Mrs. Gowan is resigned to her son’s choice in a wife. She loves her son too much to oppose it, realizing he would not care whether she objected or not. Other reasons make it easier to accept. Henry is going to marry into a wealthy family that will pay his debts and free her pension from having to provide for him.
To her friends, though, she expresses her disapproval. She makes her feelings clear to the Meagles.
Mrs. Merdle is a friend of Mrs. Gowan, even though Mrs. Gowan’s society doesn’t approve of Mrs. Merdle’s husband. They do, however, approve of his money. Mrs. Gowan wants to hear Mrs. Merdles’ thoughts about her son’s marriage, as a member of Society.
Mrs. Merdle replies a young man must gain his fortunes by marriage. She asks what Henry is getting out of the marriage. Mrs. Gowan tells her it will pay his debts. The Meagles will give the couple an allowance of 300 pounds a year. Henry will be studying art in Italy. Presumedly, he’ll inherit from the Meagles…though they probably will live forever.
Mrs. Merdle inwardly thinks this is a good match, but she indulges Mrs. Gowan, who blames the Meagles for plotting to entrap her son. Mrs. Merdle assures her that Society will not blame her for being unable to prevent the marriage.
Mr. Merdle comes home. His wife complains how moody he often is and insensible to everything. He shouldn’t go into Society behaving this way. It will be noticed.
Mr. Merdle retorts that he gives plenty of money to Society, and he makes many sacrifices for it. They never would have wed if he hadn’t needed an ornament. He feels she is being ungrateful.
She tells him it is vulgar to always be preoccupied with business. She wants him to appear indifferent, like everyone else.
Mr. Sparkler arrives. Mrs. Merdle questions him about a gentleman who has been asking about Mr. Merdle’s business. The man in question is an association of the Dorrits. She uses this example to prove that Mr. Merdle’s behavior is being noticed.
Mr. Sparkler escorts Mrs. Merdle upstairs, leaving Mr. Merdle alone. Obediently, Mr. Merdle goes out to dinner with his wife, where he is envied and admired.