Arthur Clennam is an Englishman who has spent the last twenty years assisting his father with the family business in China. When the reader meets him, he is in France, on his way home to England.
Arthur is a man in his mid-forties who has never married. He was once in love with Flora Casby, but she married another man. At the beginning of the novel, Arthur is a troubled man who knows his mother is hiding something from him. He becomes fascinated with a young woman named Amy Dorrit, and employs Pancks, an enterprising man, to do some research on her.