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Summary Chapter 18

Little Dorrit has an admirer in the turnkey’s son, John Chivery. Both parents trained him in their individual trades. His father hopes that he will succeed him as a turnkey, but his mother has apprenticed him in the tobacco business that she runs.

John is a year older than Amy Dorrit. As children, he used to pretend to lock her up—only releasing her when she kissed him. He often watched her. He ingratiated himself to her father by bringing him cigars.

He is weak physically but a faithful soul. He considered himself and Amy a well-matched pair. He pictured becoming a turnkey and living the rest of his life at Marshalsea with her at his side.

Mrs. Chivery supports the idea of the match.

Little Dorrit’s family is aware of his affection. Her siblings are contemptuous of him because he is a lowly turnkey. They act genteel, remembering what their family once was. John doesn’t resent them and admires them. He wants to be friends.

John is dressed up more than usual when he brings his usual offering of cigars. The father informs him that Amy is out walking on the Iron Bridge, which has become a habit of hers lately. John goes to the bridge to find her.

She is so lost in thought, she doesn’t notice him. When he calls out to her, he thinks she looks like she doesn’t want to see him. She has often avoided him, but he always hoped it was because she was shy. She tells him she comes there to be alone.

She seems very distressed, which is a shock to him—who has always seen her so reserved. He tells her he knows he is beneath her family in status. He asks permission to say what is on his mind, but she begs him never to say it.

She tells him that whatever her family was, they aren’t that anymore. She wants him to remember her as a solitary, unprotected girl. She asks him never to search for her on the Iron Bridge or mention the topic he wanted to bring up again. She wishes for him to one day find a good woman and have a happy marriage.

He agrees, crying as he takes his leave of her. He pictures his tombstone’s inscription, where it reveals that he died of a broken heart.

Charles Dickens