William Dorrit is the longest serving inmate of the Marshalsea Prison for debt and is extremely proud of his title, ‘Father of the Marshalsea’, which is proof of how much respect he commands. In his deepest heart he knows that he’s made an utter mess of his and his beloved children’s lives, but he would never openly admit to this failure. For his sake, the family all keep up the pretence of respectability.
Amy, otherwise known as Little Dorrit, lives in the Marshalsea Prison with her father, William, who is the prison’s longest-serving inmate. Although born and bred in the prison, Amy is far from being downtrodden and has grown up to be a gentle and kind-hearted yet enterprising and spirited young woman.
Frederick is William’s brother. He plays the clarinet in the orchestra of a down at heel theatre. He is a gentle, well-meaning and unaffected fellow. William is always telling him off for his shameful, shabby appearance and general unworldliness. Frederick, understanding his brother’s fragile sense of self-worth, is happy to endure William’s bullying, only occasionally letting his feelings be known in small slips of the tongue.
Fanny, Amy’s older sister, is a dancer in a down at heel theatre. She is both worldly and extremely determined. She has Edmund Sparkler, heir to the largest fortune in England, eating out of the palm of her hand and his mother, Mrs Merdle, bending over backwards to give her what she wants in order to get rid of her. Fanny will stop at nothing to win the game of social snakes and ladders.
Edward ‘Tip’ Dorrit.
Amy and Fanny’s brother, Tip, is both rakish and dissolute. He has no sense of responsibility whatsoever and is always running up large gambling debts. He can be pompous and cruel but ultimately he’s just a young man with a taste for the high life who wants to have fun. He’s not clever like his sisters, and there’s the sense that he will be very lucky indeed if he manages to land on his feet.
Maggy is one of the Marshalsea regulars – her late mother was a nurse there, and Maggy continues to live round the corner from the prison. Maggy fell gravely ill when she was ten years old and suffered brain-damage as a result. Now twenty-eight, she still has the mental age of a ten-year old. Maggy has adopted Amy as her ‘Little Mother’, but she supports herself entirely by running errands.