The Pickwick Papers, Week 6 ~ and a Week 5 Wrap-up

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.

Pickwick and Jingle, by Frederick E. Banbery

“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.

But first…

General Mems

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…

Rach M. comment

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…

Chris M. comment

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.”

~Chris M.

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…”

“Conviviality at Bob Sawyer’s,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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.”

“Mr. Pickwick Sits for His Portrait,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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.

“The Discovery of Jingle in the Fleet,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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?’”

“The Red-Nosed Man Discourseth,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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.”

“Mrs. Bardell Encounters Mr. Pickwick in the Prison,” by Phiz. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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

The Cognovit

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):

Lenny H. comment

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.”

~Lenny H.

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.”

~Boze H.

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.'”

~Rach M.

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?”

~Lenny H.

“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:

Chris M. comments

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!

Works Cited

Munro, Hector. “Curious Affair of the Cognovit.” Dickensian 74.385 (1978): 88. ProQuest. 3 Apr. 2022 .


  1. Good Gracious, Rach! What a marvelous summing-up of the club’s week’s “work” but also a great summary of the chapters we’ve just read. Just enough detail to catch the tone and progression of the novel at this point. As I read your recapitulation of the narrative, it helped me put back together the parts that, in themselves, provide little “novels” on their own. I think we get so involved in the “business” of each episode that sometimes it’s difficult to see the “whole.” Your brilliant summary really helps me (and I hope others) coalesce this highly detailed and event-filled writing–especially in these dense “Fleet” chapters.

    Kudos, kudos, kudos!

    Also, as I remember to have done while reading other Dickens’ novels, I’m beginning to get sad about reaching the end of this novel. And a little bit teary-eyed….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lenny!! That totally makes my day…thank you!!! (Somehow I didn’t see the comment yesterday!) I have so much fun with all this, and I’m glad the summaries are helpful for you as well. Dickens does have so many events/subplots happening simultaneously, that it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, I agree!

      I’m also sad to think of leaving this one, especially as the “tone” of Oliver, our next, is so different. I miss these guys already! There was really something very special that happened with his debut novel…there’s simply nothing *quite* like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This week we’re seeing the first occurrence of what would become a major theme in Dickens’ life, the horror of debtors’ prisons—to which he would return, famously, in Little Dorrit and the Micawber bits of David Copperfield. As a writer from a working-class background Dickens was almost uniquely positioned to expose systemic cruelties against the poor; already here and in Oliver Twist we see him becoming the conscience of Victorian England. I love the specificity of the prison sequence, which is affecting and only occasionally maudlin: “In the adjoining room, some solitary tenant might be seen, poring, by the light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered papers, yellow with dust and dropping to pieces from age: writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch.” One can’t help wondering how often Dickens had seen his own father do exactly this; and if he felt a responsibility to touch the hearts of those men through his books, who couldn’t be swayed in other ways.

    I’ve become fascinated by the Christmas sequence in Pickwick, so I went back yesterday and read “The Goblin and the Sexton” aloud. I’ve heard people say it’s easier to understand Shakespeare if you watch him being performed and I’m wondering if maybe Dickens has a reputation for being dull because we make the mistake of reading him in our heads. That wasn’t how he envisioned his own books; when they were released as serials, crowds would gather in the streets to hear someone reading them. Because Dickens is such a dramatic writer, because he’s so attuned to words and the way they sound together, his books come alive when read aloud in a way they don’t on the page. You can feel the excitement the story must have had for its original audience, the ways in which it held their attention. “The Goblin and the Sexton” is full of movement and violence—the cackling king of the goblins, the merry troop of imps leap-frogging and cartwheeling over the headstones, all the laughing and screeching and poking of hats into Gabriel Grub’s eyes. And reading it aloud really draws that out. It’s performance. It’s theatre. It’s vivid and engaging on a sentence-by-sentence level. As a novelist I want to know what makes Dickens compelling, and this is surely part of it—he shamelessly stuffs his books with funny dialogue and memorable weirdoes and gruesome imagery and people being kicked and thrown and drowned at sea and burned alive, all the things that pretentious critics sniff at but that the common folk have loved in their stories since time immemorial. Dickens is simply the greatest. He is the king of story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides.” In these last chapters Dickens says farewell to his characters, ties up loose ends and resolves all the difficulties – a pattern he will maintain throughout his novel writing career. He also uses these last chapters to put an exclamation point on the various themes explored in the work.

    Primarily, benevolence as practiced by Mr Pickwick, which is the means by which just about everything is resolved. Mr Perker wisely appeals to Mr Pickwick’s benevolence, thus ensuring all our friends – Mrs Bardell, Sam, Mr Jingle and Mr Pickwick – are released from the Fleet. Through Mr P’s support and goodwill the marriages of Mr Winkle & Arabella Allen, and Mr Snodgrass & Emily Wardle are blessed and their families reconciled to them; Mr Jingle and Job Trotter are revived, rehabilitated and released and able to emigrate to Demerara, South Africa, to begin life anew; Tony Weller’s legacy is maintained and increased so he can comfortably retire. The only drawback to Mr Pickwick’s benevolence is that Sam refuses to leave his service. Even the prospect of marrying the lovely Mary cannot tempt Sam away. But even this relationship is considered and furthered by Mr Pickwick, who engages an OLD housekeeper, no doubt knowing Mary will soon replace her and thus be in a position for Sam to feel free to marry and remain in Mr Pickwick’s service.

    The key situation in which Mr Pickwick has no hand, but which benevolence is still the guiding principle is the resolution of the Susan Weller’s story. She repents of her misguided church-going and reconciles with Tony. Her death gives Tony the opportunity to reward Mr Stiggins for his attentions via “kick followed [by] kick in rapid succession” and to baptize him via “the nearest horse-trough full of water”. Her deathbed confession gives Dickens an opportunity to express his belief that one’s duty, like charity, begins at home.

    Dickens makes a few final commentaries: (1) on the absurdity of politics in the altercation between editorial adversaries Mr Potts and Mr Slurk, who seem to thrive on their antagonism; (2) on temperance in the last interpolated Tale – The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle – which sounds like a drunken nightmare; and (3) on lawyers with Dodson & Fogg who remain a pair of ambulance chasers par excellence. Who can doubt the truth of Mr Pickwick’s assignation of Dodson & Fogg as “a well-matched pair of mean, rascally, pettigfogging robbers” or Mrs Bardell’s “voluntary statement” that they “from the very first, fomented, and encouraged, and brought about” the breach of promise suit against Mr Pickwick? But Dodson & Fogg’s treachery is balanced by Mr Perker, Mr Lowten and Mr Solomon Pell who help our friends achieve their goals.

    These chapters have echos of novels to come. Mr Pickwick’s leaving the Fleet will be echoed in “Little Dorrit”; Birmingham (where Mr Winkle, senior, lives) will be revisited as the factory town in “The Old Curiosity Shop” and as Coketown in “Hard Times”; the successful emigration of repentant characters will be seen again in “David Copperfield”.

    I’d like to note one passage, from the opening of chapter 51, for its beauty of construction:
    “The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hug sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. A game-cock in the stable-yard, deprived of every spark of his accustomed animation, balanced himself dismally on one leg in a corner; a donkey, moping with drooping head under the narrow roof of an outhouse, appeared from his meditative and miserable countenance to be contemplating suicide. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops, were the only sound to be heard.”

    I love the way Dickens sets the scene of this dreary day – both in weather and in the mood of Mr Pickwick and friends. In lessers hands the first sentence would be enough, but Dickens enriches the dark and gloom, the damp and raw, the wet and sloppy by describing the way various objects respond to their influence – the sluggish smoke, the spiritless rain, the inanimate game-cock, the suicidal donkey. I’m experiencing such a day today – it’s cold here, we had some snow flurries, I made soup and have a cup of tea and my slippers aren’t quite keeping my feet warm. But this passage makes me smile, and I see beauty in this April cold snap because of it that I otherwise would have missed. So, instead of minding my cold feet, I’m watching the woodpeckers and squirrels dig for lunch, and I realize they, like Sam, don’t mind the weather because “I don’t exactly see no good my mindin’ on it ‘ud do”.

    Cheers, Mr Pickwick and Company! Until we meet again!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah Chris, you stole my thunder with your final paragraph above. I, too, was drawn in by the narrator’s/Dickens’ rendering of “this dreary day.” When I read it to my wife, she was stunned that the language was so raw and wonderfully modulated with its various personifications of the atmospheric entities. Immediately she made the connection with the opening anthropomorphic descriptions at the beginning of BLEAK HOUSE. Here is the passage in full to which you and I are referring:

      “The morning which broke upon Mr. Pickwick’s sight at eight o’clock, was not at all calculated to elevate his spirits, or to lessen the depression which the unlooked-for result of his embassy inspired. The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. A game-cock in the stableyard, deprived of every spark of his accustomed animation, balanced himself dismally on one leg in a corner; a donkey, moping with drooping head under the narrow roof of an outhouse, appeared from his meditative and miserable countenance to be contemplating suicide. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard.”

      First of all, this is great expressionistic writing. As in film, expressionistic art tends more toward working as a visual or descriptive “expression” of mental or psychological states. Balzac’s stories are literally filled with this kind of detail. It may appear to be naturalistic, but often it defines the mood or dark thoughts of a character’s consciousness. In short, expressionistic filmmaking, pictorial art (think of the paintings of Edvard Munch, for example), detailed expressionistic prose presents a visual corollary for mental or psychological states. Here, of course, the writer does most of the work for us when he equates Mr. Pickwick’s “spirits” to the gloomy nastiness of the weather. but then the narrator extends the effects of the weather to the behavior of the barnyard animals and completes the expressionistic tableau. What could be worse than a dismal game-cock, or a “meditative” suicidal donkey???!

      Oh, to be able to write like this, eh? Yet it is such a tour-de-force description following up on and overlaying (with darkness) Pickwick’s disappointing trip to Mr. Winkle senior.

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    1. As Chris has said in her above marvelous summary of the final chapters of THE PICKWICK PAPERS, Dickens the author does so much to tie up the novel’s loose ends and makes a point of highlighting Mr. Pickwick’s benevolence. And his activities throughout the novel are constructed to display the positives that come from his humane behavior towards most of the characters in the novel. The novel, true to its form, as Chris suggests, keeps his saintly character in the forefront right to its conclusion.

      Yet, the novel wants to continually challenge this benign character of its protagonist time after time, and he is forced to deal in a number of ways with the unpleasant, quite often threatening realities that it seems he’s never had to face in his 50-some years of life, before the time of the novel. As I’ve mentioned before, he is faced with an incredibly unpleasant situation right off the bat when he is challenged by the cab driver after he’s noticed Mr. Pickwick taking notes regarding his behavior and method of speech and misinterprets his fare’s behavior as threatening, perhaps might even be used as some kind of negative report about the driver’s professionalism. The driver immediately begins to pummel our supposed hero (at the time) with blows all over his body, a dire situation that is witnessed by an audience of passers-by who want to see more of the fisticuffs, even though Mr. Pickwick would obviously be no match for this burly and angry driver.

      What amazed me at the time, and something which amazed me throughout this novel, was its insistence on how the public at large tended to view violence as something kind of natural, as a sort of casual everyday entertainment that is even more fun when witnessed and egged on by other witnesses of that same violence. As a reader of the novel, I’m not quite sure how I should take this tolerance that the British readers in the early 19th-century apparently had toward the violent episodes in THE PICKWICK PAPERS. After all, this is a comic novel, right? And since it’s comic, the violence should be laughed at, right? But is it also possible that the novel is also critiquing violence and violent behavior. After all, assault and battery is a crime, is it not? It seems, then, the novel is setting forth a situation where the reader, tempted by the comicality of the novel, is likely to condone many of the violent acts as simply acceptable behavior by these comic characters. Yet, PICKWICK also traps the reader with these false comic sentiments into somewhat unbecoming responses. Yep, in many ways, this was the moral essence of Chaplin’s comedy, and possibly might apply to Dickens’ comedy, also!

      Let me give another example of “violent behavior” that absolutely “floored me” when I read it. Bob Sawyer and his friend Ben Allen are having a very tough time of it, are well into their “cups” (as usual), and come to the topic of Arabella Allen and the possibility that she is being courted by some unknow usurper who would stand in the way of Arabella’s marrying Bob. The discussion, then comes to this sad moment which we could probably term “theoretical violence”:

      “‘She’s a very charming and delightful creature,’ quoth Mr. Robert Sawyer, in reply; ‘and has only one fault that I know of, Ben. It happens, unfortunately, that that single blemish is a want of taste. She don’t like me.’

      ‘It’s my opinion that she don’t know what she does like,’ said Mr. Ben Allen contemptuously.

      ‘Perhaps not,’ remarked Mr. Bob Sawyer. ‘But it’s my opinion that she does know what she doesn’t like, and that’s of more importance.’

      ‘I wish,’ said Mr. Ben Allen, setting his teeth together, and speaking more like a savage warrior who fed on raw wolf’s flesh which he carved with his fingers, than a peaceable young gentleman who ate minced veal with a knife and fork—’I wish I knew whether any rascal really has been tampering with her, and attempting to engage her affections. I think I should assassinate him, Bob.’

      ‘I’d put a bullet in him, if I found him out,’ said Mr. Sawyer, stopping in the course of a long draught of beer, and looking malignantly out of the porter pot. ‘If that didn’t do his business, I’d extract it afterwards, and kill him that way.’”

      My gosh, what is going on, here. I know, I know, this is merely two young men venting their respective spleens, yet the rhetoric is horribly violent. The word “assassinate,” the phrase “put a bullet in him,” and the “extraction” idea really drove me crazy. I know these are two down-and-out comic characters, but how does the novel want the reader to “take” this? As I said, I became quite saddened by the language and its violent intentions. I simply couldn’t laugh and the whole dialogue and the characters participating in it left a real sour taste in my mouth! I think that, above all, the novel is critical of this kind of behavior. What a stark contrast to the benevolent Mr. Pickwick.

      Then there is the kind of violence that we might term “violence born of professional and political competition.” And Chris makes brief reference to this above, when Potts and Slurk get into it, with our horrified hero stuck between them, trying to separate the two adversaries. The real victim, of course, becomes Mr. Pickwick, who is hammered right and left by these two idiot political and journalistic rivals. But it’s also here, where we have that public display of avid watchers, as the others in the room take great joy in the antics of these two combatants, even though their “benevolent” friend Mr. Pickwick is caught in the middle.

      “The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet-bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.

      ‘Gentlemen,’ cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire-shovel—’gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven’s sake—help—Sam—here—pray, gentlemen—interfere, somebody.’

      Uttering these incoherent exclamations, Mr. Pickwick rushed between the infuriated combatants just in time to receive the carpet-bag on one side of his body, and the fire-shovel on the other. Whether the representatives of the public feeling of Eatanswill were blinded by animosity, or (being both acute reasoners) saw the advantage of having a third party between them to bear all the blows, certain it is that they paid not the slightest attention to Mr. Pickwick, but defying each other with great spirit, plied the carpet-bag and the fire-shovel most fearlessly. Mr. Pickwick would unquestionably have suffered severely for his humane interference, if Mr. Weller, attracted by his master’s cries, had not rushed in at the moment, and, snatching up a meal—sack, effectually stopped the conflict by drawing it over the head and shoulders of the mighty Pott, and clasping him tight round the shoulders.”

      The last bit of violence that really sickened me was that wrought upon Stiggins by Mr. Weller Sr. I’m not quite sure WHAT Dickens has in mind, here, though, because the extreme hyperbole that he uses to “examine” the thrashing that Weller gives Stiggins is way too much. This is vindictive, homicidal rage! Maybe a few kicks in the butt and a toss into the trough would have done it, but Weller really works his “rival” over nearly to his death!

      “The elder Mr. Weller, who still continued to make various strange and uncouth attempts to appear asleep, offered not a single word during these proceedings; but when Stiggins stopped for breath, he darted upon him, and snatching the tumbler from his hand, threw the remainder of the rum-and-water in his face, and the glass itself into the grate. Then, seizing the reverend gentleman firmly by the collar, he suddenly fell to kicking him most furiously, accompanying every application of his top-boot to Mr. Stiggins’s person, with sundry violent and incoherent anathemas upon his limbs, eyes, and body.

      ‘Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘put my hat on tight for me.’

      Sam dutifully adjusted the hat with the long hatband more firmly on his father’s head, and the old gentleman, resuming his kicking with greater agility than before, tumbled with Mr. Stiggins through the bar, and through the passage, out at the front door, and so into the street—the kicking continuing the whole way, and increasing in vehemence, rather than diminishing, every time the top-boot was lifted.

      It was a beautiful and exhilarating sight to see the red-nosed man writhing in Mr. Weller’s grasp, and his whole frame quivering with anguish as kick followed kick in rapid succession; it was a still more exciting spectacle to behold Mr. Weller, after a powerful struggle, immersing Mr. Stiggins’s head in a horse-trough full of water, and holding it there, until he was half suffocated.”

      Interestingly, it’s as though the narrator, here, has become the public “audience” watching and ready to encourage Weller senior to really lay into Stiggins. The narrator states it was “a beautiful and exhilarating sight” to see this merciless beating take place. The question here, is this: are we, too, as watchers of this horrendous event, being asked to salivate over its brutality along with the narrator-audience? I don’t think so. The overstatement is just that–so overstated that we can’t help but become sickened by the brutality of this man.

      Finally, then, if our moral touchstone in this novel IS Mr. Pickwick, in all his benevolence, we can’t accept these acts of violence as mere matter-of-fact comedy. We have to recalibrate our response to them and decide what is morally right–in a novel which purports to be a critique of so much in the British society of 1837 that is morally wrong…..

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  4. Just a few final thoughts…

    I loved reading everyone’s thoughts here so much, and I’m so reluctant to leave our Pickwickian friends, &, like Lenny, I’m “getting a little bit teary-eyed”! And I always cry at the end of this book. After all, the relationship between Pickwick and Sam has the final word, and the relationship is as to be as eternal as the Pickwickians, and as our Boz.

    Boze and Chris both alluded to some of the themes explored here which will be further explored in later works, especially the theme of the debtors’ prison. (I’ve always felt that the atmosphere of Little Dorrit, with the way he captures the world of the Marshalsea, is one of literature’s great settings. I love a great atmosphere almost as much as I love a great character. Or maybe, as much. His places really are characters, aren’t they?)

    And Boze’s quote here about the prisoner “writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch,” following it up with his comment: “One can’t help wondering how often Dickens had seen his own father do exactly this; and if he felt a responsibility to touch the hearts of those men through his books, who couldn’t be swayed in other ways.” I think Dickens is suggesting to us that, along with the grand-scale societal change that is desperately needed on many levels (debtors’ prisons, workhouses/the New Poor Law, etc), there is also individual change needed, and if we had more persons like Mr. Pickwick in the world, the world would be a better ~ and merrier ~ place. As Chris says so beautifully: “Benevolence as practiced by Mr Pickwick, which is the means by which just about everything is resolved.”

    I really was fascinated and intrigued by Lenny’s analysis of the “violence” of some of our final episodes. Yes, some characters really have this insatiable urge to fight, or to give someone a good kick ~ and then some! I want to reread this and consider it further. First, I’ll just say that I’ve never been a huge fan of Sawyer and Allen, as characters ~ they really can’t compare to a Jingle in any way/shape/form, though I think their function in the story is somewhat similar: to spice things up a bit, to throw a wrench in the works of our characters (like poor Mr. Pickwick’s seemingly doomed attempt to get in the good graces of Mr. Winkle’s father). Dickens is still in his “writing lab,” and I think what he does with some success here he’ll do with far greater success later. As to Bob and Ben, I almost think of them in the comical light that Tom Stoppard makes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ~ he so often makes the joke in his play that people keep mixing up these two characters, and frankly I mix up Bob and Ben at almost the same level. I know one is the prankster and one is usually in a drunken stupor, but I do conflate the two somewhat in my mind.

    Back to the violence: I’m thinking that we have here a stage-loving, theatrical Dickens, to go back to Boze’s comment above. I mentioned it back in relation to one of our Sketches, but I’d read Simon Callow’s book some years ago on Dickens and the theatre, but I haven’t until recently given that as much thought as I think I need to. Reading a passage lately in Claire Tomalin’s biography which I’ve just finished, I am again struck by how **crucial** the theater is for Dickens, how formative. For a long stretch of time, if I remember correctly, in his 20s, he was attending some performance almost nightly! And his ideal life was to have a theater under his own management, which he lived near to. Of course, the theatrical stage readings which he took up like a second career late in life, speak to this so strongly. Dickens could have EASILY had a successful stage career if he’d gone in that direction fully ~ and thank God he didn’t, for the sake of all of us forevermore ~ but the impact of the theatre was huge. I think that’s the light in which I see some of the “comic” violence here: Tony Weller giving a good thrashing (and then some) to Mr. Stiggins, the two fights that Pickwick puts himself literally right in the middle of to try and break up…can’t you **see** this happening on stage, with a more comic effect, perhaps, than what we read in the book? I think that’s Dickens’ intent, and a kind of crowd-pleasing comeuppance (thinking particularly with Stiggins), like a comical version of a revenge play. I think in Tony we have that kind of working-class, crowd-pleasing character who is ready to come to blows at any moment (even Sam is, for Pickwick’s sake), but who is as loyal and meek as a lamb when it comes to someone he looks up to (e.g. Mr. Pickwick, as he almost tries to shove the money in his face and run!). It’s again, Dickens at his most theatrical.

    I suppose one could make the argument that to some degree, the hypocritical Mr. Stiggins had “killed” Susan Weller ~ at least, the one Tony had married, who proves to have been the true one, in the end. Certainly, Stiggins, by insinuating himself into her life, effectively killed the relationship between her and Tony.

    But this kind of theatrical eye-for-an-eye approach is certainly contrasted with Mr. Pickwick’s mercy. Look at all that Jingle and Job had done to him and his friends! I love the quiet tenderness of Mr. Pickwick’s whole approach with him. I can only hope that as Mr. Jingle gets stronger and finds his path, we might imagine that he is always the same sprightly, unique figure who just lights up a room ~ but without the con-artistry!

    On another note…

    I suppose, as a single old fellow myself in the tradition of Mr. Pickwick, Master Humphrey, Newman Noggs, etc (haha), I’m always very touched when certain childless characters end up as surrogate parents/aunts/uncles to others. I was struck again at this reading how we’ve seen such a growth in Mr. Pickwick. He was always benevolent, always right-minded, you might say, but he becomes tenderer and wiser as it goes on; he becomes not only a father-figure to Sam, but also one to Mr. Winkle, with whom Pickwick had shown some impatience earlier on, because of all of Mr. Winkle’s sham sportsmanship!

    Here he is now, interceding with Winkle’s own father, “blessing” the marriage, and telling Arabella that he himself will financially support the couple if Winkle’s father doesn’t come ‘round. How lovely is that. I imagine Mr. Pickwick, if he was ever to age (which he hardly will, in my mind), as being surrounded by a host of friends and honorary children and grandchildren. A kind of Pickwickian Christmas episode that will never end.

    And on that note, it has been such a joy! I don’t really think, after all, that we’ll be “leaving” our Pickwickian friends. I’m pretty sure they’ll be accompanying us on this reading journey as we move forward, and I’m with Chesterton that I half-expect to run into this magical company of explorers at any moment, around the bend of a uniquely picturesque lane or alleyway, still making important discoveries and unlikely friends.

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  5. The violence in “Pickwick Papers” is difficult to swallow in light of our 21st century sensibilities. And a word of caution, we are entering a phase of Dickens where violence will be pretty much at the forefront in “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby” in particular. I did a quick google and wikipedia search to try to find a clue to the contemporary view of violence in the UK, both State sponsored and domestic, and learned that corporal punishment in the UK wasn’t legally outlawed until the early-mid 20th century (except that whipping women [in prison] was made illegal in 1820), and Domestic violence was condoned until the late 1800’s early 1900’s, but legislation wasn’t really enacted until the 1970’s or later.

    That said, the violence IS hard to read. Rach’s pointing to Dickens’s theatricality is spot on – he is a melodramatic ham at heart – as is Lenny’s Chaplin example. I sometimes try to keep The Three Stooges in mind, especially with episodes like the empty threats of Ben Allen & Bob Sawyer, or Potts & Slurk altercation.

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  6. Yeah, I agree with you both in that Dickens was probably a dramatist at heart. We had a very good and useful sense of that as we worked or way through the “Sketches.” And, although I’ve not read TWIST, I’ve read enough about Dicken’s hugely famous and audience-provoking dramatic readings from that novel to begin to prepare myself for the worst. Still, I’m not very sanguine about the violence I’ve encountered in THE PICKWICK PAPERS . In a Jungian sense, our author presents the reader with two dire and undeniable “Shadow” presentations–both on the collective and individual level. We know, of course, that many aspects within our personalities are unconscious and can rear their ugly heads during moments of stress or extreme paranoia. We see this with the cabman early on (individual shadow out of control) with his striking out against Mr. Pickwick, but it also presents itself on a “collective” level–with the out-of-control crowd egging on the individuals involved. Darkness prevails, indeed, until interrupted by the fast-talking and showy Alfred Jingle. But then, too, he becomes another kind of character ruled by HIS shadow aspects.

    Therefore, I think Dickens is very much aware of both the individual and collective shadows that present themselves in THE PICKWICK PAPERS. Necessarily, then, the two “shadows” if you will, are present throughout the novel in various manifestations. The entire later structure of the novel around two major systems–the LAW and INCARCERATION–is a remarkable presentation of how the collective and individual shadows operate to capitalize on and subvert the moral desires of the general British populist at the time. In the Jungian sense, the various “shadows” as presented in the novel, conspire to deplete the individual of his or her basic rights under or above the law. In my reading of this novel, in particular, and maybe much of Dickens, there will be this constant series of shadow eruptions, both good and bad. But much more about this later!

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