Wherein we glance back at the second week of the #DickensClub Reading of The Pickwick Papers (week ten of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week three.
As if we weren’t having enough much-needed fun already, Dickens takes us to a whole new level this week in The Pickwick Papers, starting with the fourth number of June 1836 ~ or, as Dr. Christian Lehmann had called it, “the most significant month in Charles Dickens’ life.”
Of course, this can be mostly attributed to the one whom John Forster called the “pre-eminent achievement” of Pickwick: Sam Weller.
If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 11 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 70), and Week 3 of The Pickwick Papers (our second read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the third week’s chapters, or to use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.
No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! Always and forever, a heartfelt thanks to the joyously Dickensian account, the Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these and keeping us all in sync, and to The Circumlocution Office for providing such an online resource for us!
For any newer members or those who might be interested in joining: the schedule is in my intro post here, and my introduction to The Pickwick Papers can be found here. If you have been reading along with us but are not yet on the Member List, I would love to add you! Please feel free to message me here on the site, or on twitter.
Week Two Pickwick Summary (Chapters 9-20) ~ With a Special Aside for the White Hart Inn, Mr. Weller, and his “Wellerisms”
We begin Chapter 9 at a revelation: Mr. Jingle and Miss Wardle, the spinster aunt, have run off together! A lively chase follows, in which we have another “break-down” of a carriage, and an escape for the amorous pair while Mr. Wardle and Pickwick suffer the taunts of Jingle and are helpless to overtake him.
We begin Chapter 10 in one of “some half dozen old inns…Great, rambling, queer, old places they are, with galleries, and passages, and staircases, wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories…”
This particular one that we are entering is the White Hart Inn, and there is a fascinating page on its history and the old location in Southwark. It has a connection to Shakespeare’s Henry VI, 2, and also served as a theatrical venue; at least, before the fire ten years after the Great Fire of London of 1666.
Here at the White Hart, of course, we meet one of the great literary characters, Sam Weller. The Pickwick-and-Sam duo is one of the preeminent examples of the great master-servant or “buddy” relationships, along with Frodo and Sam, Wooster and Jeeves, Don Quixote and Sancho, Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, and many others. We also meet our first “Wellerism”: “Who’s number twenty-two, that’s to put all the others out? No, no; reg’lar rotation, as Jack Ketch said, wen he tied the men up.” (Jack Ketch, often synonymous with death, was the infamous executioner during the time of Charles II.)
The Charles Dickens Page cites the OED defining a “Wellerism” as:
“A form of humorous comparison in which a familiar saying or proverb is identified with something said by a person in a specified but inapposite situation.”
Sam, observant, clever, and idiosyncratic, assists Mr. Wardle and Mr. Pickwick to the discovery of Jingle (who has gone out for a marriage license) and the hysterical Miss Wardle. Mr. Wardle pays Jingle off with the help of the lawyer, Mr. Perker, and the latter escapes with taunts about “Tuppy.”
On this passage, Chris writes:
“I’m pretty sure getting caught at the White Hart Inn was not a complete oversight on his [Jingle’s] part. He was hedging his bets knowing, as Mr Perker so aptly puts it, ‘that fifty pounds and liberty, would be better than Miss Wardle and expectation’. He haggles for £120, not a bad sum for a few days’ work.”
“Mr. Pickwick was a philosopher, but philosophers are only men in armour, after all. The shaft had reached him, penetrated through his philosophical harness, to his very heart.”
After a disturbed evening reading “The Madman’s Manuscript,” Mr. Pickwick seeks advice from his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, related to the keeping of a manservant (Sam Weller), but he doesn’t make the subject of his inquiries plain to the hopeful Mrs. Bardell, who mistakes his questions for marital overtures, and ends up fainting in his arms, just as Pickwick’s friends arrive to witness the tableau. Little does Mr. Pickwick know what trouble this will cost him…
But at least he now has a faithful manservant by his side in the newly-employed Sam.
“‘Take the bill down,’ said Sam, emphatically. ‘I’m let to a single gentleman, and the terms is agreed upon.'”
Sam travels with the company to Eatenswill (see Lenny’s comment to the right about the name!), where they are witnesses to a local election, and find themselves invited to a costume party given by Mrs. Leo Hunter, famous author of “Ode to an Expiring Frog,” where they again encounter Mr. Jingle under an assumed name, who quickly escapes them ~ again.
Even the common-sensical Sam, however, is taken in by the first con of Jingle’s man, Job Trotter. Trotter gets Pickwick and Sam involved in a scheme to save the honor of a lady (whom Jingle is supposedly ready to elope and ensnare) by having the two worthies meet him in the back garden of a ladies’ boarding house to try and thwart Jingle’s plan. It is all a prank, however, to take revenge and poke fun at Mr. Pickwick, and all that Pickwick accomplishes is to scare a houseful of ladies at night, and embarrass himself in the process.
“Thus, for the second time, did Mr. Pickwick’s innate good-feeling involve him in an enterprise from which he would most willingly have stood aloof.”
With the assistance of Sam and Mr. Wardle, the situation is rectified, but after some marital melodrama involving Winkle and Mrs. Potts, our Pickwickian friends end up reading with horror the letter from lawyers Dodson and Fogg, about the action in Bardell against Pickwick, for “breach of promise of marriage,” due to the misunderstandings of the conversation and tableau mentioned above, and the “dreadful conjunction of appearances” lamented by Mr. Pickwick.
“We are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest.”~Mr. Pickwick
On their next shooting party with Mr. Wardle, the Pickwickians (with the exception of Snodgrass), accompanied by Sam Weller who pushes the wounded Pickwick in the wheelbarrow, find themselves drinking a bit too much cold punch. Pickwick, left to sleep in the wheelbarrow while the others continue their sport, finds himself, upon waking, at the Pound, having been brought there by Captain Boldwig, on whose grounds the Pickwickians have been trespassing. Pickwick is saved again by Sam, and Mr. Wardle.
Not long after, we meet Dodson and Fogg, the unscrupulous lawyers who nearly provoke Pickwick to a rash act, but for the intervention of Sam. (Does anyone else start to get nervous whenever Pickwick is alone, without Sam in close proximity…?)
Needing to cool off, the master and manservant step in for a drink at a local pub, where they meet “the old ‘un,” Sam Weller’s remarkable parent, who, in hearing of their recent encounters with Jingle and Trotter, reveals that he knows where those two can be found (Ipswich), and Pickwick and Sam plan to accompany him there in the following days.
Meanwhile, we continue to pub-crawl with Pickwick and Sam, as they follow the directions to Mr. Perker’s clerk, Mr. Lowten, to the Magpie and Stump, where they are about to hear a curious tale from one of Mr. Lowten’s companions, to be revealed in the next chapter.
The 1952 Adaptation; Links and Further Research; Pictures from London
This was, as Chris says, “a big chunk of reading”! Certainly the biggest chunk we’ll have during the whole journey with Pickwick.
And we had a lively discussion with a variety of levels of engagement, from the whimsical and delighted appreciation of Pickwickian joys, to the exploration of various darker themes, to the sharing of information on London, old and new.
The “Adaptation Stationmaster” mentioned the 1952 adaptation of Pickwick ~ and I’ve been really wanting to see that version. Any additional thoughts, from those who’ve seen it?
Steve R. shared with us some pictures of the Golden Cross Inn, and it’s connection to Dickens’ own experience of London. Shown here in gallery mode; click on each to see enlarged:
Phyllis has shared a link to a labor of love on her own journey and research into Dickens’ novels, and I for one am eager to learn more! Here is the link to her piece on Pickwick.
“The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, to honor it with its full title, also displays some meta-fictional playfulness that goes beyond the typical Victorian narrator who is so eager to get his point across that he peeks through the gap in the narrative curtains and speaks directly to the reader. In Pickwick, Dickens creates what I see as a self-portrait of him at his best, this coming near the book’s conclusion…”
I shared a link that our member Sarah put me on to, a delightful article about Pickwick‘s influence in bringing Dickens fans together. (And here we are, #DickensClub, carrying on the noble tradition!)
Chris has also shared an excerpt on Dickens’ “unstable reputation,” from a recent work on Dickens by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. (The longer work, The Turning Point: 1851–A Year that Changed Charles Dickens and the World, is one I’d pre-ordered, and it finally arrived!)
Whimsy, Wellers, and Pickwickian Hobbits
My own engagement this week, so delighting in the entrance of Sam, was far more along the whimsical lines. Here are somewhat less-than-profound comments on the discovery of Pickwick crocuses, ghostly and romantic inns of Old London, and the envy of Mr. Pickwick “caught in the arms of Sam”:
And speaking of Sam: “whatever the situation,” writes Chris, “whatever the surroundings, the Wellers are always perfectly at ease.” One does start to breathe a sigh of relief whenever Sam shows up on the scene! Chris writes:
Boze has been delighting in these early scenes, and compares these Pickwickian rambles to those of Tolkien’s hobbits in the early journey segments of The Fellowship of the Ring ~ portions that Boze and I both have a special fondness for ~ in spite of our beloved Professor’s dislike of Pickwick. (Tolkien could be such a lovable curmudgeon!)
Daniel has been asking some wonderful questions for the group, prompting fantastic research from Chris particularly, who has been our Researcher Extraordinaire!
On his question about “Dickens’ method in creating Jingle’s strangely staccatoed speech pattern,” Chris writes:
“Innocence to Knowing Awareness”
In Chris’ immensely enriching “in-between readings” of Dickens’ critics, with biographical notes and reflections, she writes at length on J.H. Miller and seeing Pickwick’s journey as one from “innocence to knowing awareness.”
Lenny responds to this, expressing his surprise at how quickly our “hero” is brought face-to-face with “a real-world incident” in his dangerous encounter with the cab-driver.
“Chris: this quote from Miller really parallels the response I’m beginning to have with PICKWICK, so I’m going to requote parts of your quote from Miller and play off from that: ‘Pickwick only truly understands the world when he becomes involved in it.’ (29) Miller argues, ‘The true dramatic center of “Pickwick Papers” . . . is Pickwick’s gradual discovery of the real nature of the world. . . . [his] adventures . . . and especially the stories he hears, introduce him to a world without Providence, a world of dog-eat-dog aggression, a world in which people are driven by fortuitous circumstances . . . Pickwick discovers that the reigning principles of large portions of the world are disorder and injustice . . .[and] that much of the world is indifferent or even a positive threat to his life and to his goodness.'”
And Lenny compares it to the world view as we encountered in Sketches by Boz, and I’ve highlighted a passage to note, on the continuing theme of education and discovery, our own sort of “Pilgrim’s Progress”:
“Dickens as Boz recreates the London World as he sees it, and then we, as readers, become active observers of that world. Of course, the individual stories create their own world within that larger world, and have their own peculiarities and tone–ranging from the very tragic to the very comic, but still the reader gets an overall sense of the ENVIRONMENT which is Dickens’ subject matter. Although learning/educations is sometimes the theme within these individual stories, I believe the real ‘education’ belongs to the readers of these stories as Boz relates so much about the ‘facts’ of life that the ordinary reader–locked in his own world–will probably not be aware of.”
It’s worth revisiting at length Chris’ assessment of the women in Pickwick here:
“But, poor Rachael! Disgraced and humiliated such that ‘she’s gone away . . . [and is] living at a relation’s, far enough off. She couldn’t bear to see the girls’, her nieces. She remains a ninny in her family’s eyes, inspiring her brother to comment to Mr Tupman: ‘For her sake, I wish you’d had her; for your own, I’m very glad you have not.’ Women in general don’t fare well in this very masculine book (Marcus, 39). ‘”Women, after all, gentlemen,” said the enthusiastic Mr Snodgrass, “are the great props and comforts of our existence.”’ Indeed, women are simply here – in this book and perhaps in Dickens’s and/or the Victorian mind – to support, enhance, cheer, console, or somehow add to the comfort of men. Yet in this book, and perhaps in Dickens’s and/or the Victorian mind, women almost always fail to do or be so; more often they are shrewish, predatory or, as Marcus puts it ‘throughout its pages men are persecuted by women’ (40). In this section of reading we have: Miss Rachael Wardle, the Madman’s wife, Mrs Bardell, Mrs Pott & her bodyguard/maid, the Bagman’s buxom widow, Mrs Leo Hunter, the ladies of Miss Tomkins’ establishment, Maria Lobbs & friends, and Mr Tony Weller’s views on his second wife. All of these women are either simple-minded, disappointments or have bamboozle their men. Leaving aside the very large issue of Victorian attitudes toward women, when one is left with little resource or choice, one tends to either submit to circumstances or to find alternative means of survival. What else can Rachael, Mrs Bardell, the buxom widow or Maria Lobbs do to find husbands? What else can the Madman’s wife do but die? How else can Mrs Pott and Mrs Leo Hunter live with their single minded, simple minded husbands? What employment options does Miss Tomkins have other than to teach other women to be as simple as she? Tony Weller’s second wife – well, we’ll leave that for another post. Mr Pickwick’s lament – ‘”Does it not . . . bespeak the indiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart . . . of my followers, that, beneath whatever roof they locate, they disturb the peace of mind and happiness of some confiding female?”’ – rings hollow not only because it comes simultaneously with Dodson & Fogg’s notice of the breach of promise suit, but because, generally speaking – and I say this in a purely Pickwickian sense – that is what men do!
“Mrs Bardell must be mentioned at greater length here. Clearly this conversation at cross purposes – Mr Pickwick believes he is seeking Mrs Bardell’s opinion about hiring a manservant; she believes he is proposing marriage – has big implications for Mr Pickwick. The responsibility for the misunderstanding lies squarely on Mr P’s shoulders for not prefacing his statements with something like ‘Mrs Bardell, I’m considering hiring a man-servant.’ He’s basically thinking out loud and fails to consider that his listener can have no idea of his topic or his train of thought. This speaks to Pickwick’s lack of awareness and insularity – he fails to consider the perspective or others, especially women (see above). To him Mrs Bardell is simply his landlady – ‘Who ever heard me address her in any way but that in which a lodger would address his landlady?’ – whereas to her ‘Mr Pickwick’s will was law’ and ‘she had long worshipped Mr Pickwick at a distance’. And so he end up literally entangled with her, as witnessed by his friends, and we shall have to wait to see how this all unravels.”
Ode to August; a “Duality of Vision”
Lenny and I talked about Dickens’ “ode” to August at the beginning of the sixteenth chapter, but Lenny is tempted to see the the romantic, Wordsworthian passages as “the harbingers of something more dire”:
Lenny continues about this “duality of vision”:
“However, I believe there really is something Wordsworthian in Dickens vision that lies behind the “dog-eat-dog” world that Chris spoke of in her earlier passage, where she quoted from J. H. Miller. Dickens: A ‘romantic’ want-to-be trapped in an industrial urban world that he can only barely see through to the splendors of nature.
“There is a duality of vision, here, that we can identify early in this novel, but to what extent will it continue through the remaining chapters in the PICKWICK PAPERS and into the other novels? This will be an interesting question to pursue!”
Chaplinesque Humor, Unflattering Circumstances, and a “Tendency to be Incarcerated”
The women do have a rough go of it, but at least the men are, generally, just as ridiculous.
Both Chris and Lenny have expressed the “anxiety” felt about many scenes whose comic-tragic mingling could so easily slide into deep tragedy. Lenny writes about the humiliations suffered by Pickwick again and again, where his “overindulgence” leads to “entrapment” and a “tendency to be incarcerated” (here edited in gallery mode):
I loved the comments, particularly about Sam “pushing his master in the cart as Illustrative of their relationship as a whole. One of the governesses at the boarding house had said something similar, in response to the idea that Mr Pickwick keeps a manservant: ‘It’s my opinion…that his man-servant keeps him.’ (!!) Indeed he does.” I continue the earlier thread about the Chaplinesque parallels,
“…albeit from a gentleman’s perspective, rather than from a ‘Tramp’ ~ he so often gets himself into these scrapes, has things to learn and overcome, but ultimately his goodwill and innate generosity of heart win the day. It IS a kind of Don Quixote…only, with the Don, aren’t we brokenhearted to see the Don lose something of his ‘fantasy’ about the world…? One needs to be educated about the harsh realities of life, but if only one can also retain the spirit of romance, as the Tramp does…and as we hope Pickwick always will, whatever his trials and incarcerations…”
“Yes, ‘goodwill’ and ‘generosity of the heart’ make up both their personalities. The best example in Chaplin’s case is the Tramp’s character in CITY LIGHTS. And, incidentally, it could be that it is here where he is most Quixote like. His Dulcinea is the ‘Blind Girl.’ Speaking of the Don, he really IS the most ‘extreme’ character of the three. He’s WAY out there, mentally, and has to be reeled in constantly by Sancho or he’d never survive his crazy exploits. I’m never sure about his ‘learning curve’–if there actually is one. But he does have a ‘good heart’ and survives maybe with that in tact. All three characters are ‘romantics’ in their own ways. All three exhibit uncanny amounts of resilience! They survive in that dog-eat-dog world.”
Romantic Adventures; “Pleasures Such as This”
Chesterton alludes to Pickwick as being a fairy tale, and perhaps that is one way we could classify it: a “Romance”? The characters strive to keep the spirit of optimism and adventure, even when one has had to learn some hard lessons about the harshness of the world.
Chris compares it to our own journey:
I’ll end with Dana’s lovely comments on Simon Prebble’s masterful reading of Pickwick, and the importance of having a worldview like Dickens’ in such times of world trouble and tragedy. (And when are we not in such times…?)
A Look-ahead to Week Three of The Pickwick Papers (15-21 March)
This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 21-29, which constitute the serial “numbers” VIII-X (published October, November, and December of 1836).
You can read the text in full at The Circumlocution Office if you prefer the online format or don’t have a copy. There are also a number of places (including Gutenberg) where it can be downloaded for free.
Can’t wait to “see” you all for more comments this week! Have a beautiful one, fellow Dickensians and Pickwickians, and sending you all a Weller Rose.