Broken by reminders of the past in London, Mr. Dorrit returns to be with Amy in Italy. Amy watches as her father continues to fall apart.
Pancks discovers the whereabouts of Miss Wade, and Arthur asks for her help in finding Rigaud. Arthur is convinced that Rigaud's ties to the House of Clennam relate to his father's deathbed secrets.
Meanwhile, an unthinkable revelation about Mr. Merdle sends shockwaves throughout London. The story reaches a climax at the Marshalsea where Amy and Arthur meet once more, and at the House of Clennam, where finally Mrs. Clennam's secrets are brought to light.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Mr. Dorrit has returned to Venice, unraveled by the constant reminders in London of his shameful past. Amy Dorrit looks on, powerless, as he continues to fall apart. His one remaining wish is for a future together with Mrs. General.
Meanwhile, Pancks discovers the whereabouts of Miss Wade for Arthur, and Arthur wastes no time in asking her where he might find Rigaud. He's increasingly convinced that Rigaud's hold over the House of Clennam has something to do with the family's secret past .
Mr. Merdle, although having succeeded in convincing much of London to invest heavily in his lucrative bank, remains strangely depressed. He visits Fanny and Sparkler and asks to borrow a pen knife, before disappearing again. Mr. Merdle's commits suicide, and his death sends shockwaves through London, as it transpires that all along he had been manipulating the books and in reality, he had nothing. The thousands of people who invested with him now face financial ruin.
One of those unfortunate people is Arthur, who finds himself in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt. When Amy discovers that Arthur is now an inmate of the Marshalsea, she abandons her own family crisis brought about by Merdle's suicide, and rushes to be by his side. However, although it's now transparent that Arthur loves her, he also makes it clear that he won't allow her to bind herself to him now that he's in prison. With little chance of ever obtaining his own release, he sends Amy away and tells her not to come back again.
Rigaud re-emerges and it is clear that he is finally ready to reveal his full set of cards to Mrs. Clennam. But what exactly is it that he knows about the House of Clennam. And, when she finds out what he knows, will Mrs. Clennam finally give into his threats?
A Message From the MASTERPIECE Producers
In an effort to clarify the story's conclusion, we offer an excerpt from Rigaud's telling of the story (as spoken to Mrs. Clennam) from the Little Dorrit script.
"Let me tell you a little story, Madame — the story of a strange marriage with no love in it. A strong woman, with force of character: fierce, cruel, implacable, married to a poor, weak husband. But did she crush him to powder? No, not quite! There was a little spark of life in him yet! He was a frequenter of a certain boarding house for theatrical ladies. And there, your poor husband found a little friend... and got her with child.
"How you punished him for it — and her. You stole away the child, and cast that little dancing girl into darkness... You sent her to the poorhouse... to weep for her stolen child.
"She died of a broken heart in poverty and pain. But before she died, she wrote to old Gilbert Clennam, your husband's father. And he was so moved by the letter that, learning of her death, he wrote a new will. It was too late to help that poor abused mother, so he left a legacy for a newborn. A child born as poor as she, and on the very day she died. A child born in the Marshalsea...[Amy Dorrit.]
"You kept the truth from Little Dorrit all her life. Why did you do that? Because to reveal the legacy would disclose the greater secret, the secret you have been trying to hide all your life. Who have you been hiding it from?
"But this is not Little Dorrit's story, is it? This story concerns the other child. Taken away from its loving mother, to be brought up in a hard school of punishment and shame. Finish the story, Madame Clennam. Unburden yourself. Tell us the name of that orphan child."
"...Arthur! It is Arthur..."
"...I have, today, placed in the hands of Amy Dorrit a letter. I want two thousand pounds today before the Marshalsea bell rings. If I have it, your secret will be safe. If not, then the little seamstress will know the truth. And so will your beloved Arthur."
Thus, we learn that the fortune rightfully bequeathed to Amy Dorrit has been kept from her by Mrs. Clennam all these years. Though the Dorrits bear no blood relation to the Clennams, the families became inherently bound together by the symbolic date of Amy's birth — the very same date, we learn, that Arthur's birth mother died penniless and alone.