Wherein we reluctantly say farewell to our Pickwickian friends as we glance back at the sixth week of the #DickensClub journey with The Pickwick Papers (week fourteen of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23); With General Memoranda, and a summary of reading and discussion.
“Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick are the Sancho and the Quixote of Londoners, and as little likely to pass away as the old city itself.”
“Sorry to do anythin’ as may cause an interruption to such wery pleasant proceedin’s, as the king said wen he dissolved the parliament,” but it’s time, friends, for say a farewell to our friends in this final summary and discussion wrap-up of The Pickwick Papers. What a delightful journey it has been!
With today’s conclusion of our second read, The Pickwick Papers, we’re at Day 98 of the #DickensClub as a whole, and the start of Week 15. I know a few of us have already been posting closing thoughts, but if you want to share anything else at the conclusion of Pickwick, please feel free to do so in the comments!
Tomorrow we’ll begin Oliver Twist, with a 5-week reading schedule. If all goes as planned, I’ll have an “Introduction to Oliver Twist” posted tomorrow morning.
As always, no matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! And Thank You to our 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! And another huge Thank You to Dr. Christian Lehmann, whose marvelous video posted in the Introduction is one that has been a huge help throughout our Pickwickian journey.
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 Six/Final Pickwick Summary (Chapters 47-57)
We left our Pickwickian friends with the discovery that Mrs. Bardell herself had been imprisoned in the Fleet, for execution of the cognovit that she had signed after the trial, for the costs due to Dodson and Fogg, those sharp practitioners! Sam had sent Job to fetch Mr. Perker ~ a brilliant move. That latter gentleman persuades Mr. Pickwick that he now has an opportunity to do some good to one who had wronged him (as the Fleet is no place for a lady) by paying these lawyers’ costs for her. In return, she would not only drop all charges and the damages the court demanded he pay, but she will reveal plainly in writing that Dodson and Fogg had been behind the whole scheme in the first place, egging her on. Perker makes a good case…
“‘You have now an opportunity, on easy terms, of placing yourself in a much higher position than you ever could, by remaining here…Can you hesitate to avail yourself of it, when it restores you to your friends, your old pursuits, your health and amusements; when it liberates your faithful and attached servant, whom you otherwise doom to imprisonment for the whole of your life; and above all, when it enables you to take the very magnanimous revenge—which I know, my dear sir, is one after your own heart—of releasing this woman from a scene of misery and debauchery, to which no man should ever be consigned, if I had my will, but the infliction of which on any woman, is even more frightful and barbarous.'”
Added to the incentives for Mr. Pickwick to finally bid farewell to prison life, Mr. Winkle and his (now) wife, Arabella, enter the cell, revealing that they have been married. They implore Mr. Pickwick’s help in reconciling this fact to Arabella’s brother, and to Winkle’s father. Mr. Pickwick is overcome, and allows himself to be persuaded to adopt the course Mr. Perker has suggested.
But persuading Mr. Allen and Mr. Sawyer of reconciliation to the marriage, though not a walk in the park, is more successful, it would appear, than persuading Mr. Winkle’s father ~ especially as Mr. Pickwick is unwillingly attended by both Allen and Sawyer (one drunk and drowsy, the other, jokester that he is, making a mess of it).
Mr. Winkle’s father, making clear his disappointment, coldly says little more than that he will consider the matter. Meanwhile, on the journey, Pickwick has heard the story of the bagman’s uncle and the ghostly mail coaches.
On the way back to London, the group stops in Towcester due to the bad weather, and Pickwick breaks up a fight between rival political candidates, Slurk and our old acquaintance Mr. Pott, whose wife has left him.
Back in London, Sam gets the news that his stepmother has died, and requests a leave of absence from Mr. Pickwick in order to visit his father.
Mrs. Weller left something for both Sam and his father in her will, repenting of her association with Mr. Stiggins and those he represents. Tony Weller gives him a real thrashing when than latter gentleman comes to see what has been left for him. Sam accompanies his father to settle matters in regards to his stepmother’s estate with the lawyer Mr. Pell.
Mr. Pickwick pays off the lawyers’ fees to Dodson and Fogg as he verbally sends them packing; meanwhile, he has arranged for Jingle and Job not only to be freed, but to emigrate and start a new life.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wardle and Emily have arrived, and there is talk of an elopement between Emily and Mr. Snodgrass. After a few shenanigans involving the fat boy, who has become enamored of Sam’s Mary, Wardle is reconciled to the love between Snodgrass and Emily.
As the legacy left Sam and his father becomes settled, Tony Weller takes his part of the money to try and give Mr. Pickwick to handle; Pickwick suggests the idea of setting Sam up in business with it, but Sam refuses to leave his master.
Chris sums this all up the whole of these final chapters beautifully:
“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 Pickwickians, done with their rambling adventures at least for now, begin to settle down ~ Pickwick and Tupman as bachelors, and Snodgrass and Winkle as new husbands. Mr. Winkle’s father proves himself amenable to persuasion after all, especially after seeing Arabella’s charms, and helps set his son up in business in London. Tony Weller is well set up in life upon his own retirement with the money Mr. Pickwick has managed so well for him. Mr. Pickwick himself has purchased a home in Dulwich, arranging matters for Mary to take over as housekeeper in good time and enable the marriage between Mary and Sam, and Sam will never have need to part from his beloved master and friend.
“Mr. Pickwick is somewhat infirm now; but her retains all his former juvinility of spirit, and may still be frequently seen, contemplating the pictures of the Dulwich Gallery, or enjoying a walk about the pleasant neighborhood on a fine day. He is known by all the poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off, as he passes, with great respect. The children idolise him, and so indeed does the whole neighborhood. Every year, he repairs to a large family merry-making at Mr. Wardle’s; on this, as on all other occasions, he is invariably attended by the faithful Sam, between whom and his master there exists a steady and reciprocal attachment which nothing but death will terminate.”
And on that note…
A few of us on twitter commented on one of those delightful instances of Dickensiana, where fiction meets quasi-fictional reality, with the real-life “Pickwick Cottage” in Dulwich. The Dulwich Local History account, in response, tweeted an article about the whole delightful myth of the place, and how this home came to be associated with Pickwick’s retirement residence. It certainly seems to fit the description, but, as the article indicates, much of what we see in paintings or modern photographs came a little later than the publication of The Pickwick Papers.
A new twitter friend, Maria, who lives not far from 31 College Road, kindly took a Sunday trip and got some marvelous pictures for us! I’m attaching the picture of her tweets, but will add the full pictures here as well…Thank you, Maria!! These are in gallery mode; click on each to see enlarged:
“The Conscience of Victorian England“
Boze started us off in talking about the voice that Dickens was becoming for the common man and the suffering. What Dickens writes of about the Fleet perhaps comes from his own experience in witnessing his father in a debtors’ prison:
“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.”
“…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.'”
What We Loved: Reading Dickens Aloud, Mr. Pickwick’s Changing Role, the Beauty of Dickens’ Prose
To continue Boze’s thought, he here discusses the Christmas sequence, Dickens’ crowd-pleasing theatricality, and the importance of reading Dickens’ aloud:
Besides the atmosphere, and that the relationship between Pickwick and Sam has the final word in the novel, I mentioned my special love for the changing role of Mr. Pickwick:
Chris and Lenny both noted their love for the beautiful passage about the dreary day, which helped Chris see her own dreary day in a new light.
Lenny agrees: “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.”
Merriment, Mayhem, Violence: Theatricality in Dickens
Lenny was particularly struck ~ so to speak ~ by the violence in some of our final chapters:
He notes this in relation to the violent language ~ “assassinate,” “kill” ~used by Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen, in relation to any trying to tamper with Arabella. Lenny continues:
“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, the real kicker (so to speak) for Lenny was the violence shown by Tony Weller to Stiggins, and Lenny is “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!”
In response, but before responding fully, I was first musing Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen (and here, I quite literally, in illustration of the following comment, wrote “Bob Allen,” and I don’t think that’s only lack of coffee!):
“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.”
Then, I consider the violence in terms of what Boze had discussed above, Dickens’ theatricality. I wrote:
I thought later, connected to stage comedic violence, this is the world of early Punch & Judy, and violent beatings, even for something supposedly kid-friendly. I also considered, though ~ not to excuse Tony Weller’s violence, but to add to the perspective, that perhaps his was a blow-for-blow approach, as contrasted with Pickwick’s mercy, which both Chris and Lenny have discussed:
“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.”
Then, in the true Dickensian spirit of bringing us ’round again, Lenny brought us back to the Jungian “shadow” (again, the light/darkness theme in Pickwick):
Echoes and Foreshadowings
As shown above, Boze had discussed the themes of imprisonment and theatricality which we’ll see again and again. Lenny’s wife had seen a foreshadowing of the atmospheric Bleak House opening in the passage on the dreary day. Chris and I add a few notes on this:
“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?)“
“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 thought I’d try something, and I’d love feedback to hear whether it is of interest and helpful. (Please let me know what I’ve missed, because we’ve discussed so much! I’ve had to cherry-pick and summarize.) But looking over our discussion wrap-ups of the last six weeks, certain themes were popping out ~ some carried over from the Sketches ~ and I thought it would be of interest in this final Pickwick post to also wrap up some of the recurring/notable themes in our conversations. In part, to see how they recur/change/develop over the course of future novels.
So, here are a few thematic highlights:
1.) Darkness and Light, Tragedy and Comedy (Including Lenny’s focus on the shadow emerging in violence, misery, imprisonment. The “Hearts of Darkness” within London: “the Law, Prisons, and Poor Relief.” This is in contrast to Pickwickian “light,” and imagery of the sun, shining, breadth/expansiveness, etc. And Pickwick is, as Boze earlier on had said of Dickens himself, “like the sun by whose light all of us are warmed.”)
2.) Entrapment (We’ve all brought this up in relation to the debtors’ prisons, etc, and we’ve noted how this will continue to unfold in future novels. Lenny’s line about Pickwick’s “tendency to become incarcerated.”)
3.) The Ideals of Christmas; Whimsy; “The Right Sort of Merriment” (The line Chris drew us to. These include good humor & fellowship. Daniel, Boze, and Chris have been remarking on this recently, but we’ve all been delighting in it. Priscilla has been sharing marvelous quotes which capture the whimsical spirit of the book.)
4.) Mutability and Mortality (As Lenny especially noted in reference to the Shelley poem, and over the course of several weeks. I’ve added thoughts on those things which, perhaps, those things which remain changeless in spite of the mutability of life’s circumstances. Also, interior change as a result.)
5.) Dickensian Theatricality/the Stage (How formative this was for Dickens, and which might have been a career. We’ve all discussed this, but Boze, Chris, and I came back to it this week particularly. I think under this heading we can also come back to Boze’s comment about the importance of “hearing” Dickens, of reading him aloud. Dana and Daniel listened to the whole of Pickwick on audiobook ~ and it is a marvelous audiobook.)
6.) Chaplinesque comedy; the “Irony of Circumstance” (This was noted especially by Lenny, and by Dr. Christian in the wonderful video linked in the Introduction. As Lenny had said early on: “comedy of incident, comedy inherent in dialogue, comedy in Boz’s description of dress, even a slice of Romantic Comedy.”)
7.) Dickens’ Romanticism (Quixoticism, adventure, beauty, curiosity. Daniel first brought up the word, and Lenny has been bringing us back to it, & we’ve all added to the discussion. I think here we can refer back to Dr. Christian’s idea that it is “a novel of consumption” ~ of devouring experiences. Crucial to the “juvenility of spirit” characteristic of Mr. Pickwick. Life as beauty, adventure, idealism.)
8.) The Sense of Place (Steve, Chris, Boze, and I ~ and twitter friend Maria this week! ~ have especially been noting things about the locales, the history, the festive descriptions. The White Hart Inn, Pickwick Cottage, the Fleet, etc.)
9.) Voice ~ including “Jinglese” (Dickens’ masterful characterizations. Daniel, Dana, and Chris particularly noted this, though we’ve all been delighting in it.)
10.) “Innocence to Knowing Awareness”; Pickwick’s Development and Role Change; a “Pilgrim’s Progress” (Chris elaborated beautifully in our Week 3 post about this, and I’ve commented lately about the change from master to father. Lenny has brought us back to the parallels to Quixote and Pilgrim’s Progress. We’ve all commented on variations of the theme of Pickwick’s growth.)
11.) Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Influences, Craftsmanship, Narrative Shifts (Lenny’s “writing lab” image has stuck with us since early on in the Sketches, and we’ve all noted how it is playing out here as he hones his craft and starts defining. Boze and Lenny are noting it from a writer’s perspective most especially. Chris and Lenny have marvelous passages on this in the Week 4 post.)
12.) Dickens’ Women (a.k.a. Poor Miss Wardle! Chris had a marvelous piece on this which was wrapped up in the Week 3 post, and we’ll want to keep the conversation going about this.)
13.) The Dickensian influence (Boze and Dana have remarked strongly on this; Boze brought us to the comparisons to The Fellowship of the Ring and Alice in Wonderland; Dana and I have remarked on Pickwick’s clear influence on Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.)
14.) Turning Points (I gave a little extra focus to the “turning point for Sam” during the sequence when Pickwick is lost in the hotel; and then the huge turning point for Pickwick with the meeting with Jingle in the Fleet, which most of us have noted in various ways.)
15.) Everybody Needs a Sam. (We’ve all thought or said it. Enough said.)
A Look Ahead…
Friends, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow for the beginning of our adventure with Oliver Twist!
Meanwhile, while moving on to all of our subsequent works, I wanted to bring us ’round again to our introduction, with Chesterton. Like him, I don’t think we can ever truly “leave” our Pickwickians. As long as there is good in the world, as long as there are daydreamers and quixotic adventurers and those who are young-at-heart, we’ll always have London’s very own Don Quixote and Sancho: our Mr. Pickwick, and his ever-faithful Sam Weller.
“In one sense, indeed, [Pickwick] is something nobler than a novel, for no novel with a plot and a proper termination could emit that sense of everlasting youth—a sense of the gods gone wandering in England. This is not a novel, for all novels have an end; and ‘Pickwick,’ properly speaking, has no end—he is equal unto the angels. […] Even as a boy I believed there were some more pages that were torn out of my copy, and I am looking for them still…
“We know he broke out, that he took again the road of the high adventures; we know that if we take it ourselves in any acre of England, we may come suddenly upon him in a lane.”