The Pickwick Papers, Week 5 ~ and a Week 4 Wrap-up

Wherein we glance back at the fourth week of the #DickensClub Reading of The Pickwick Papers (week twelve of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week five.

“The Trial,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

If ever I should have to appear in court for “breach of promise of marriage,” I definitely want Sam Weller on the witness stand! Who else loved Sam’s dig at Dodson and Fogg?

Chris gives us some context for this week’s installments: Dickens would have been beginning publication of Oliver Twist, and so “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.”

So much to discuss, friends, but first…

General Mems

If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 13 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 84), and Week 5 of The Pickwick Papers (our second read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the fifth 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!

“Mr. Pickwick Slides,” by Phiz

And a very warm welcome to Dave B, our newest member! 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 Four Pickwick Summary (Chapters 30-37)

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.

~Lenny H.

We closed the previous week’s read with the marvelous Christmas scene at Manor Farm, and the interpolated tale, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” a kind of prototype A Christmas Carol-in-miniature.

Rach M. comment

This week, still with Mr. Wardle and Co, we met the “Sawbones”-in-training (medical students), Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen, the latter being the brother of that same Arabella of whom Mr. Winkle is so fond, and the former being the “intended” for Arabella ~ at least, intended so by her brother.

The ice skating party that ensues is made rather more dramatic by the staggering Mr. Winkle, who clearly doesn’t know how to skate, and by Mr. Pickwick’s accident: he falls into the frigid water as the ice cracks beneath him. (Thankfully, it is extremely shallow!) Lenny calls this sequence “a beaut!” and adds: “There’s ‘thin ice’ just ahead! LOOK out.”

“The First Interview with Mr. Serjeant Snubbin,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

“‘Walentine’s day, sir,’ responded Sam; ‘reg’lar good day for a breach o’ promise trial.'”

We learn next that in the case of Bardell & Pickwick (which is to come up, as Sam notes ironically, on Valentine’s Day), Pickwick is to be aided by Serjeant Snubbin (and his assistant, Mr. Phunky). Pickwick insists upon meeting with Snubbin ahead of time, to assure him of his own veracity and innocence. Mr. Pickwick would rather not have his aid unless Snubbin wholeheartedly believes him.

They gather at Mr. Bob Sawyer’s abode, but cold water is metaphorically thrown upon the gathering by the landlady, because Mr. Sawyer is behind in his rent, and his party making a great deal of noise.

“The Valentine,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Sam meets with his father, sharing the valentine he has composed for Mary. He and his father then plan on utilizing the two tickets to the local Temperance meeting to get up to some mischief, and humiliate Mr. Stiggins, who arrives completely drunk. (Chris notes the way in which Sam’s character becomes more fully rounded out this week, as we see him in a variety of situations.)

Finally, it is the day of the trial of Bardell & Pickwick! Serjeant Buzfuz is the prosecuting lead, and holds forth in a most resounding way against poor Mr. Pickwick, who is almost helpless against his blustering speeches, combined with Dodson & Fogg’s manipulative display of the womens’ emotions. Nor is Mr. Pickwick aided by the well-meaning but completely awkward and dumbfounded witness of Mr. Winkle, who does more for Mrs. Bardell’s case than for Pickwick’s. The one who does most for Pickwick ~ and whom the prosecution tries to take off the stand as quickly as possible ~ is Sam Weller, whose ironic and unflappable truth-telling wins the good-humored approval of the court ~ even if it isn’t enough to ultimately win the case.

“‘I mean to speak up, sir,’ replied Sam; ‘I am in the service o’ that ‘ere gen’l’man, and a wery good service it is.’

“‘Little to do, and plenty to get, I suppose?’ said Serjeant Buzfuz, with jocularity.

“‘Oh, quite enough to get, sir, as the soldier said ven they ordered him three hundred and fifty lashes,’ replied Sam.”

The court finds for the plaintiff, with the damages set for 750 pounds ~ a fee which Mr. Pickwick is determined not to pay under any circumstances, even if it means the debtors’ prison, averse as he is to lining the pockets of Dodson and Fogg.

Chris writes on this sequence:

“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.”

~Chris M.

“Mr. Winkle’s Situation when the Door ‘blew-to’,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Meanwhile, as the Pickwickians have a little time on their hands before the execution of the damages and costs, they journey to Bath, finding themselves in high ~ or, perhaps, highly odd ~ society, and in the friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Dowler. They all stay at the White Hart, and thereafter take up private lodgings with the Dowlers in the upper part of a house in the Royal Crescent. Mr. Pickwick finds and reads “The True Legend of Prince Bladud.”

“Mr Winkle’s role expands and his character shifts from ‘sporting’ gentleman to lover and rival” (Chris M). In a Chaplinesque episode, Mr. Winkle ends up getting accidentally shut out of the house in his dressing gown, and, to avoid being seen by approaching ladies, dashes into the sedan chair occupied by Mrs. Dowler, who is just pulling up late at night. Both are seen by Mrs. Craddock, and she tells Mr. Dowler that his wife is running off with another gentleman!

After a brief foot-chase with Mr. Dowler close on his heels, Winkle manages to return to the house, hastily packing up his things, and is discovered in the morning to have fled. Sam, who has missed the action due to having been invited to a party of aristocratic-minded men-in-service that same night, is called by Mr. Pickwick the next morning to follow Mr. Winkle, and bring him back.

“‘The instant you discover him, write to me immediately, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘If he attempts to run away from you, knock him down, or lock him up. You have my full authority, Sam.'”

Discussion Wrap-up

Looking Back on the Christmas Sequence; Other Favorite Passages

Boze sets our priorities straight right off: “But of course we’re all dying to talk about the Christmas sequence, the first of Dickens’ career,” and proceeds to write a marvelous summation of the joyous thing-ness of this first Dickensian Christmas, as Dickens portrays it in Chapter 28, late in our previous week’s reading. But here is Boze’s comment in full, in gallery mode, along with some of his other favorite passages:

Rach M. comment

Lenny and I both agreed about the joyous, rollicking good time that is depicted in the Christmas sequence, and I loved the idea of a Peter Ackroyd book along the lines of Boze’s suggestion. The Adaptation Stationmaster is not as fond of Pickwick as Dickens’ other works, writing: “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 that the Christmas sequence stands out as exceptional: “I love his description of Christmas. You can tell it was a favorite holiday of his and he loved writing that.”

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Lenny writes:

“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.’

Daniel M. comment

“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.”

On the joys of listening to such sequences on audiobook, Daniel also brought up the danger of listening to Simon Prebble’s brilliant narration of The Pickwick Papers while out walking. (I too have quite often been thankful for an obliging alleyway where I can laugh at Wellerisms or at Winkle’s stunts without being witnessed by passers-by.)

The Christmas sequence comes as a kind of respite or mid-point in the novel. Yet we also have a warning in the falling-through-thin-ice sequence. Lenny writes:

“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.”

~Lenny H.

The Real Case Behind Bardell v Pickwick…

I wrote that the magical Christmas sequence was a joyful passage celebrating what life should be, rather than what is often is, and as Lenny writes, “the novel takes us from the ‘ideal’ to the ‘real’ in just a few chapters.” After all, it is soon followed by Pickwick’s day in court, and another public humiliation!

Lenny writes:

“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.'”

~Lenny H.

We know that Dickens was intimately familiar with the law and with court proceedings, and Chris gave us the most marvelous context from her “in-between background” readings, for what Victorian readers would have been referencing in their own minds (“obvious to contemporary audiences”) while reading the brilliant spoof in Mr. Pickwick’s trial for “Breach of Promise.” Here it is in full:

Continuing the Conversation About the “Interpolated Tales”

Both on twitter and on our post, I brought up the continuing question of the interpolated tales.

Chris had recently questioned why we hear so little of Mr. Pickwick’s reaction to these tales, which brings up questions of their relation to the story as a whole: are these tales intentional, written specifically for Pickwick, and do they reflect the Pickwickian journey, or effect change of perspective in our Pickwickian friends? Or are they more…random?

I wrote:

“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?”

~Rach M.

Of course, Dr. Christian Lehmann had said in the video shared in our Introduction of about a month ago, this is a novel of “consumption.” We are reading of the experiences of the Pickwickians, and of the information they consume, as they occur. And perhaps the narrator of this journey simply doesn’t know what their reactions were!

Had Dickens intended some of these stories for publication elsewhere, before deciding to put them in as part of the “experience” of the Pickwickians? Professor Robert Patten writes that, at least for this week’s tale, “The True Legend of Prince Bladud,” we have Dickens’ own manuscript; the tale is integrally a part of the number, and edited right along with the rest of it.

“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).


After the discussion about the Christmas passage, Lenny brings us back to an earlier point in the novel, and that key line of Mr. Pickwick’s, “‘I am ruminating,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘on the strange mutability of human affairs.’” Here’s what Lenny writes:

Then, Lenny brings us back to his reference and commentary on Shelley’s poem, “Mutability,” for our reference here:

“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?”

~Lenny H.

Lenny analyzes it beautifully here:

I think the theme of mutability, as connected to mortality, is a huge Pickwickian theme; and in the mutable circumstances with which we’re surrounded, I reflect that there is another kind of “change” happening because of it:

Rach M. comment

For Future Reference: Bachelor Parties, ‘Swarries,’ the Picaresque Tradition, and Light-Dark Themes

Besides our ongoing conversations about some certain passages and themes (the interpolated tales, mutability, incarceration, etc) related specifically to Pickwick, Chris calls our attention to two sequences this past week which will come up again in future reads in our chronological journey:

“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.”

Chris M.

And in response to an analysis of Lenny’s, I refer us again to the light-dark themes (note again the many references to the sun…) that run throughout the novel:

“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 are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.'”

~Rach M.

And more to consider as we move ahead, as Lenny writes on the picaresque narrative tradition, and how Dickens makes it his own, and on similar classic “buddy” stories, and on the light-dark themes:

“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?”

~Lenny H.

A Look-ahead to Week Five of The Pickwick Papers (29 March-4 April)

This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 38-46 (published in the serial numbers XIV-XVI of April, June, and July, 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.


  1. Dickensian Wren, and Friends,

    Reading through the thorough and careful recapitulation of the reading and discussion made me think that we, as a community of readers, are on our own interesting journey of discovery and, we hope, improvement as human beings.

    Thank you for this splendid service of portraying the journey . . . holding this mirror up to our experience together.

    The central motif of mutability and mortality is deep and rich. Mutability as apparently random events, such as Mr. Pickwick’s being accused of breach of marriage proposal, and as opportunity for inward insight and change. Mr. Pickwick seems far more sinned against than sinning, and, instead of becoming cynical and bitter, he becomes kinder, gentler, more compassionate.

    I resonate with Lenny’s observation: “Pickwick, perhaps as a representative of all of us, has been skating on thin ice since the novel has begun.” His circumstances seem largely outside his control–e.g., the thin ice, the court proceeding. It is, of course, how he responds to the events and circumstances of his life with his quintessential benevolence that matters.

    May we all likewise benefit from the mutability of life!

    Sam continues to be a beacon of goodness, loyalty, and sweet slyness. We all need a Sam Weller in our lives!

    “Sam Weller, whose ironic and unflappable truth-telling wins the good-humored approval of the court” shows how his manner of authentic truth-telling “speaks” to the groundlings and is missed and even condescended to by the “higherlings.”

    One final thought about the readings, discussion, and summary: the chiaroscuro reality of Pickwick’s life and world, and ours. The lights are finally stronger in the contrast. Sam’s kindheartedness and canny intelligence stand out brightly alongside the smug, demeaning, condescending, and accusatory spirit of the court.

    Blessings on the Pickwickian journey!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Daniel: some wonderful summing-up here with nice enlargements of what was said last week. That circumstances DO seem mostly outside of Pickwick’s control is one of the hallmarks of the novel. But there are situations during which our hero does take the “offense”–when he joins Mr. Wardle in the chase after Jingle during the kidnapping sequence, when he speaks directly and forcibly with Nupkins the magistrate, revealing Jingle’s scheme (and thereby liberating himself of any wrongdoing), and deciding on his own to go straight to the Fleet, rejecting Perker’s advice.

      This latter is a classic instance of comic hubris, and will sink him further into the dark depths of isolation and humilty–a movement toward which the novel has set out for him for quite some time. Yet as you so well put it: “he responds to the events and circumstances of his life with his quintessential benevolence that matters.” And that is the test that he’ll pass during his subjugation in the Prison.

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  2. Reading back over the trial sequence this week, I’m convinced it’s one of the great comical set pieces in literature. I’m thinking especially of this moment when Sam is in the witness box:

    “Here a voice in the gallery exclaimed aloud, ‘Quite right, Samivel; quite right. Put it down a we, my lord, put it down a we.’
    “‘Who is that, who dares to address the court?’ said the little judge, looking up. ‘Usher.’
    “‘Yes, my lord.’
    “‘Bring that person here instantly.’
    “‘Yes, my lord.’
    “‘But as the usher didn’t find the person, he didn’t bring him; and, after a great commotion, all the people who had got up to look for the culprit, sat down again.”

    Compare with this (strikingly similar) moment during the trial scene in the first Alice book:

    “After that,” continued the Hatter, “I cut some more bread-and-butter—”
    “But what did the Dormouse say?” one of the jury asked.
    “That I can’t remember,” said the Hatter.
    “You must remember,” remarked the King, “or I’ll have you executed.”
    The miserable Hatter dropped his teacup and bread-and-butter, and went down on one knee. “I’m a poor man, your Majesty,” he began.
    “You’re a very poor speaker,” said the King.
    Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.”

    Both Dickens and Carroll seem to know in their bones why a scene like this is funny. The trials in both books function as a culmination of sorts, but also a victory lap. They’re a way of showing off the sheer prodigality of character that the book has given us. Anyone who’s been even remotely connected with Pickwick (or Alice) in the preceding pages will be trotted back onstage to behave in precisely the ways we’ve come to expect. Sam will drop some absurd Wellerisms and seem confused over the spelling of his own name; the Queen will casually order the beheading of everyone; the Duchess’s cook will make everyone sneeze. At the same time there’s a joy in seeing this cast of oddballs sparring with each other in an enclosed setting, seeing how their individual foibles clash and ricochet like billiard balls. It’s akin to the feeling we get seeing the various suspects thrown together in a murder mystery. As a writer I’m fascinated by this process, how a novelist wrings joy and laughter out of a stacked cast of colorful eccentrics, and Dickens does it better than just about anyone. His secondary characters may lack psychological realism—for that we have George Eliot—but he’s a genius at giving them one or two memorable attributes, so that we know them instantly and feel a sense of anticipation whenever they make an appearance. Aspiring novelists take note!

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  3. I just got back from our Portland trip, so I’ll have more to say soon ~ but just had to mention how much I love that hilarious sequence with the scientific gentleman viewing the lantern blazing & going out 😂 it is one of my favorite sequences, perhaps because of it’s randomness!

    Gosh, but again, I cried at the scene when Pickwick meets up with Jingle in the Fleet, as I seem to do every time. What a whole powerful sequence follows. In spite of all that Jingle has done, it breaks my heart to see him so broken and humbled, and still trying to bear up. Someone so unique and full of life ~ however misdirected his has been.

    And Mr Pickwick’s goodness and tenderness toward him, in spite of all the Jingle has done to him and his friends…gosh, it really is the heart of the whole story, I think. And it is mirrored, of course, by Sam with Job ~ Pickwick knew Sam’s goodhearted and compassionate nature would win over his innate (rightful) anger at Job, or else he’d have warned Sam previously about the walk Sam was to accompany him on. I love the admiration expressed for Mr. Pickwick by both Sam and Job. Mr. Pickwick, that “angel in tights and gaiters.”

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  4. Ok – so I lied and am not taking the break I had intended – such is the pull of Dickens! I just want to mention a couple of things.

    First, Chapters 41-43 make up serial number 15. Publication of this number, and the was delayed, along with the 5th number (Ch. 9-11) of “Oliver Twist”, due to the sudden death of Dickens’s 17-yr-old sister-in-law Mary Hogarth. Mary had been living with the Charles, Catherine & new baby Charlie. Mary collapsed after an evening at the theatre and died in Dickens’s arms. Her death was to haunt Dickens pretty much forever and to inspire his portrayal of several of his young women characters.

    Second, in this section Dickens makes an extended harsh critique of the law, prisons, and poor relief. We should note this because it comes up again and again in his novels. I note especially these comments:

    “Why, I don’t exactly know about perjury, my dear sir . . . Harsh word, my dear sir, very harsh word indeed. It’s a legal fiction, my dear sir, nothing more.” Somehow “perjury” and “legal fiction” are two different things – like today’s “propaganda” and “fake news”. Dickens did not trust The Law, “There’s wery little trust at that shop” he has Sam say, and gives myriad examples of why in this section alone.
    Mr Pickwick “took to wondering what possible temptation could have induced a dingy-looking fly that was crawling over his pantaloons to come into a close prison, when he had the choice of so many airy situations – a course of meditation which led him to the irresistible conclusion that the insect was mad.” Later he describes the prison room as “filthily dirty” – I can not even imagine how bad it must be to use “filthily” to modify “dirty”!
    “the just and wholesome law which declares that the sturdy felon shall be fed and clothed, and that the penniless debtor shall be left to die of starvation and nakedness.” Mr Pickwick’s benevolence is set as the counter balance to the Establishment System.

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    1. “Mr Pickwick’s benevolence is set as the counter balance to the Establishment System.” ~ Love that, Chris!!!!

      And I’m so happy you popped in, as the week would NOT have been the same without you!! Hope the wedding arrangements and activities are all going as smoothly as possible! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. p.s. And thank you for that reminder about that important event in this week’s read ~ the death of Mary Hogarth ~ which was an event that, as you say, haunted him forever after, and impacted so much in his writing, I think.

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  5. Not to sound repetitive, but I feel like this week’s read is, in a sense, the heart of the story. In particular, the meeting with Jingle and Job in the Fleet.

    Jingle is absolutely one of the great characters, and I’m astounded at Dickens’ craft here. Here’s someone who, by “rights,” we shouldn’t necessarily be feeling sorry for, after all he has done to the Pickwickians and their friends (and many others we don’t know), particularly Tupman and Miss Wardle. But the way Dickens writes him, we can’t help but be heartbroken that someone as full of life as Mr Jingle is, is “reduced” to his current state.

    I think Dickens well portrays that suffering has the capacity to remind us of our common humanity; one can either respond to suffering by hardening the heart and shutting out the world (e.g. like Scrooge, until he gets, one may say, the fear of God put into him); or one can change for the better through suffering. Jingle, astoundingly, is one of the latter.

    And Jingle’s (like Job’s) is not the only character arc here ~ I think we see a new level of humanity and growth in Pickwick and Sam too. Pickwick has always been good and noble and right-thinking as a rule, but with the experience of personal suffering/confinement, and the witness of others’ suffering, he just shines. There is a new level of delicacy, tenderness, thoughtfulness to him, especially in the scene where he takes Jingle’s arm, that makes me cry every time.

    And I think it’s telling and significant that here is one instance ~ helping Jingle and Job ~ where Pickwick has not needed help/advice himself, nor gone to Sam first. Dr. Christian had brought out in that Pickwick lecture and discussion (I think it was brought up by one of the members) in the intro that, to paraphrase the person who brought it up, Pickwick is the “one who needs help.” Not so here. He completely takes the initiative, as if by instinct, to delicately and kindly/respectfully help Jingle and Job to get something to eat, get Jingle’s pawned clothing back, all BEFORE Sam even realizes they’re there in the Fleet! I think this is huge. There are a couple of things this tells me about Pickwick and Sam here. Pickwick has grown in empathy and true kindness and tenderness; he also brings Sam into the actions once they’ve begun, both as a quiet model for Sam to follow (especially as Job would likely be more comfortable with an “equal,” Sam), but it also shows Pickwick’s entire confidence in Sam and his benevolent nature, that he gives Sam no warning or preface ahead of time about Jingle and Job, nor his own actions towards them. He knows Sam will do the right thing.

    We might say that Pickwick has stepped from the role of one who, however greathearted and well-meaning, is always needing assistance (usually from Sam) to one who is taking a fatherly role. (A true benefactor to Job and Jingle, and a true father to Sam.)

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  6. I know I said earlier that I don’t The Pickwick Papers laugh-out-loud funny that often, but that doesn’t mean I never find it laugh-out-loud funny. That whole thing in the trial scene about chops and tomato sauce is a riot. So is the simultaneously reluctant and too willing testimony of Mr. Winkle and the much better testimony of Sam Weller.

    (An earlier part of the book I also consider hilarious is Mrs. Leo Hunter’s poem.)

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    1. Yes, those are brilliant and hilarious scenes! And for some reason, I LOVE the randomly hilarious sequence with the “scientific gentleman” who sees the lantern going off and on, taking it to be a new discovery of some phenomenon of an electrical nature 😂😂


  7. On the horrors of the Fleet; On “chummage”; on the debtors’ prison closures:

    Sorry for so many comments, here, but I was just rereading this passage, and I’m astounded again by the heartbreaking and baffling thing that was a debtors’ prison. Of course, we’ll encounter it again in one of the most vividly-drawn settings for a novel in Little Dorrit, with the Marshalsea. But here, in the Fleet, Dickens is giving us a h— of a lot to think about.

    Here’s the passage from Pickwick, Ch. 42, on the “poor side” of the debtors’ prison, a place much more miserable than that which Pickwick had first seen on entering the Fleet:

    “The poor side of a debtor’s prison is, as its name imports, that in which the most miserable and abject class of debtors are confined. A prisoner having declared upon the poor side, pays neither rent nor chummage. His fees, upon entering and leaving the jail, are reduced in amount, and he becomes entitled to a share of some small quantities of food: to provide which, a few charitable persons have, from time to time, left trifling legacies in their wills. Most of our readers will remember, that, until within a very few years past, there was a kind of iron cage in the wall of the Fleet Prison, within which was posted some man of hungry looks, who, from time to time, rattled a money-box, and exclaimed in a mournful voice, ‘Pray, remember the poor debtors; pray remember the poor debtors.’ The receipts of this box, when there were any, were divided among the poor prisoners; and the men on the poor side relieved each other in this degrading office.

    “Although this custom has been abolished, and the cage is now boarded up, the miserable and destitute condition of these unhappy persons remains the same. We no longer suffer them to appeal at the prison gates to the charity and compassion of the passersby; but we still leave unblotted the leaves of our statute book, for the reverence and admiration of succeeding ages, the just and wholesome law which declares that the sturdy felon shall be fed and clothed, and that the penniless debtor shall be left to die of starvation and nakedness. This is no fiction. Not a week passes over our head, but, in every one of our prisons for debt, some of these men must inevitably expire in the slow agonies of want, if they were not relieved by their fellow-prisoners.”

    And shortly after, we witness “an old man was seated on a small wooden box, with his eyes riveted on the floor, and his face settled into an expression of the deepest and most hopeless despair. A young girl—his little grand-daughter—was hanging about him, endeavouring, with a thousand childish devices, to engage his attention”! A young girl is here, in this hell-hole! It confounds the mind, the uselessness and misery of such places.

    I’m thinking of the earlier conversation between Pickwick and Sam here, from Chapter 41. Of course, not all were in such miserable conditions. Some men were still able to gamble and drink and party, and be frivolous (I’m thinking of Little Dorrit’s brother, and the like). I think Pickwick would revise his earlier statement from the previous chapter, but I think Sam hits the nail on the head:

    “‘It strikes me, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, leaning over the iron rail at the stair-head-‘it strikes me, Sam, that imprisonment for debt is scarcely any punishment at all.’

    “‘Think not, sir?’ inquired Mr. Weller.

    “‘You see how these fellows drink, and smoke, and roar,’ replied Mr. Pickwick. ‘It’s quite impossible that they can mind it much.’

    “‘Ah, that’s just the wery thing, Sir,’ rejoined Sam, ‘they don’t mind it; it’s a reg’lar holiday to them—all porter and skittles. It’s the t’other vuns as gets done over vith this sort o’ thing; them down-hearted fellers as can’t svig avay at the beer, nor play at skittles neither; them as vould pay if they could, and gets low by being boxed up. I’ll tell you wot it is, sir; them as is always a-idlin’ in public-houses it don’t damage at all, and them as is alvays a-workin’ wen they can, it damages too much. “It’s unekal,” as my father used to say wen his grog worn’t made half-and-half: “it’s unekal, and that’s the fault on it.”‘

    “‘I think you’re right, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, after a few moments’ reflection, ‘quite right.’”

    And a side note: Daniel had asked me about “chummage” or a “chummage ticket”: Collins’ Dictionary defines is as a noun, “(formerly) a fee paid by a prisoner for sole occupancy of a cell.”

    Another side-note: the Fleet Prison was apparently in operation until 1844 (though elsewhere it reads 1842 – I need to confirm!) and demolished in 1846. On the Marshalsea: “The Marshalsea was closed by an Act of Parliament (Public Act 5 & 6 Vict. c. 22) in 1842, and on 19 November that year the inmates were relocated to the Bethlem hospital if they were mentally ill, or to the King’s Bench Prison, at that point renamed the Queen’s Prison.” (


  8. Rach: you’re doing such a great job with your explication of the Fleet “sequences.” As you say, this really is the “heart of the story.” On another level, and to borrow a title from Conrad, the prison scenes represent this novel’s “Heart of Darkness.” As in Conrad’s great novella, where we travel with an interested “watcher” through the perilous Congo river, in PICKWICK we travel with our protagonist (and friends) through the perilous streets, highways, and byways of early19th-century England, experiencing so-called comic episodes that threaten the lives and well-being of Mr. Pickwick and his fellow travelers. At last, in both Conrad’s novella and in this novel, we arrive at the “end of the line” and experience what in Conrad is the “Horror” at the end of the “expedition.” Both these penultimate moments represent the heart of darkness and absolute degradation!

    You’re so right in your notes regarding Mr. Pickwick taking the initiative. As I noted in my response to Daniel’s commentary above, our protagonist is becoming more of an actor rather than one who is solely being acted against! Although constantly overloaded by the “horror” of the confinement and tragedy taking place in the Fleet, he more than rises to the occasion and with all his benevolence helps and nourishes those in need. Are we nearing the events and character that one might find in a religious/spiritual parable? Has Pickwick, in his responses to the various tragedies he finds therein, become a kind of St. Francis of the Fleet?

    On another note, while we are in the Fleet, we readers “descend”–with Mr. Pickwick–another labyrinth that leads to an awkward and trying late evening situation with the drunken prisoners, Mivens and Smangle. This scene is far less comic than his movement through another labyrinth in chapter 22 where he has the nighttime embarrassing and comic confrontation with Miss Witherfield. The parallel events in the novel are numerous but these two events, I think, are notable! One more or less “light,” the other decidedly dark and ominous.

    Lots of other ideas rolling through my consciousness lately:

    –the novel starts to seem more “traditional” when it splits into subplots. Two that really stand out to me are the romances that develop between Winkle and Arabella, and between Sam Weller and Mary. The narrative really departs from a Pickwick-oriented format into a couple of “mini-romantic comedies.” They both, in little, follow the mandatory structure of classic comic romances that end with marriages.

    –the social critic in Dickens, while embedded in earlier moments of the novel, really rises to a kind of crescendo in the Fleet sequences. This critique is handled not only through the activities of our hero, but also through direct discourse by the narrator. In fact, these narrational polemics are quite different from the mere reportage of the members of the club. This is quite a change in the narrative technique–the narrator becoming more of a spokesperson for the moral values of the novel.

    –finally, the basic format of the novel is a kind of complex combination of Bildungsroman, monomyth, and religious allegory a la “Pilgrim’s progress.” The latter, of course, one of the many narrative Dickens would have read in his father’s library.

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    1. Lenny, just to briefly reply…I Loved the Conrad/Heart of Darkness parallel!!! I think we do really venture into that territory when entering the Fleet, but also as we delve “deeper” if you will, into the various levels, almost Inferno-esque, particularly once we get to the “poor” section of the prison. THERE we’re really hitting the dismal reality of what the prison life is for so many (as opposed to the more wealthy/well-connected prisoners who just gamble and drink their time away). The horror, the horror, indeed…

      And the “St Francis of the Fleet”…love that. Pickwick is so often associated with the “sun” metaphors, and as I mentioned elsewhere, here he really “shines”…and in such a dark and dismal place, his light is desperately needed.

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