Book 1: Poverty: Little Dorrit is a novel by Charles Dickens, originally published in serial form between 1855 and 1857. The story features Amy Dorrit, youngest child of her family, born and raised in the Marshalsea prison for debtors in London. Arthur Clennam encounters her after returning home from a 20-year absence, ready to begin his life anew.
The novel satirises the shortcomings of both government and society, including the institution of debtors' prisons, where debtors were imprisoned, unable to work, until they repaid their debts. The prison in this case is the Marshalsea, where Dickens' own father had been imprisoned. Dickens is also critical of the lack of a social safety net, the treatment and safety of industrial workers, as well as the bureaucracy of the British Treasury, in the form of his fictional ”Circumlocution Office”. In addition, he satirises the stratification of society that results from the British class system.
The novel begins in Marseilles ”thirty years ago” (c. 1826), with the notorious murderer Rigaud telling his prison cellmate John Baptist Cavalletto how he killed his wife, just prior to being released from prison. Arthur Clennam is detained with other travellers in quarantine in Marseilles and becomes friends with some, including Mr Meagles, his wife, daughter ”Pet”, and her maid (Tattycoram), as well as Miss Wade. He is returning to London to see his mother, Mrs Clennam, after the death of his father. Arthur has spent the last twenty years in China with his father, handling that part of the family business.