Church bells ring on a Sunday evening in London, gloomy under the covering of soot. Pleasureable items have been made taboo.
Arthur Clennam has just arrived in this sickly atmosphere. He is in a coffeehouse. He reflects on how much he hates Sundays and the pealing of church bells. He reflects on his unhappy childhood, where he was forced to go to church. The experience helped embitter him against religion better than any pagan could.
Clennam walks out into the rain, which worsens the pungent smells on the streets. He goes to his mother’s house, which hasn’t changed.
A servant, Mr. Flintwinch, answers the door and lets him in. He tells Arthur his mother is the same. She is reclusive though not bedridden and hardly leaves her room. She’ll not approve of him coming on a Sabbath.
Arthur is upset that he didn’t gey a warm reception, though he had no reason to expect one. He realizes his yearnings always retain hope for a different outcome.
Mr. Flintwinch returns and escorts him to his mother’s room. She tells Arthur her rheumatism keeps her from venturing out.
He notices that his father’s watch was delivered to her. Arthur mentions how concerned his father was that Arthur follow his instructions and send it to his wife. Mrs. Clennam says she keeps it to remember him by. Arthur continues to say his father barely had the strength to express his wishes, but he didn’t suffer at the end. She asks if he was sensible at the last, and Arthur replies yes.
The mother’s maid Affery tells him that her husband—Mr. Flintwinch—can control his mother very well. She tells Arthur he is clever and is her heir—so he should stand up to Mr. Flintwinch.
Jeremiah Flintwinch doesn’t approve of Arthur giving up his father’s business. He refuses to come between Arthur and his mother as he did between her and her husband.
Arthur asks Affery how she came to marry Jeremiah Flintwinch, for he can’t picture them together. She tells him that his mother and Mr. Flintwinch both pushed the idea. She considered them more clever than herself, so she agreed. Jeremiah thought it was a good idea because their mistress was failing in health.
Arthur asks about the other girl he saw. Affery identifies her as Little Dorrit, and she is a fancy of Mrs. Clennam. Affery also tells him that his old sweetheart, who his mother separated him from, is well-off now and a widow.