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!
Poor Pickwick! Who amongst us hasn’t gotten hopelessly lost late at night in the corridors of an old inn and accidentally wandered into a middle-aged lady’s chamber whilst she was undressing? Though I love our kindly old protagonist—my second-favorite P-shaped man, after perhaps Chesterton—I’m not sure he would have emerged from the novel alive without the constant interventions of Sam Weller.
But of course we’re all dying to talk about the Christmas sequence, the first of Dickens’ career. Just as he seems to conjure up a platonic ideal of Merry England in the book’s earlier chapters, here he conjures up a dream of Christmas—mistletoe and snowy lanes and snapdragon and blindman’s bluff and revelers in carriages drinking ale and brandy and cod-fish laid on ice and rows and rows of oyster barrels and rosy-cheeked women in love. (I wish someone, perhaps Peter Ackroyd, would write a book exploring what we can learn about the Victorian world based on the THINGS Dickens mentions in his books, don’t you?). And of course, while the Christmas scenes are delightful in themselves, they’re fascinating from a literary perspective for their hints and glimpses of his later tales. The goblin in the graveyard harasses damned souls with the ghoulish relish of Jacob Marley, while Pickwick dances with the vivacity of Fezziwig himself.
Some of my other favorite moments from this week’s reading:
“… the indefatigable perseverance with which people will flatten their noses against the front windows of a chemist’s shop, when a drunken man, who has been run over by a dog-cart in the street, is undergoing a surgical inspection in the back-parlor.”
“Business first, pleasure arterwards, as King Richard the Third said wen he stabbed the t’other king in the Tower, afore he smothered the babbies.”
p. s. have you read the novel Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis? Katie Lumsden of Books N’ Things was recently raving about it. I picked it up at a book fair this weekend for a dollar, along with The Victorians by A. N. Wilson. It feels like the ideal companion-book to read alongside Pickwick.
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Boze, I have so much I want to tackle in a response!! 🙂 I will write more after a bit of reading. Thankfully, this is a mellower week than the last! I Love the description of the Christmas ambience and *things*, and particularly love the idea of someone like Ackroyd tackling that sort of a history…he’s just the one to do it; he has the imagination and sensibility (so Dickensian!) that allow him not only to capture the events of someone’s life ~ anyone can do that, some more effectively than others ~ but, without any kind of overbearing analysis (because he allows for mystery too, and the unknowns of Dickens’ life, of which there are many) but he captures the heart of Dickens. I do think, alluding to our conversation of before, that it’s as you said, he writes a biography almost the way Dickens himself would. Such a kindred spirit.
I haven’t read Death & Mr Pickwick! Now I am super curious! Just about to read the story you sent me…very belatedly! I’m behind on everything, it would seem, except Pickwick, this past week! 🙂 More anon…I’d love to hear what you think of it if/when you start.
And…I’m dying to hear what you think of the Rees/Petherbridge/Threlfall Nickleby once you get to it 🙂 (hehe)
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I actually don’t care much for The Pickwick Papers, despite being a big Dickens fan, (Weirdly, I find it less consistently hilarious than other books of his even though this is the only one that’s, more or less, a pure comedy) but I love his description of Christmas. You can tell it was a favorite holiday of his and he loved writing that.
This moment… 😂
And Sam’s testimony at the trial…priceless!!!
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Isn’t this sketch just a beaut!? Yikes…! There’s “thin ice” just ahead! LOOK out.
To Chris’ suggestion about thoughts on the interpolated tales, I’ve been trying to see what I can find as well, and it’s true that I’m not readily seeing a discussion of why so little is mentioned about the lack of reaction to the tales on the part of the Pickwickians, specifically Mr. Pickwick. (In this week’s tale, “The True Legend of Prince Bladud,” I think it’s just mentioned how sleepy Mr. P gets after reading it.)
It would seem that a number of folks believe that the tales were somewhat shoved in, intended for publication elsewhere. Victorian Web writes of a bit more intentionality, “to break up the picaresque narrative and provide tonal variety.” But aren’t they more than that? They do seem connected to the story, and lessons learned, albeit in very different ways. Maybe I’m reading far too much into it, but could we say that this week’s is a kind of (extreme!) precursor or instigator to Pickwick’s deciding to truly be of use to Winkle in the latter’s choice of the woman he loves?
Forgive if I’m repeating a link or reference to what Chris has already shared, but it does seem as though this week’s tale (according to Dr Patten) was certainly intentionally written in as part of the novel, and not shoved in haphazardly, as we have the draft of it (with Dickens’ edits) as integrated into it, whereas if I am understanding it correctly, we don’t have it for the other tales.
“There is, therefore, no indication that Dickens copied out the interpolated tale from some putative earlier manuscript version, and then proceeded to write his main narrative around it. The interpolated tale and the novel must, in this instance, have been composed at the same time” (Patten 88).
The link shows some facsimile pages with Dickens’ edits…
Gosh, these tales are so curious! They are very Quixotic in the way that Cervantes sticks these tales to “break up the picaresque narrative” but…they do seem to be *more,* as well.
Patten, Robert L. “THE INTERPOLATED TALES IN ‘PICKWICK PAPERS.’” Dickens Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, Penn State University Press, 1965, pp. 86–89, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44392677.
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As Boze intimates above, we all want to “talk about” the Christmas sequence–the first ever for Dickens…. And from first to last the chapter is just so elevating with joy and love. Of course, interspersed with the Holiday proceedings, there is a wedding, and it too is crowned with almost limitless festivities. The Christmas Holiday in this particular chapter is absolutely sumptuous. In short, this creation is probably the IDEAL moment in the novel. I’ll quote just a brief few lines to “get” the physical atmosphere and sense of revelry that takes place:
” When they all tired of blind-man’s buff, there was a great game at snap-dragon, and when fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail, something smaller than an ordinary wash-house copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubbling with a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible.
‘This,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, ‘this is, indeed, comfort.’ ‘Our invariable custom,’ replied Mr. Wardle. ‘Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now—servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.’
Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred. The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated into the farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face.”
But of course, we know from the various “movements” of the novel to this point, that Pickwickian pleasures and the happiness that Pickwick himself enjoys, are really quite transient. Time and time again, our “hero” moves through delightful experiences–often with his friends–only to suffer some kind of mental or physical debacle–sometimes slight, sometimes more injurious. The narrative has adroitly prepared us for these intermittent catastrophes. So, as we know, then, in spite of the Christmas festivities and good cheer, a larger obstacle awaits Mr. P after all the Holiday cheer. He will be going into court vs. his landlady. But I’m not so sure we first-time readers (like me) are prepared for the horrible “REALITY” that awaits us and Mr. Pickwick. Here is one small piece of the courtroom drama that Mr. Pickwick and we readers must face and endure:
“‘But enough of this, gentlemen,’ said Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz, ‘it is difficult to smile with an aching heart; it is ill jesting when our deepest sympathies are awakened. My client’s hopes and prospects are ruined, and it is no figure of speech to say that her occupation is gone indeed. The bill is down—but there is no tenant. Eligible single gentlemen pass and repass-but there is no invitation for to inquire within or without. All is gloom and silence in the house; even the voice of the child is hushed; his infant sports are disregarded when his mother weeps; his “alley tors” and his “commoneys” are alike neglected; he forgets the long familiar cry of “knuckle down,” and at tip-cheese, or odd and even, his hand is out. But Pickwick, gentlemen, Pickwick, the ruthless destroyer of this domestic oasis in the desert of Goswell Street—Pickwick who has choked up the well, and thrown ashes on the sward—Pickwick, who comes before you to-day with his heartless tomato sauce and warming-pans—Pickwick still rears his head with unblushing effrontery, and gazes without a sigh on the ruin he has made. Damages, gentlemen—heavy damages is the only punishment with which you can visit him;”
Such a terrible sight–to see Mr. Pickwick so publicly embarrassed by the terrible and injurious falsehoods spewed to the jury and all present in the courtroom. His character is brutally and vociferously attacked and demeaned by this man, an account of Mr. Pickwick’s misdeeds that is blatantly awful. The novel, in showing this image of the British court at this moment in the early nineteenth-century, must have appalled its readers. At least I’m appalled and, of course, so to is Mr. Pickwick and all his dear friends who love him. Yep– as I’ve heard it before in our comments on the legal system while we read the “Sketches”–“The Law is an Ass.”
So, then, the novel takes us from the “ideal” to the “real” in just a few chapters. What we thought was going to come to pass HAS come to pass. Mr. Pickwick is now in REAL trouble. But wait, maybe the Christmas Chapter wasn’t all comic festivities, fun and games. there is a key moment when things do go, slightly downhill. Maybe almost mortally so. Mr. Pickwick is on the ice and wants to continue to join in on the fun, and is game to try the “ice slide.” Here, he takes a fall and the metaphor is almost too obvious:
“The sport was at its height, the sliding was at the quickest, the laughter was at the loudest, when a sharp smart crack was heard. There was a quick rush towards the bank, a wild scream from the ladies, and a shout from Mr. Tupman. A large mass of ice disappeared; the water bubbled up over it; Mr. Pickwick’s hat, gloves, and handkerchief were floating on the surface; and this was all of Mr. Pickwick that anybody could see.”
In some respects, this fall through the ice might be seen as a comic moment, sort of like a pratfall in a Chaplin or Keaton film. But the comic “picture” is of a man at the height of happiness “skating on thin ice”–so that it’s inevitable that he’s gonna fall through. And this is what the novel has been telling us all along. Pickwick, perhaps as a representative of all of us, has been skating on thin ice since the novel has begun. And here we are, in the penultimate Christmas chapter where everything seems to have gone so perfectly. But we know, as readers of this novel, the good is mixed with the bad. He might have drowned here, but he doesn’t and rises to live and celebrate another day. He’s resilient and a “tough old bird”–but this brief moment is surely a warning for the horrible “fall” that will come with his day in court.
At this point, I think it’s relevant to visit a moment early in the novel–chapter 2 to be exact–where our hero first meets Alfred Jingle. Without knowing, perhaps, the full irony and the truth of what he is uttering. Mr. Pickwick after hearing Jingle’s discourse about watching your head, makes one of his most prescient statement in the entire novel:
“‘Heads, heads—take care of your heads!’ cried the loquacious stranger, as they came out under the low archway, which in those days formed the entrance to the coach-yard. ‘Terrible place—dangerous work—other day—five children—mother—tall lady, eating sandwiches—forgot the arch—crash—knock—children look round—mother’s head off—sandwich in her hand—no mouth to put it in—head of a family off—shocking, shocking! Looking at Whitehall, sir?—fine place—little window—somebody else’s head off there, eh, sir?—he didn’t keep a sharp look-out enough either—eh, Sir, eh?’
‘I am ruminating,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘on the strange mutability of human affairs.’”
Of course, this statement follows the rapid fire comically “loaded” dialogue of Mr. Jingle, but never more has its resonance seemed so precise as when put in the context of the recent events he’s experienced in the two chapters I’ve just discussed. The “Ideal” segues to the “real” and the “real” has landed Mr. Pickwick in quagmire seeming beyond his control. At this very early juncture in the novel, it’s almost as though Pickwick has just tossed, inadvertently, this line out. Little does he know, I bet, that at this moment, he’s cast out one of the governing themes of his life (and ours?) and this novel!
And then there is Jingle’s final comment:
“‘he didn’t keep a sharp look-out enough either—eh, Sir, eh?’”
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I love both the delight and the analysis here, Lenny! The quotes you highlight are so wonderful, including the allusion to the earlier sequence with Jingle.
I love this: “And this is what the novel has been telling us all along. Pickwick, perhaps as a representative of all of us, has been skating on thin ice since the novel has begun. And here we are, in the penultimate Christmas chapter where everything seems to have gone so perfectly. But we know, as readers of this novel, the good is mixed with the bad. He might have drowned here, but he doesn’t and rises to live and celebrate another day. He’s resilient and a “tough old bird”–but this brief moment is surely a warning for the horrible ‘fall’ that will come with his day in court.”
It does appear that the Christmas sequence is a kind of respite mid-way point in the novel, pointing us to the way things should be, often in contrast to the way they *are*. I’m reminded of the line from later in the novel, which well sums up this whole idea: “There ate dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.”
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Yes, Rach, I agree with you. The Christmas Sequence comes at about the midpoint of the novel (Did it actually get published during the holiday season?) and gives a nice, sort of refreshing pause to the hectic up and down pace of the novel thus far. In this regard, I’d love to go back into the other classical “Picaresque” novels we’ve often referred to to see if the same kind of “relaxing,” joyous and celebrative moments take place to sort of slow the narratives down for a bit and give the protagonists time to catch their breathes before taking on further frenetic adventures. But, alas, TOM JONES, RODERICK RANDOM, AND DON QUIXOTE are rather time consuming and complex novels to work through and would interfere too much with my reading of PICKWICK and Dickens. But some of our other members might have some clues about this.
Dickens, of course, is reformulating the PICARESQUE and making it his “own” type of travel/adventure narrative with a middle-aged protagonist as opposed to Fielding’s and Smollett’s young protagonists. Yet Cervantes’ Don is more in line with Mr. P’s age and has a partner (Sancho) probably about the same age as Sam Weller. But even QUIXOTE is a “reformulation” of other classic Picaro narratives. You would know this better than I, but can we include Shakespeare in this “Buddy” narrative classification? And would there be the same kinds of “respite” in HIS Buddy dramas that occur in PICKWICK? And in this Shakespearean context, can we speak of the light and dark juxtapositions in the Henry-Falstaff dramas that Dickens might have borrowed from? Light shading more into darkness as the stories progress, yet –as you put it–“lights” finally “stronger in the contrast” as the narratives move toward their close?
Good heaves, so much to consider here as we try to capture the “tone” and philosophy of PICKWICK PAPERS.
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I wrote the following while and after we earlier discussed the “Scotland Yard” SKETCH some time ago (Jan. 17–to be precise).
The reference is to Shelly’s poem “Mutability” and I’ll reprint it again, here, with my short commentary that followed:
“Here is Shelley’s take on the inevitability of change:
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mutability” (1814-15; 1816)
We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:
Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.
We rest.–A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.–One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:
It is the same!–For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.
All of the poem is of particular relevance to the notions and creative manifestations of change we see in some of Boz’s sketches, but the last four lines, here, especially catch the tone of Dicken’s idea/s…. Of course, I’m really looking forward to how these “concerns” will play out in the novels! Or won’t they?”
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What a brilliant reference to the Shelley!!! Going to ponder this one…
It’s a poem, I think, that works quite well in the context of of the world of Mr. Pickwick, where the ups and downs of life that are contained throughout the novel are expressed so well in the dialogue I quoted above by Alfred Jingle. We can lose our lives in an instant either by sheer accident or by not keeping “a sharp lookout.” Mortality is always a present factor; PICKWICK then, in its largest sense, IS about “mutability”–the various LIFE changes that take place on a daily, almost minute-by-minute basis.
I especially like the line “A dream has power to poison sleep” as it relates especially to the nightmarish/dreamlike moments that occur throughout the novel–and I’m thinking of the often morbid interpolated tales that, like a nightmare, poison (at least temporarily) our comic “reading” of PICKWICK.
Characters in PICKWICK ARE, like the “frail frame” of the lyre where “no second motion brings /One mood or modulation like the last.” There are similarities from thought to thought, from action to action in the novel, but there is always a difference as the activity advances. But, in this same framework, I especially like the notion that people (characters in PICKWICK) are “frail frames.” Too many incidents, thus far in the novel, characterize personalities as being vulnerable, weak or delicate; often, the actions against the various characters are filled with pain and much risk in the context of their lighter experiences and circumstances:
Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:
Ultimately, in his novel, “mutability” is linked to mortality; I think especially of the close call where Mr. Pickwick plunges through the ice during the Christmas sequence. This is the most upsetting of all his many physical falls, and comes close to being, perhaps, his most injurious! For a moment, “Night” closed “round” him and he was almost “lost forever….”
In the midst of these ruminations about mutability and the always present probability of disaster, I’m wondering if we might call PICKWICK’s hero an “existential” traveler moving valiantly through space and time while slowly becoming aware that “Yet soon/night closes round.”
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Another installment of In-Between background reading:
Anytime you mix a beautiful, clever young woman with a petty, jealous husband, add the spice of a high ranking, popular, rakish politician and infuse it with gossip and lawyers, you have the recipe for a delicious scandal!
In 1836, the Honorable George Norton sued the then-sitting Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lord Melbourne, for having had “criminal conversation” (i.e., sexual relations) with his wife, Caroline Sheridan Norton. The trial, held on June 22, 1836, was attended by Charles Dickens in his capacity as court reporter for the Morning Chronicle and his 26-column report was published the next day (Atkinson 1-2). Nine months later (curiously!), in March 1837, the 12th number of “The Pickwick Papers” appeared which contained, according to the Edinburgh Review, ‘one of the most acute and pointed satires upon the state and administration of English law that ever appeared in the light and lively dress of fiction’, that is, Chapter 34 – “Is wholly devoted to a full and faithful Report of the memorable Trial of Bardell against Pickwick” (Butt & Tillotson, 71).
Similarities between Bardell v Pickwick and Norton v Melbourne would have been obvious to contemporary audiences. While the claims in the suits differed (breach of promise versus criminal conversation), the “evidence” and the legal players were cut of the same cloth. Innocuous short notes from Lord Melbourne to Mrs Norton were given great importance, witness testimony was discredited by virtue of its being coached & bought, lawyers postured and bloviated. And it became clear that “‘Mr Norton was evidently under some delusion, and had been made a tool of by others for political motives . . . It has been put into the plaintiff’s mind by some insinuating rogue by whom he had been played upon. Someone had laid hold of him, and for indirect purposes advised him to bring forward this charge, of which he had never dreamed before.’” (Atkinson quoting defense attorney Campbell, 19) The great difference between the two cases is that Lord Melbourne was exonerated whereas Mr Pickwick was not.
It comes as no surprise then that Dickens “saw the possibilities of the [Norton] trial, not only [in] the prosecuting counsels comments on the formal notes of Lord Melbourne and the browbeating of witnesses, but more soberly, as material for satiric exposure of social corruption, for it was a flagrantly deliberate attempt to damage the character of innocent persons” (Butt & Tillotson 71). Dickens’s serio-comic treatment of the case “is the earliest and one of the most successful instances of Dickens’s use of topical appeal in his novels and an excellent example of how he selected and reassembled facts . . . and transformed them by exaggeration and invention into a timeless comic fantasy” (71-72). One of the beauties of reading Dickens’s novels chronologically is that we get to witness the evolution of his treatment of topical and often controversial issues.
In terms of our current reading, “Mrs Bardell’s misunderstanding of Mr Pickwick’s intentions” is important because it “supplies a plot-interest which continues to the end of the novel” (71); AND “with the discovery of Mrs. Bardell in the arms of Mr. Pickwick, a continuous plot exists” (Maclean 199); AND the misunderstanding “with all its consequences” is “the main plot . . . in the sense that it has greater importance than any other for the narrative as a whole and covers the largest number of chapters” (Monod 98). Thus Chapter 34 is pivotal not only because it is more than “merely a star episode; it is one of the key scenes of the novel” (Butt & Tillotson 72), but because it showcases one of the key elements of Dickens’s genius.
John Butt & Kathleen Tillotson. “Dickens at Work”
Diane Atkinson. “The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton: Victorian England’s ‘Scandal of the Century’ and the Fallen Socialite Who Changed Women’s Lives Forever”
Syleve Monod. “Dickens the Novelist”
H.N. Maclean. “Mr. Pickwick and the Seven Deadly Sins” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Dec., 1953), pp. 198-212
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Dear Pickwickian Inimitables,
I continue with Simon Prebble’s splendid reading of The Pickwick Papers.
I’m stunned by this community’s depth and range of the comments, resources shared, and insights into this sort of “Bildungsroman” of Dickens as a journalist-becoming-a-novelist of incomparable prowess.
Much like our son, John, who between his junior and senior years in undergraduate school was painting houses.
He was listening to “Jeeves and Wooster,” and several times nearly toppled from laughter.
That’s me walking and nearly dropping to the ground on a few occasions–most especially when encountering a Tony or Sam Wellerism!
Please, Dickensian Friends, continue to share your wisdom and wit, inspired by Dickens! So enriching!
Keep up those TIMELY UTTERANCES!
P.S. I must commisserate with our writer-friend, who is tempted “to despair melodramatically at his genius like a fainting lady.” The anxiety of influence strikes again!
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Just a few notes here from this week’s reading. I’m a little distracted this week and I won’t be posting next week because my son is getting married on April 2nd – Yippee!! But I’ll be reading & checking the blog.
Of note: The first number of “Oliver Twist” appeared in February 1837 concurrent with either number 12 or 13 of “Pickwick Papers” (I’m finding conflicting information). At any rate, from here on in we will be seeing Dickens at one of his busiest writing times. And note also that Lant Street, where Mr Sawyer’s lodgings are, is the same street where 12-year old Charles Dickens lived in lodgings while his father & family were incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison for debt.
Two situations in this section stand out to me because they will be revisited in future novels. The first is the bachelor party thrown by Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen and the “swarry” of “a select company of Bath footmen”. We shall both types of such dinners in (at least) “Barnaby Rudge” and “David Copperfield”. The second situation is the exposé of people of Bath – from the lowest to the highest, they present as terribly self-absorbed and ambitious. We shall see these types again in greater detail particularly in “Dombey and Son” but also in “Martin Chuzzlewit”, “Little Dorrit”, “Bleak House” and “Our Mutual Friend”. I don’t mean to spoil anything for anyone, I just want these situations to be noticed for future reference.
Sam continues to be “that favoured servitor” and his character becomes more rounded as we see him (1) try to impart wisdom to Mr Pickwick via the sausage maker story – He accidentally fell into it, became inextricably entangled; (2) compose a Valentine; (3) accompany his father to a temperance meeting and remove him from same; (4) cast light on the practices of Dodson & Fogg via his sworn testimony; (5) expose the hypocrisy of the footmen of Bath; and (6) set out to retrieve Mr Winkle by whatever means “you think necessary” per Mr Pickwick’s orders.
Mr Pickwick’s insistence of his innocence proves futile as the Baradell v Pickwick case is decided against him. Was it the pathetic sight of Mrs Bardell and her little boy, the damning testimony of Mr Pickwick’s friends, the eloquence of Serjeant BuzFuz, or (in all likelihood) because it was close to dinner time that a guilty verdict is returned? Whatever the reason, the guilty verdict requires Mr Pickwick pay costs, which he flatly refuses to do, leaving him with two months’ liberty before Dodson & Fogg takes further steps to claim their costs.
Mr Winkle’s role expands and his character shifts from “sporting” gentleman to lover and rival. He finds himself in hot water with Ben Allen & Bob Sawyer, Mr Pickwick, and Mr Dowler. And Tony Weller beings to take his revenge on Mr Stiggins, and continues to try to guide his son in the ways of romance.
Quote of note is the comment about Serjeant Snubbin’s clerk Mr Mallard – “When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.” Shivers!!
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Dear friends ~ what marvelous insights! I’m loving it so much; and Boze and I were just having an email conversation about our love of these characters and situations. I agree with D about the hazards of listening to such funny sequences while in a public place or when one’s safety is at stake…I’ve often been thankful for a quiet alleyway where I can laugh at Sam’s genius comments without being stared at by passers-by…
Chris, CONGRATS to your son, and your whole family on the wedding!!!!! We’ll miss your wonderful research and analyses here… but how wonderful and Dickensian. 🙂
Thanks for the context about the trial. I’d reread this week’s sequence early in the week, and could readily see that Dickens was spoofing trials he himself had witnessed and/or reported on, but didn’t realize (or had totally forgotten) this famous case about Lord M, which clearly was the butt of his jokes here. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
Lenny, the topic of Mutability I think is something that REALLY needs to continue forward with our conversations here! I wouldn’t have connected these things…and yet, I think it is hugely pertinent. Death, and the darker facets of human life and suffering, are always part of the whole picture. I was talking recently to Dana R. about certain characters of Dickens for whom the experience of suffering and of mortality effects a change. I don’t want to say anything here, for those who don’t know where Pickwick goes, but I will say that we see this happening, and not only in our fearless leader, Mr. P. One sees this in certain other characters in Dickens’ novels, too…characters otherwise vain or flippant who end up changing for the better through suffering and brushes with mortality. At the moment, I’m thinking of a certain character in Martin Chuzzlewit, though I confess it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it. So: the mutability of existence; but I often associate that word with a slightly negative association ~ e.g. random change; things passing. But there is another kind of change possible, in the changing state of existence; the interior change that comes about because of it all.
Oh gosh…I got off-topic…I’d only got on initially to let everyone know that I’m out of town right now (also for a similar situation…my mom and I are helping my sister pick out her wedding dress! Though the wedding won’t be until October 1st). But due to that, I might be a few hours late on posting the weekly wrap-up. I’ll be sure to get it up tomorrow, but it might be closer to 9:30am Pacific time rather than the usual 5:30am-ish, Pacific time.
Hope your week is lovely, friends…more tomorrow!