt.

Mr. Plornish tells Arthur that Slingo will accept 10 shillings to the pound. Arthur applies this 50% discount to the debt and successfully clears it with 20 pounds.

Mrs. General "negotiates" a 400 pound annual stipend for her services.

If Amy's Clennam legacy had been strictly settled (as Miss Wade's trust seems to be) she would have been entitled to receive the income from the legacy. A prudent trust investment in consols would have provided a 3% to 3.5% return. On a thousand pound legacy this would have provided a 30 to 35 pound per annum income, which would not likely buy Mr. Dorrit out of debt(Chivery's register records a 120 pound figure for Mr. Dorrit which is presumably his debt to creditors) but would certainly provide a subsistence income base.

Mr. Pancks is said to receive a thousand pounds for finding the Dorrit fortune. He places this in the Merdle bank and talks of reaping a 20% return, which suggests he put his capital into bank stock shares as opposed to bank deposits.

Mr Merdle's reputed 100 thousand to 400 thousand pound speculative wining is clearly astronomical.

The guinea had a worth of 21 shillings (as compared to the 20 shillings to the pound). Thus 1000 guineas would be worth 1050 pounds. We have no idea if the legacy was designed to be set aside and invested until distribution (when Frederick reached fifty, in the case of his having a daughter), or until brother William's youngest daughter (Amy) reaches maturity. Outside of this legacy (and a second one for Arthur's birth mother) the balance of Gilbert's estate, according to Mrs. Clennam went to Arthur's father. Mrs. Clennam states that she could have paid out the legacies at any time, but would not sanction rewarding sin and what she considered to be Gilbert's delusionin granting the legacy. She concludes:

When the paper was at last destroyed--as I thought--in my presence, she [the singer] had long been dead, and her patron, Frederick Dorrit, had long been deservedly ruined and imbecile. He had no daughter. I had found the niece before then; and what I did for her, was better for her far than the money of which she would have had no good.' She added, after a moment, as though she addressed the watch: 'She herself was innocent, and I might not have forgotten to relinquish it to her at my death:'

If the legacy was designed to be invested with no distribution until Amy reaches maturity, a prudent trust investment in consols (at the period's 3% or perhaps 3.5% investment rates) would mean that the legacy would have roughly doubled when Amy is due the inheritance.

Supposing that Amy had received this appreciated legacy, she would have been able to buy her father out of debtors prison and still have approximately 2000 pounds to conservatively invest in consols. This would have provided her with 60 to 65 pounds of annual income.

This compares to the 19.5 pounds of annual income the miniseries version provides her from her seamstress work from Mrs.Clennam.

In addition, Flora comments that she paid Amy a half crown (2 shillings 6 pence)per day for her seamstress work, which would add an additional 6.5 pounds of annual income, assuming that Amy would only be able to venture away from Mr. Dorrit for only one additional day per week.

The novel does indicate that Mrs. Clennam had wealth over and beyond the house. In the novel, Mrs. Clennam lives for three years after her collapse on the street, in a near catatonic state. Flintwinch is rumored to have cashed in securities (probably Clennam business assets) and fled to Holland. This tie up and potential draining of the Clennam estate, (leaving nothing for Amy's legacy and nothing for Arthur if he is the heir to the estate) combined with the worthless Dorrit fortune lost in the Merdle collapse, leaves Amy and Arthur penniless until the arrival of Doyce and his economic success in Eastern Europe.

[quote]It began then to be perceived that Flintwinch had not been there at the time of the fall; and it began then to be perceived that he had been rather busy elsewhere, converting securities into as much money as could be got for them on the shortest notice, and turning to his own exclusive account his authority to act for the Firm. Affery, remembering that the clever one had said he would explain himself further in four-and-twenty hours' time, determined for her part that his taking himself off within that period with all he could get, was the final satisfactory sum and substance of his promised explanation; but she held her peace, devoutly thankful to be quit of him. As it seemed reasonable to conclude that a man who had never been buried could not be unburied, the diggers gave him up when their task was done, and did not dig down for him into the depths of the earth.

This was taken in ill part by a great many people, who persisted in believing that Flintwinch was lying somewhere among the London geological formation. Nor was their belief much shaken by repeated intelligence which came over in course of time, that an old man who wore the tie of his neckcloth under one ear, and who was very well known to be an Englishman, consorted with the Dutchmen on the quaint banks of the canals of the Hague and in the drinking-shops of Amsterdam, under the style and designation of Mynheer von Flyntevynge.

Good Lord, blbarnitz, you're a fount of knowledge. Thank you so much! :-)

Gina, if you can tell me how to formulate a link in these comment boxes I will include a link to a pdf. file of a monograph I composed on "Jane Austen's Economics", concentrating mainly on the novels "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice." For my friends of a literary bent I placed all the financial and economic data in endnotes. For my friends in finance, I included a goodly number of text quotes in the narrative (since they are not likely to be familiar with fiction.)

This monograph would likely prove very helpful for your readers since it allows one to get familiar with the early nineteenth century financial world.

You can find a link to this monograph, along with a discussion of it at the following address:

I'd tell you if I could, but I'm having terrible trouble figuring it out myself. I don't understand why, because other blogs in TypePad seem to do it easily. I'll throw the question out to all and sundry: Can anyone help us with this?

I will add some additional context to the financial data sceanario I have given you. The benchmark annual income estimates I have provided (300 pounds per annum for independence, and 16 to 20 pounds per annum for a laboror) were applicable in Britain from 1500-1800 and are thus reasonable for benchmarking Austen's fiction which dates from 1790-1810.

It is important to realize that from antiquity to the year 1000 AD there was virtually no economic growth in Western European economies. From 1000 to 1800 the growth rate wss a scant 0.1% per annum. Such a glacial rate of growth meant that no one alive in this period could percieve an overall improvement of living standards during their lifetimes.

However, around 1800 four economio factors came together, first in Britain, and then the rest of Western societies. These factors were the scientific revolution, the development of more efficient transportation systems, the availability of a capital base, and s strong system of individual property rights. These factors fueled the Industrial Revolution and jumpstarted economic growth. The per annum growth rate in the nineteenth century was 2% per annum. (This was a real rate in the non-inflationary gold standard days.) During the inflationary 20th century, the real annual growth rate for industrial and post industrial economies was also 2%. What this growth rate means is that overall living standards double every 36 years, so that for two centuries now we have come to expect that our children will live better than their parents. As Adam Smith surmised, competitive generational pressures (added income allows better food consumption meaning lower infant mortality, and more workers) would tend to drive wage levels back towards subsistance levels, but not quite, as growing productivity would allow for steady modest increases above subsistance.

Colquitt's Income Survey of Incomes in Britain (1803) seems to capture some of this econonic growth improvement in incomes. The laboring and artisan classes show an annual income range of 20 pounds to 55 pounds.

Thus the benchmark incomes for laboring classes in 1820-1830 Britain are likely to fall in the 30 to 50 pound per annum range.

My questions have been answered. After the PBS series I read the book and did become confused. I am happy I found this blog.

I have just stumbled upon your blog, and this is the first entry I've read. A Dickens blog is a splendid idea, and I love your clearing up of things in the movie. It was this movie that introduced me to "Little Dorrit," and now I've read and own the book. It's one of my favorites. I'm loving Dickens more and more the more books of his I read. Keep up the lovely blogging!

Thanks, Christy, and welcome to the blog!

Hello. I saw the miniseries from last year--OUTSTANDING. And then I started reading parts of the book. I, too, was confused by the ending in the miniseries, thanks for the explanation. My question is: WHAT CHAPTER/PAGES FROM THE BOOK DOES FREDERICK EXPLAIN HIS CONNECTION TO THE CLENNAMS? I want to read this scene on my own but can't find the chapter/pages! Thanks, John

Hello and welcome, John! The answer to your question is, Frederick never explains the connection. It all comes out in the climactic conversation among Mrs. Clennam, Blandois, Jeremiah, and Affery.

Thanks, Gina. I didn't notice the Frederick mention in the conversation among Mrs. C, Blandois, Jer, Affery. I'll have to look again.

The screenwriter of the broadcast, Mr. Davies, did a superb job EXCEPT all he had to do was include a one sentence mention of the Frederick connection and the ending would have been clear. I think leaving out the Frederick connection--which is the Amy connection--was a poor choice, since it's somewhat explained in the book.

I've just finished the last episode in the "Little Dorrit" series tonight, only now shown in Australia, and went straight to the internet to see if I could find out the connection between Amy and Arthur. Like many others, I feared irregular relations! What a splendid blog; thanks to all of you for explaining - in some cases, above and beyond the call of duty! I must read the book.

Very glad we could help, Anna! Hope you enjoy the book!

Me too, I'm so glad I found you as I just couldn't understand the connection between Arthur and Amy and the TV series (as Anna said, just finished here in Australia) seemed to imply that they were both illegitimate children of Mr Clennam - but if so, how could they possibly get married?? I'm relieved to discover that I was wrong but perhaps there was some fault in the TV series that everyone I've spoken to is similarly confused! Thanks for your very interesting blog and yes, I too should go and read the book!

That's quite odd. I don't think I got that out of the series, and I watched it before I read the book.

Yes, I've noticed via TypePad's "Recent Referrers" that we've been getting a lot of Australian visitors lately! Welcome to all of you -- I'm glad you stopped by and glad we could help clear things up.

Regarding the marriage business between Arthur's father and birth mother we have to guess that it could have been a.) premarital sex before Mr Clennam's marriage to Mrs Clennam, b.) a secret ceremony before the official gig or c.) a possible extramarital affair on the part of Mr Clennam.
The last could be possibly clearly ruled out given that Dickens specifies its occurrence before Mr Clennam's actual marriage, but that doesn't mean the other two are less scandalous. Premarital sex or double marriage would have been greatly frowned upon, if not condemned in that society. And we also know the business of extra marital births or illegitimate children isn't entirely foreign to Dicken's purview. Nicholas Nickleby and Bleak House both have clear examples of children being born out of wedlock, with Smike being Ralph's illegitimate son and Esther Summerson being the result of Lady Dedlock's premarital fling with Captain Hawdon sometime before her marriage to Sir Leicester Dedlock. Though to be fair, she was engaged to him before he left for sea, but premarital sex would have still been scandalous.
I kind of like the idea that Mr Clennam actually had Arthur on the side, during his marriage to Mrs Clennam. It adds more to the portrait we have of a woman with a fanatical tie to tradition, at the expense of her family.

Thanks SO much for your post. Dickens can get quite tangled inthe webs he weaves. I wonder sometimes if the man himself was able to keep track of his own convolutions, or did he diagrams and flow charts?

And don't be suprised if the number of hits goes up over the summer as more Doctor Who fans grow to love Rory during the upcoming season of Doctor Who and start hunting down things that Arthur Darvill has been in.

I am with the commentator that said that the scriptwriter dawdled until the last episode, which is too rushed for even a passable understanding. Many thanks for the additional explanations that clear up some crucial points and compensate for the fact that the BBC series leave too many other interesting bits hanging...what happened to Fanny and Sparkles, to the haughty Mrs. Merdle, to Pet and Gowan?. Then, what about that funny surname "Merdle", quite probably connected to the French "merde"? European banks becoming "enmerdled"...quite prophetical.

I finally got the last episode of Little Dorrit after 3 weeks of pledge "year" on PBS. Just as Blandois was providing the secret I received a phone call and missed most of it. Glad I found this blog. I will eventually read the book. I think at one time I was the only person besides Dickens who had read Martin Chuzzlewit so I'm not afraid of Little Dorrit.

What happened to pet and Henry gowen...did they return to England?

Thank you so very much! This mini-series was so well done, but the ending was lacking. It was like the last note of a beautiful song was never played. Thank you for supplying the last note!

First I watched the miniseries, then I purchased the DVD with the book, then I read (sloughed through) all 860 pages....Whewww! But, really enjoyed all of it. I bet Dickens is laughing in his grave at all the above discussion and confusion his writings have caused. This blog has clarified some things for me but I'm not sure I understand what finally became of Mrs. Clennam. What a miserable existence she had just due to hate and what a distortion of Christianity!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)