Wherein we glance back at the third week of the #DickensClub Reading of The Pickwick Papers (week eleven of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week four.
Happy Spring, fellow Pickwickians!
What a delightful reading portion this week. Things are moving forward in Bardell vs. Pickwick, to the consternation of our fearless leader, Mr. Pickwick, but we have some respite with the Wardles at Manor Farm, and a faithful manservant to be there when Mr. Pickwick finds himself lost in the maze of life. As Lenny mentions, “there is so much to say about these ‘turning-point’ chapters.”
If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 12 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 77), and Week 4 of The Pickwick Papers (our second read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the fourth 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! We’re forever grateful 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 Three Pickwick Summary (Chapters 21-29)
We began this week’s installments with some eerily strange and sad stories from Mr. Lowten’s friend, notably that of “The Queer Client.”
Then, Mr. Pickwick and Sam, after conversing with Sam’s remarkable parent about the recent encounters with his parent’s wife, meet a “red-haired” man, Mr. Magnus, who is also journeying to Ipswich. Of course, Pickwick and Sam intend to find Jingle and Trotter; meanwhile, Mr. Magnus, being of a somewhat nervous and even obsessive-compulsive character, is more than preoccupied by his fears of making a declaration of love and a proposal of marriage.
“‘Company, you see–company is–is–it’s a very different thing from solitude, ain’t it?’
“‘There’s no denying that ‘ere,’ said Mr. Weller, joining in the conversation, with an affable smile. ‘That’s what I call a self-evident proposition, as the dog’s-meat man said, when the house-maid told him he warn’t a gentleman.'”
At the Great White Horse Inn at Ipswich that night (and linked here is a fascinating little bit of information on the history of this Inn/Hotel), Mr. Pickwick ventures from his room in order to find a treasured watch that he had left downstairs that evening. Finding the inn far more maze-like in its construction than he’d recalled, he becomes lost on his way back up, and, ends up in a room which he believes to be his. He has only begun to settle down to bed ~ in his nightcap, no less ~ when he realizes that he is not alone in the room, but that there is “a middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers” brushing her “back-hair.” Impossible to say whom is the more alarmed at the prospect, once she realizes he is there. Mr. Pickwick makes an apologetic retreat, and, almost in despair of finding his way back to his actual room, is saved again by Sam, who happens to be coming down the corridor.
The following day, Sam runs into Job Trotter, who feigns relief at seeing Sam, making excuses for the recent debacle that he had gotten Pickwick and Sam into, and they agree to meet later; and Sam plans to be better on guard, this time.
Mr. Magnus is successful in his overtures to his intended, and when he meets Pickwick and friends, introduces them all to her as a certain “Miss Witherfield.” To Mr. Pickwick’s horror, it is the very woman whose room he had found himself in during the previous night! The ensuing confusion and alarm of Mr. Pickwick and Miss Witherfield is evident enough to the jealous Magnus, that a heated conversation follows ~ the upshot of which is that, for various reasons, Miss Witherfield takes it upon herself to inform the local magistrate, Mr. Nupkins, of an intended duel between the two (Pickwick and Magnus), with Tupman as an aider and abettor. Pickwick and Tupman, neither of whom had had any such intention, end up in a sedan chair being transported to the “worshipful presence” of Mr. Nupkins, “looking a full size larger than any one of them.” Sam, intervening for his master and attacking one of the officials, gets arrested too.
Nupkins lists the charges against them, and is occasionally, Dogberry-like, “too cunning to be understood” (Much Ado About Nothing, V.i). Pickwick asks to speak to Nupkins aside, and Pickwick and Sam relate to him their history with Mr. Jingle, and why they are in Ipswich. This changes everything: Mr. Nupkins has been “harbouring” this “gross impostor,” Jingle, who has been charming the family under an assumed name (Captain Fitz-Marshall) with aristocratic airs and claims of connections, and flattering the daughter, who assumes him to be quite the catch. How will the Nupkins family face their friends, some of whom they have estranged by putting forward this Captain Fitz-Marshall?
They all end up in the same room together (the Pickwickians, the Numpkins family, Jingle, Job, and Sam), and, shameless as ever, Jingle taunts them before departing the house with his partner-in-crime, Job Trotter, but not before Muzzle causes them to trip down the front stairs, and they fall into the aloe tubs below. That Pickwick has done no more than expose them, however, he considers to be a “leniency” towards Mr. Jingle, that he hopes Jingle will remember.
The one bright spot ~ besides the charges being dropped for the Pickwickians and Sam ~ is that Sam encounters the Nupkins’ pretty house-maid, Mary, and the two have a sweet moment in the conveniently inconvenient, small corner, while they search around for his hat.
Sam and the Pickwickians return to London (with Pickwick and Sam staying at the George and Vulture), each making preparations for the Christmas gathering at Manor Farm, Dingley Dell. But in the meantime, as Pickwick resolves to find out more about the progress of the action in the lawsuit against him, Sam is deployed to Mrs. Bardell’s, to give his master’s written notice and final payment and arrange for the removal of Pickwick’s belongings. Of course, Sam can’t help but take some refreshment with Mrs. Bardell and her friends, thereby learning a little more of the case (taken on by Dodson and Fogg on speculation) which is to come forward in February or March.
Sam makes a visit to his father and stepmother, and the latter’s too-influential friend, Mr. Stiggins, who seems always to be stiggin his nose where it doesn’t belong, including into the concern over the morals of Mr. Weller, Sr.
Chris has an important reflection here, to keep in mind:
“In these chapters we get Tony Weller’s notion regarding ‘widders’ -‘Widders are ‘ceptions to every rule.’ – this will be important later. His own second wife is the primary example, but let’s not forget that Mrs Bardell is a widow also. I think the point is that widows, unlike unmarried ladies of a certain age (e.g., Rachael Wardle and Miss Witherfield), have experience of men and thus know how to manipulate them in ways single women just can not comprehend.”
Finally, we conclude our weekly reading with a magical Christmas gathering at the Wardles’ home at Manor Farm, where Mr. Pickwick makes himself agreeable to Old Mrs. Wardle and the company, and where Sam becomes fascinated by the fat boy, and they all have the merriest possible time, including dancing, singing, the drinking of wassail, and the telling of stories, including “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” which comprises our final chapter of the week.
“The carpet was up, the candles burnt bright, the fire blazed and crackled on the hearth, and merry voices and light-hearted laughter rang through the room. If any of the old English yeomen had turned into fairies when they died, it was just the place in which they would have held their revels.”
Quotes and Whimsy
To start us off, Lenny reflects on the wonderful reflections that our group has produced already:
I couldn’t agree more.
And in other miscellaneous joy, I was delighted that one of my twitter friends, who isn’t doing the big chronological reading with us, was inspired to begin A Tale of Two Cities after I’d compared a fascinating character in a recent Korean drama we’d both loved, to a beloved character ~ whose name I kept tight-lipped about ~ in A Tale. (Now, if only I could spend my life going around with a copy of A Tale of Two Cities in one hand, asking people, “Do you know *insert character name here*…?”)
Boze reflects on Dickens’ genius, and his influence on his own writing, and gives us some favorite moments (right):
“On a more personal note, I remember seeing a lecture by the writer Tony Kushner in which he said Goethe warned aspiring writers not to read Shakespeare more than once a year, or they would be so distressed by his genius that they would be tempted to give up in despair. That’s how I feel reading Dickens – his gifts are so immense, his characters so rich and eccentric, his descriptive powers so vivid and indelible… He’s like the sun by whose light all of us are warmed. I’m glad you’re leading this two-year’s journey into Dickens (and putting so much thought and effort into it) because it gives me a chance to rediscover Dickens, perhaps to steal some of his plots, and to despair melodramatically at his genius like a fainting lady. Last night I ordered a nice edition of Bleak House; I feel like a traveller making preparations for a long journey.”
(I’m afraid I’ve already stolen from him in my own drafting!)
The Adaptation Stationmaster, however, is determined to succumb neither to despair nor influence!
Meanwhile, Dana continues to love Simon Prebble’s narration of The Pickwick Papers.
And on the marvelous Christmas passage in Chapter 28, Chris writes:
“Oh, my, what delight to read about the fun these folks have! All our Christmases should be like this! The joy just jumps off the page!”
As Lenny writes, “Good Lord, it’s happened again!” More “public humiliations for Pickwick:
“As I mentioned last week, as this series of similar humiliating events gathers momentum, they begin to take place in enclosures, where Mr. Pickwick becomes “trapped” by circumstances and the powers that be. At the closet in the girl’s school, and in the Pound, the situations seem comically benign. But they are symbolic of some kind of drastic and growing trend of incarceration. Now, the symbolic and threatening consequences take a different tone. He and Tupman are thrown together in the very small confines of the ‘chair’ and CARRIED my these minions of the law to the magistrate. In effect, the two Pickwickians are locked into a kind of medieval ‘Paddy Wagon’ where they are–for the most part–lacking any control over their predicament.
“But there are even wider consequences because Pickwick’s predicament has now expanded to include Mr. Tupman, and as the caravan continues through the street, begins to involve the other Pickwickians as well as the combustible Mr. Weller. Mr. Pickwick’s pickle, has grown in size and now amounts to a debacle! The chances for violence are many, and Sam is the one who is most likely to incite it. It’s all comically played out, and there seem to be no lasting injuries to the various parties involved in the mayhem, and the process eventually arrives at the Magistrates’ ‘office.’ This is broad comedy approaching farce, but it does involve our dear friend in his most serious predicament yet, and perhaps, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is probably a foreshadowing of events to come!”
Influences, Craftsmanship, and Narrative Shifts: We are still in Dickens’ “Writing Lab”
Lenny had called Sketches by Boz a “writing lab,” and I think we are finding that, as I mentioned in the comments, the writing lab is continuing at a higher level in Pickwick.
And here in our reading of this week, as Chris says, things are beginning to “gel.”
Boze gave us a marvelous reflection on Dickens’ influences; we know from Dickens’ own reading and references how true this is. I particularly loved the reference to Jingle as “a funhouse-mirror version of Iago from Othello“:
“There is SO much to say about these ‘turning-point’ chapters. In fact, the ‘Grave-digger’s’ story happens at the half-way point of the novel. We’ve reached, I guess you could say, the juncture where ‘Boze’ has said, earlier, the various ‘synthesizing agents’ have been working to the fullest.”
Chris writes, on Dickens’ development as a writer, and how things are coming together at this midpoint/turning-point in Pickwick:
“Setting aside all the wonderful aspects of ‘Pickwick’ – the characters, the situations, the humor, the tales – it’s interesting to me as both a student of Dickens and of the craft of writing to see so plainly this transition from journalist-sketch writer to novelist. Due in part to its singular and unorthodox beginning and its serial format, reading ‘Pickwick’ is reading a work in progress. We can trace Dickens’s development, his subtle and not so subtle changes. As we enter the middle portion of ‘Pickwick’ we can see his chapters becoming more streamlined in terms of content, story lines are beginning to gel – some are discarded in favor of others (an indication of Dickens’s awareness of his readers) – characters are evolving.”
Here is her full “essay,” as Lenny called it, with wonderful passages from Chesterton and Virgil Grillo (seen here in “gallery mode”; click on each image to enlarge):
Lenny responds, pulling wonderful insights together from both Boze and Chris, reflecting on the changer we’ve encountered at this crucial midpoint in the novel:
“Wow, Chris, you have made, in this wonderful three-paragraph essay, what Wordsworth would call a TIMELY UTTERANCE! So well stated and maybe what many of us (if not all) in the ‘club’ are beginning to realize. Something has ‘changed’ with the end of the first third of the novel. And you and Chesterton put it so well. There IS more control over the subject matter and narrative flow that seems more novel-like (whatever, these days, THAT might be). I feel like Dickens’ reading of Fielding’s novels might have helped him in this regard. If Fielding’s novels are Dickens’ greatest influences (although as ‘sketches by Boze’–above–has beautifully put it, PICKWICK is an intelligent [to some extent ‘unconscious’?] synthesis of major classical works that our author would have known and probably studied), then they might have given him ideas about how to ‘control’ his narrative. In this sense, we can see PICKWICK gravitating away from the QUIXOTE model and more toward Fielding’s model of narration. At the same time, there are a whole slew of precise and ‘polished’ novels he could be looking at for useful frames of reference–like those of Scott, Radcliffe, and Austen.”
Lenny continues in his response, that Dickens here is writing himself “into a more sophisticated ‘long form’ narrative”: “I’m not sure, precisely when or how this happens….he begins to drop ‘story lines’ that are less congenial to the narrative and that he is now beginning to perceive a more resolute direction for.” The “public humiliations” of Pickwick become a “motif” and “organizing principle”:
“There is a long chain of [such events] that stretch to the very beginning of the novel. At SOME point, Dickens decided that this particular ‘motif’ would be one of the organizing principles of the novel. Since he begins the narrative with two of these ’embarrassments,’ I’m tempted to think that a germ for what might happen to Mr. Pickwick in his adventures has already been planted, but that he wasn’t quite sure how far to go with it and how to bring it off. The plan of narration he’s chosen is PICARESQUE–a la QUIXOTE and TOM JONES, so that the idea of travel and movement would allow him, while he composes, quite a bit of latitude where he can integrate these upsetting moments into the text. BUT AT SOME POINT, Dickens realizes that he’s moving toward a major catastrophic event involving Mr. Pickwick, Mrs. Bardell and the law. This, then, would be one of the crucial narrative strands that could pull things together and make a seemingly random narrative appear less so. And, as you suggest, there are other unifying factors as well. The introduction of Sam Weller is crucial to this building unity, as well as the continuity involving the Pickwick-Wardel friendship–which REALLY peaks at the Christmas party.”
Lenny then gives us a fantastic overview of these intriguing, and often puzzling, narrative shifts (here in “gallery mode”; click on each to enlarge):
In response, I acknowledged the struggle to understand the identity/time period of the mysterious narrator (who, as Lenny had mentioned, almost makes himself out to be a character among the Pickwickians!), as it seems as though he is writing about what would have been present time (late-1820s, less than ten years before the writing of Pickwick) as though looking back from some date far in the future.
If anyone comes across insights about this, I’d love to hear it!
A Turning Point for Sam, our “Guardian Angel”
Everybody needs a Sam.
I’d been reflecting on that curious, almost tender, but somewhat elusive passage (and they are quite literally in a “passage” between rooms in the inn) after Pickwick has become lost at the inn and had stumbled into the wrong room:
“‘But of this I am determined, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘that if I were to stop in this house for six months, I would never trust myself about it, alone, again.’
“‘That’s the wery prudentest resolution as you could come to, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘You rayther want somebody to look arter you, Sir, when your judgment goes out a wisitin’.’
“‘What do you mean by that, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick. He raised himself in bed, and extended his hand, as if he were about to say something more; but suddenly checking himself, turned round, and bade his valet ‘Good-night.’
“‘Good-night, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. He paused when he got outside the door—shook his head—walked on—stopped—snuffed the candle—shook his head again—and finally proceeded slowly to his chamber, apparently buried in the profoundest meditation.”
“It’s a sweet moment, and we rather wonder at what Sam is meditating on. It’s as though Sam is reluctant to leave him even for a moment. But it’s more than that: I think it’s a moment of realization for him [Sam] that is far greater. As though he is observing just how much affection he has for Pickwick, and concern for the often innocent helplessness that Mr P exhibits, and the realization that he’s not going to be able to leave him, ever. So, he’s really perhaps reflecting that his course has now been set, and he’s in it for life if you will, til death do they part…”
“Rach: This is an extremely important paragraph you’ve just written: ‘And on this note, I find I want to go back to that slightly unusual and oddly touching moment when Mr P gets lost in the hotel in Ipswich and ends up in the middle-aged lady’s room, after which, still lost, he is encountered (thank God, always a relief) by Sam.'”
“The primary metaphors for the entire novel.” Yes, and “Sam will ‘carry–as a kind of guardian angel–Pickwick through his life.” And this also gives Sam his purpose; in this way, as Lenny writes, “Mr. P and Sam ‘protect’ and ‘save’ each other!”
“Rach & Lenny — Mr Pickwick at Ipswich – Here we get Sam’s articulation of his mission, assignment, duty, burden, promise (I’m not sure which word is accurate) relative to Mr Pickwick: ‘You rayther want somebody to look arter you, sir, wen your judgment goes out a wisitin’.’ This is what Sam has done and will continue to do for his Master; and he will do it well. You two have hit upon this quite rightly!”
And I reflect a little more on the nature of this “turning-point” in the relationship, just as these chapters are a turning-point in the novel, and in the cohesion of plot and structure, though this will make more sense to those who have seen the marvelous filmed stage production of Nicholas Nickleby with Roger Rees:
For Further Inquiry and Reflection…
In moving forward, I mentioned for consideration the curious “timeframe”/perspective from which the narrator is writing. And all of us have noted the transitions in narrative voice, which Lenny really outlined beautifully.
Chris has another question for us, going forward, regarding the interpolated tales and why there is little reference to the response towards hearing them (and I’ve put passages of particular note in bold):
“Regarding the interpolated tales – 2 this section, ‘The Queer Client’ and ‘The Goblins’ – Mr Pickwick hears or reads them, but we get little or none of his reaction to them. Does he think about them? How do they affect him? And how do they fit into his journey from innocence to knowledge? I’m searching for insight here, but so far have found little scholarship that answers these questions. I’ll keep looking. Any insight our Reading Club may have will be appreciated. I certainly understand they present the dark side of humanity to Mr Pickwick, giving him pause I should think, and even if he doesn’t consciously consider them he must unconsciously be troubled by how these dark tales relate to ‘life’, even if he considers them too fantastic. Maybe they are laying the groundwork for him, preparing his mind for pitfalls he may encounter. At any rate, I find the lack of reaction to them as odd. No doubt, ‘The Story of the Goblins who stole a Sexton’ is the germ of ‘A Christmas Carol’; and Gabriel Grub combined with Nicodemus Dumps of ‘The Bloomsbury Christening’ sketch are prototypes for Ebenezer Scrooge.”
And more issues left unresolved:
“I thought it interesting that Mr Magnus asks Mr Pickwick’s advice on proposing, and even more so that Mr Pickwick vehemently denies ever having done so. In his mind and intention he has NOT; in Mrs Bardell’s, well, therein lies the dilemma as we shall see. Be that as it may, Mr Pickwick’s suggestion for how to propose is really very sweet, even though it enlightens us as to his simple and sentimental view of women. But it worked for Mr Magnus, though I think any approach would have done the trick. But what happens? Does Miss Witherfield ever become Mrs Magnus? Do they resolve their misunderstanding or do they go their separate ways? Mr Magnus has been in this sort of situation before: ‘I know what it is to be jilted, sir; I have endured that sort of thing three or four times,’ he tells Mr Pickwick. So one has to wonder – did the ladies really, actually, jilt him, or did he find something about the ladies to take issue with as he’s done here with Miss Witherfield? Inquiring minds want to know!”
And here I’ll leave us with (as Chris had said) wishes for a Happy Spring! Here’s to sunshine, warmth, Weller Roses, and more Dickensian joy.
As Boze so beautifully said of Dickens:
“He’s like the sun by whose light all of us are warmed.”
A Look-ahead to Week Four of The Pickwick Papers (22-28 March)
This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 30-37, which constitute the numbers XI-XIII (published in January, February, and March of 1837).
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!