Wherein we glance back at the fifth week of the #DickensClub reading of The Pickwick Papers (week thirteen of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23); With General Memoranda, a summary of reading and discussion, and a look ahead to week six, the final week of The Pickwick Papers.
“I could serve that gentleman till I fell down dead at his feet.” I, for one, am with you, Mr. Job Trotter.
I believe several of us are reluctant to reflect that this is to be our final week with our Pickwickian friends…at least, on this go-round. Certainly, Boze and I were discussing this. (How time flies…!)
This week, we’ve moved from some of the funniest sequences (the “scientific gentleman”) to some of the most poignant, and there is so much to discuss.
A couple of our members were out-of-town/occupied for at least part of the week. On that note, a huge congrats on the Dingley Dell-ish wedding festivities for Chris M’s son! I was out of town with Dana R. for the first half of the week. But none of us could let go of talking about Dickens…
If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 14 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 91), and the final week, Week 6, of The Pickwick Papers (our second read). Please feel free to comment below this post for the sixth 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.
This Week in Pickwick, in Context…
Before I go into our week’s summary, just two quick notes/reminders, thanks to Chris! Firstly, we just had the anniversary of the publication of the first installment of Pickwick, on 30 March (1836)!
Also, Chris gave us a timely reminder about the context of Dickens’ life during this week’s compositions. Both Pickwick and Oliver were delayed in publication, due to one of the most heartbreaking and significant losses of Dickens’ life, which we haven’t really touched on to any degree since the Introduction to The Pickwick Papers. Here’s Chris’ comment:
“First, Chapters 41-43 make up serial number 15. Publication of this number…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.”
Week Five Pickwick Summary (Chapters 38-46)
We ended the previous week with Mr. Pickwick giving Sam his “authority” to use whatever means necessary to bring back Mr. Winkle. (That gentleman, if you recall, had fled the night Sam was at the “swarry.”) Winkle feared the retribution of Mr. Dowler, who mistakenly thought Winkle to be running off with his wife ~ when Winkle had merely gotten locked out of the house in his dressing gown. In fear of someone discovering him outside in dishabille, he dashed into Mrs. Dowler’s carriage to hide himself!
“‘If I should kill him in the blindness of my wrath, what would be my feelings forever afterwards!’ This painful consideration operated so powerfully on the feelings of the humane young man, as to cause his knees to knock together…”
Having walked out of the proverbial frying-pan, as the opening of Chapter 38 informs us, Mr. Winkle walks “gently and comfortably into the fire” when he flees to Bristol to avoid the possibility of a violent meeting with Dowler ~ only to meet with two of his acquaintances there, Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen, who reveal their curious method of advertising their medical practice, and also reveal something far more interesting to Winkle: that Mr. Allen suspects his sister of having “a prior attachment” ~ could it be, to Mr. Winkle?
When Winkle returns to his inn, he’s met there by Mr. Dowler, renowned for his bravery and temper! But what we find out next is that (wonder of wonders) Mr. Dowler, to whom the full circumstances about Winkle’s carriage mishap had been explained, has so misread Mr. Winkle’s actions that he believes the latter to be ready to unleash his wrath upon Mr. Dowler at any moment! “Mr. Dowler had as great an objection to duelling as [Winkle] himself; in short, this blustering and awful personage was one of the most egregious cowards in existence.” At last, all is settled companionably with our “two belligerents,” until…
Enter Sam Weller, who has found out Mr. Winkle’s location, and is determined not to leave his side until he accompanies Sam back to Pickwick. Having at last explained the situation of what occurred between himself and Mr. Dowler however, and the necessity that he remain long enough to make contact with Arabella, a compromise is reached, and Mr. Pickwick himself joins them.
Among other merry meetings, Sam, in search of Arabella Allen on behalf of the lovestruck Winkle, runs into his own beloved Mary. She is under new employment, and reveals that Miss Allen is lodged at the house next door!
But how to get Arabella alone, and without a compromise to her honor? Sam arranges a meeting when she has her evening walk in the garden, and Winkle is to be chaperoned by Mr. Pickwick, for the lady’s sake. Mr. Winkle, after the important meeting, indicates to Sam that it went very well indeed. Meanwhile, though not, strictly speaking, necessary to include in our summary, I must allude to the passage with the “scientific gentleman,” in what surely must be one of the most randomly funny segments ever. This unnamed gentleman watches from a nearby window as Pickwick and company are making their way to Miss Allen’s; the alternately blazing and then covered lantern (held by Mr. Pickwick in the darkness) making strange motions and flickerings all the while. The gentleman records after, “in a masterly treatise, that these wonderful lights were the effect of electricity”; and this discovery “delighted all the Scientific Associations beyond measure, and caused him to be considered a light of science ever afterwards.”
These joyful passages are not to last, however; the Trinity Term begins, the Pickwickians return to London, and Mr. Pickwick is confined to the Fleet prison, still determined not to pay anything of the unjust fines imposed by the court.
Pickwick is sick at heart at the misery in every direction. After sharing a room in prison with several others who give Pickwick a rude awakening, but who end up on something like friendly terms with him, Pickwick pays a very ill gentleman in need of sustenance (who dies shortly after) to have a private room.
Looking for someone to run errands, Mr. Pickwick ventures to “the poor side” of the prison, a place where destitution and misery live without comfort.
There, to his astonishment, he finds an altered, wasted Mr. Jingle, and his companion, Job Trotter. Both are hungry, miserable, dejected. Mr. Pickwick’s compassion is such that he helps them to eat and to get back the clothing that Mr. Jingle has had to pawn in order to survive.
Side note: for a heartbreaking moment from the 1985 miniseries of The Pickwick Papers, here’s Mr. Pickwick encountering Mr. Jingle in the Fleet prison. Mr. Jingle is portrayed by the brilliant Patrick Malahide, whom some BBC fans might recognize ~ among many other roles ~ as Mr. Casaubon from the 1994 miniseries of Middlemarch.
After this scene, though Sam knows nothing of Mr. Pickwick’s meeting with Jingle, Pickwick is determined to have Sam leave him, in spite of Sam’s many obstinate objections. Pickwick intends to keep Sam’s payments regular, and that Sam should serve one of the other Pickwickians until such time as Mr. Pickwick himself is released. Sam leaves in a determined huff ~ which Mr. Pickwick mistakes for only personal hurt.
But Sam has plans of his own, and schemes with his father to “borrow” money from the latter, and have his father call in his debts ~ which Sam will refuse to pay ~ thereby making himself a prisoner along with Mr. Pickwick! Talk about loyalty and devotion. Indeed, everybody needs a Sam Weller.
“‘You arrested for debt!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, sinking into a chair.
“‘Yes, for debt, Sir,’ replied Sam. ‘And the man as puts me in, ‘ull never let me out till you go yourself.’
“‘Bless my heart and soul!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. ‘What do you mean?’
“‘Wot I say, Sir,’ rejoined Sam. ‘If it’s forty years to come, I shall be a prisoner, and I’m very glad on it; and if it had been Newgate, it would ha’ been just the same. Now the murder’s out, and, damme, there’s an end on it!’
“With these words, which he repeated with great emphasis and violence, Sam Weller dashed his hat upon the ground, in a most unusual state of excitement; and then, folding his arms, looked firmly and fixedly in his master’s face.”
In the prison now, Sam encounters a Cobbler, whose story of his ill-starred inheritance actually caused his current imprisonment for debt ~ and we have an early foreshadowing of Chancery, and Bleak House.
Sam is then visited by his father, his mother-in-law, and Mr. Stiggins. Temperance man though the latter is, he partakes in the “wanity” of negus in lieu of rum.
Sam “had hardly composed himself into the needful state of abstraction, when he thought he heard his own name proclaimed in some distant passage. Nor was he mistaken, for it quickly passed from mouth to mouth, and in a few seconds the air teemed with shouts of ‘Weller!’
“‘Here!’ roared Sam, in a stentorian voice. ‘Wot’s the matter? Who wants him? Has an express come to say that his country house is afire?’”
Mr. Pickwick arrives, and asks Sam to accompany him on a walk around the prison, and the former is mysteriously silent about his object in doing so. They encounter Mr. Jingle and Job Trotter, Sam’s old enemies. Pickwick walks with the weakened Mr. Jingle, insisting that Mr. Jingle take his arm for support, and Sam walks alongside Job Trotter, hears about their trials, and how Mr. Pickwick has been providing for them in the purchase of food and a private room, and has assisted Mr. Jingle in recovering his clothes from the pawnbroker’s.
“‘I could serve that gentleman till I fell down dead at his feet.’
“‘I say!’ said Sam, ‘I’ll trouble you, my friend! None o’ that!’
“Job Trotter looked amazed.
“‘None o’ that, I say, young feller,’ repeated Sam firmly. ‘No man serves him but me. And now we’re upon it, I’ll let you into another secret besides that,’ said Sam, as he paid for the beer. ‘I never heerd, mind you, or read of in story-books, nor see in picters, any angel in tights and gaiters—not even in spectacles, as I remember, though that may ha’ been done for anythin’ I know to the contrairey—but mark my vords, Job Trotter, he’s a reg’lar thoroughbred angel for all that.”
Chapter 46 ends with a curious turn of events: Mrs. Bardell herself is imprisoned in the Fleet! Her cunning lawyers, Dodson and Fogg, had had her sign a “cognovit” after the trial, and since Mr. Pickwick has refused to pay damages, the responsibility for the portion of the lawyer fees to Dodson and Fogg falls to Mrs. Bardell. We end with her fainting at the realization of her situation as she is literally dropped off at the Fleet. Meanwhile, Sam has sent Job Trotter on an errand to fetch their lawyer friend, Mr. Perker.
Discussion Wrap-up ~ with a note about cognovits
I didn’t write about this in the comments, but I thought it might be of interest to mention here that my curiosity about this “cognovit” that Mrs. Bardell signed after the verdict (apparently thinking it was little more than a matter of form) led me to an interesting article. In May of 1978, Hector Munro wrote a piece for Dickensian called “Curious Affair of the Cognovit,” and I’ll include the full citation below and see if I can get permission to add some pdf articles such as this one for our discussion in future.
Munro writes that “cognovits are now obsolete” but they “were well-known at the time of Pickwick Papers” (Munro 89). “A cognovit was a written admission of debt, carrying awkward consequences if the debtor defaulted. To follow Dickens’s ingenuity one must understand that Mrs Bardell owed her solicitors, Dodson and Fogg, their costs of the breach of promise case, even though Pickwick had been ordered to pay the costs, as the loser in the case. The costs were still owing, because Pickwick had refused to pay. Whether Dodson and Fogg could have forced him to pay, without putting him in the Fleet, is rather obscure. Certainly in modern times there would be numerous methods of enforcement. But the position at the time of Pickwick Papers seems to have been different. To look at it closely is beyond the scope of this note. What is relevant for present purposes is that the solicitors had taken the precaution of getting a cognovit from Mrs Bardell soon after the verdict was given for her. That cognovit would have become void to the extent that Pickwick paid the costs, because Dodson and Fogg would have given credit to Mrs Bardell for his payment. Therefore, speaking technically, the solicitors were entitled to have Mrs Bardell arrested for the costs, and this is what they did” (Munro 88-89).
Whimsy & Weller
The Adaptation Stationmaster, while not being a huge fan of Pickwick & its comedy, notes some particularly fun and hilarious sequences.
Daniel M. and I discussed how one of our favorite passages was the random sequence with the “scientific gentleman” and his great discovery of the strange electrical phenomena of the flashing lights ~ which was, in reality, Mr. Pickwick and his lantern in the darkness during an expedition to meet up with Miss Allen during her nightly stroll in the garden.
For another bit of whimsy, I’d responded on twitter to a comment of Boze’s, on the best possible compliments which could be paid to someone (all Dickensian, of course!), and clearly the proposal, “I’ll be your Sam Weller” wins the day ~ we have that from Boze, and from Matt Carton (who had allowed me to use his full name, because I couldn’t resist!). Here’s a bit of fun ~ click on each to enlarge:
Circumstance, Mutability, and Mortality
Daniel started off the discussion this week with, as Lenny said, a “wonderful summing-up here with nice enlargements of what was said last week.” Here are Daniel’s comments in gallery mode (click on each to enlarge):
And Lenny responds, agreeing with the summation and exploration, with the addition that, while there are many circumstances beyond Pickwick’s control, he’s also often taking the “offense,” with more than one “instance of comic hubris”:
“…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.”
And as we have been witnessing, a more significant “change” is happening in some of our friends (and former enemies) here: interior change emerging from the mutable circumstances of life.
Curiouser and Curiouser: Trials in Dickens and Carroll
Boze does a brilliant comparison of two trial scenes, Bardell v. Pickwick and the trial scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Here is a writer’s analysis of why this works for some crowd-pleasing comedy:
“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.”
But here’s his marvelous analysis in full, in gallery mode (click on each to enlarge):
The “Heart of the Story”
My own focus this week was primarily on what Lenny and I agreed was the “heart” of our whole journey with The Pickwick Papers; namely, the encounter between Pickwick and Jingle ~ and that between Sam and Job.
Here are my initial comments:
“…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.'”
Once back from Portland, I elaborated on the whole passage in more detail, considering the developing “role” of Mr. Pickwick (from benevolent master, who always tries to do the right thing but usually needs assistance to get out of scrapes that his quixotic intentions lead to, to a wise and compassionate father figure). Here are my comments in gallery mode:
And though I’ll put his whole reflection in full below, I highlight here a piece from Lenny, on how Mr. Pickwick “is becoming more of an actor rather than one who is solely being acted against,” and even emerges as “a kind of St. Francis of the Fleet”:
“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?”
“Hearts of Darkness” within London: “the Law, Prisons, and Poor Relief”
“In this section,” Chris writes, “Dickens makes an extended harsh critique of the law, prisons, and poor relief.” Here’s her reflection on the sections of special note:
Side note: Daniel had asked about the meaning of “chummage,” and it appears to have a couple of meanings (shown below from Merriam-Webster on the left and Collins Dictionary on the right), but it would appear that the way it is used in the context is the latter: a fee paid by a prisoner for sole occupancy of a cell. Click on each image to enlarge:
I was reflecting on the passages from our read this week (during what Lenny later calls Pickwick’s “descent” into a kind of Heart of Darkness within London), particularly as we go from the more visible side of the Fleet ~ the idle debtors gambling and drinking the time away, to the “poor side,” where misery and want are most extreme. I start out with an extended quote about the “poor side”:
And here’s Lenny’s reflection on the Inferno-esque Heart of Darkness into which Pickwick has come during the “heart” of the story (click on each to enlarge):
How are our heroes going to get our of this one…?
A Look-ahead to the Final Week, Week Six, of The Pickwick Papers (5-11 April)
This week, we’ll be reading to the end, chapters 47-57, which were published in the monthly serial numbers XVII-XX (August, September, and October 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.
For next week, if all goes according to plan, I’ll post a final discussion wrap-up of The Pickwick Papers on Monday, 11 April, followed by an “Introduction to Oliver Twist” on Tuesday the 12th. Our reading schedule for Oliver will be included, based on the original Dickens Chronological Reading Club post.
See you in the comments, friends!
Munro, Hector. “Curious Affair of the Cognovit.” Dickensian 74.385 (1978): 88. ProQuest. 3 Apr. 2022 .