John Harmon is a young man estranged from his family, yet on his way from South Africa to London to receive his inheritance. But, according to his father's will, he can only claim it if he marries Bella Wilfer, a beautiful London girl whom he has never met. Before John arrives to claim his birthright, an unknown body is found drowned in the Thames and identified as him. The money passes instead to family servants Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, who welcome into their home the disappointed bride-to-be. But when their associate Silas Wegg tries to blackmail the Boffins with an alternative will, Bella must decide where her loyalties lie.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 near Portsmouth where his father was a clerk in the navy pay office. The family moved to London in 1823, but their fortunes were severely impaired. Dickens was sent to work in a blacking-warehouse when his father was imprisoned for debt. Both experiences deeply affected the future novelist. In 1833 he began contributing stories to newspapers and magazines, and in 1836 started the serial publication of Pickwick Papers. Thereafter, Dickens published his major novels over the course of the next twenty years, from Nicholas Nickleby to Little Dorrit. He also edited the journals Household Words and All the Year Round. Dickens died in June 1870.