Wherein we revisit our second week’s reading of Martin Chuzzlewit (Week 46 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a chapter summary and discussion wrap-up; containing a look-ahead to Week Three.
By the #DickensClub members, edited/compiled by Rach
Friends, if I am ever in need of a dramatic cure of my own illusions and follies, I’d be hard-pressed to say whether I’d prefer the terrifying prospect of three Ghosts on Christmas Eve, or this nightmare journey to America…
But if the latter, I hope at least that I have Mark Tapley close at hand.
This week, we’ve dealt with corpses and superstitious sons, hellish marriage prospects, tipsy caretakers, brash and dishonest Americans, obsequious architects, and deathly fevers out in the middle of nowhere.
How will our protagonists survive?
Here are some quick links:
- General Mems
- Martin Chuzzlewit, Week Two (Chs 13-26): A Summary
- Discussion Wrap-Up
- A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Martin Chuzzlewit (22-28 Nov, 2022)
If you’re counting, today is day 322 (and week 47) in our #DickensClub! Today we wrap up our second week of Martin Chuzzlewit, our ninth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the third week’s chapters, or 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. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship, The Dickens Society, and the Charles Dickens Letters Project for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Gina Dalfonzo, Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvelous online resource for us, and to The Charles Dickens Page and The Victorian Web for such fantastic background information and illustrations.
And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. Boze’s introduction to American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit can be found here; Chris’s supplement of Peter Ackroyd’s introductions can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.
And speaking of twitter, just in case of its spontaneous combustion like a certain friend of ours in Bleak House:
Martin Chuzzlewit, Week Two (Chs 13-26): A Summary
Young Martin, after the first flurry of his haste to get out of Pecksniff’s house abates–he later writes to Tom to have his clothes sent to him, as he’d left in such a hurry–finds money in the book that Pinch gave to him. His attitude towards Pinch is one of grateful superiority. The coach driver who takes Martin to London tells him about someone he knew who had gone to America to make his fortune.
Young Martin meets again with Montague Tigg while at a pawn shop; the former tries to be chummy, saying he has broken off with Chevy Slyme, and Martin gives him some money and is dismissive. In the weeks that pass while looking for employment, Martin gets accustomed to visiting the pawn shop—when, finally, an anonymous letter shows up, with twenty pounds. Martin also encounters another unexpected gift: Mark Tapley (who knows nothing of the money). Tapley assures him that he is simply ready for a position of adventure, and is not looking for something lucrative—he has enough saved to provide for his own needs, and he is still ready and willing even after hearing Martin’s full story, and why he is leaving.
Mark delivers a letter from young Martin to Mary Graham, discreetly (for she and old Martin are in London), and arranges for the two to meet and she tells of their recent closeness with the Pecksniffs.
Martin tells Mary that he believes all suffering he may undergo is worth it for her sake; he warns her to be wary of the Pecksniffs; meanwhile, Martin will come back to her once he has made money. After parting, Mark is sent by Mary to give young Martin a ring which she had bought as a kind of source of emergency money for him—young Martin doesn’t seem to give much notice of the sacrifice of her own funds that this implies, nor of the heart that goes with it.
Though Mark and Martin are both ill from the sea voyage to America, they handle themselves differently: Martin is cross, self-contained, and nervous of being seen as poor; Mark keeps everyone else in lively spirits and helps his fellow passengers, including a lone mother with her two sons, who is traveling to her husband. (We later find out, in an instance of foreshadowing, that when she meets her husband, he is very sick from the lack of clean water on the land that he had purchased.) Mark quickly becomes very popular.
Upon arrival in America, Martin and Mark meet with various American characters (Colonel Diver, Jefferson Brick) who are various shades of bragging, disdainful, over-familiar and inquisitive, brash and insensitive; however, he finally meets with one, Mr. Bevan, who is polite, reasonable, and unostentatious.
Meanwhile, back in England, Jonas can’t understand Mr. Chuffey’s attachment to his old employer. Mr. Pecksniff comes in, having received a letter from Anthony Chuzzlewit, and they discuss Jonas’ preference for Charity. When Jonas returns, they hear Chuffey scream as a strange noise as Anthony struggles for breath, and dies. Jonas begs Pecksniff to stay, fearing that people will think that he was to blame. They hire red-nosed Mrs. Gamp—though it takes Pecksniff a bit to waken her from sleep—who generally acts as a midwife, but she can sit with the corpse, if sustained by “a taste” of strong drink. For the following week, Pecksniff stays close to the nervous and superstitious Jonas, who fears his father’s ghost.
Jonas is back to his old self once the corpse is out of the way, and asks Pecksniff how much he’ll be giving his daughters as a dowry, and Pecksniff flatters him into thinking that all will depend on whether the young man is as worthy as, say, Jonas himself. When Jonas is alone with Charity, he acts as though she were in on his scheme—of getting in her good graces in order to be closer to her sister, Mercy. Charity is offended and leaves in a huff, while Mercy tries to evade Jonas and his marriage proposal, and would have no other object than to make him miserable if she ever did accept him.
In America, Martin draws his faithful (but in this case, rightfully dubious) Mark Tapley into a scheme to purchase land in a place called “Eden,” inspired by General Choke who is to introduce them to an agent, Mr. Scadder. Martin condescendingly offers to make Mark his partner, though Mark is investing the larger sum of money between them. Martin then attends a meeting of the Watertoast Sympathizers, whose secretary is Mr. Kettle, and Martin is surprised by the extremely racist and pro-slavery positions among its members.
While Mark is busily preparing for the steamboat journey to Eden, Martin finds himself the center of curiosity from many quarters—some of this, perhaps, due to the fact that he is going to Eden, which seems to be a bourne from which no traveller returns.
“On they toiled through great solitudes, where the trees upon the banks grew thick and close; and floatad in the stream; and held up shrivelled arms from out the river’s depths; and slid down from the margin of the land, half growing, half decaying, in the miry water. On through the weary day and melancholy night: beneath the burning sun, and in the mist and vapour of the evening: on, until return appeared impossible, and restoration to their home a miserable dream.”
When Mark and Martin arrive in Eden, they find it is a swampy, thick-forested patch of nowhere, with only a few dingy cabins—theirs is doorless—and a bad fever raging through its few inhabitants. Martin breaks down, while Mark puts up a door and makes arrangements for something resembling a habitation and food. Martin becomes ill.
In England, while Jonas is at the Pecksniff’s, old Martin comes to visit with Mary Graham. He asks to see Jonas, who defends himself as not being the worst son in the world. Afterwards, Tom Pinch escorts old Martin and Mary to their lodgings at the Dragon, and on his way back encounters Jonas who is hostile to Tom, and tries to hit him with his stick but injures himself as Tom is put on the defensive. Tom helps him home. Charity, once she realizes the true state of the case, is happy with Tom and for any injury that is done to Jonas.
Mercy has a conversation with old Martin, and admits that she will only be marrying Jonas to quarrel with him and make him her slave. Old Martin questions her in several ways, entreating her to consider her motives; he clearly wishes not only to understand her, but to help her to understand her own mind and to rethink her priorities. However, when she is determined to proceed with the marriage, he wishes her joy—with a gently emphatic repetition of the word.
Mercy puts off the marriage that Jonas is wanting to proceed with hastily; she insists that he do exactly as she says; Jonas intends to have his revenge after they are married.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Gamp is caring for Mr. Chuffey in Jonas’ absence, and sneaks away to do another patient-sitting job during the night hours, to which she was referred by Mrs. Prig, who watches during the daytime.
“The lady in question was by this time in the doorway, curtseying to Mrs. Mould. At the same moment a peculiar fragrance was borne upon the breeze, as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed, and had previously been to a wine-vaults.”
She overhears John Westlock talking about the patient, an old schoolfellow of his, and Westlock wants to supplement any needed money for care of the patient. However, in the patient’s delirious chatter, Jonas Chuzzlewit is mentioned. Meanwhile, “Poll” (Paul) the barber has come with young Bailey to help Mrs. Gamp move out of Jonas Chuzzlewit’s house. Mrs. Gamp—whose services are no longer needed, according to Jonas—notices that the recently married Mercy (married a month prior) is looking unwell and unhappy. Chuffey, realizing that she is married to Jonas, curses the wicked house.
What We Loved–and Didn’t
Lenny loved the hilarious passage as Pecksniff tries to maintain his dignity–and even to hold forth–while being told off for trespassing on a stranger’s lawn:
Rob “loved the idea of the year having a wardrobe”, and was thrilled with Chapter 2’s opening. He is preferring the Pecksniffian shenanigans in England to the adventures in America with Martin and Mark:
Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Characterization and Self-Definition; Mrs. Gamp; Dickens and America; “Eden”
The Stationmaster considers whether Dickens should have started the book with the second chapter:
Okay, but what do we think of Mrs. Gamp? The Stationmaster is not so sure…
Chris comments on how “the altercation between Tom Pinch and Jonas is the proverbial battle between good and evil, with good prevailing.” She also finds Mrs. Gamp to be “not as funny as critics have purported her to be”; yet, “Mrs Gamp’s creating herself or defining herself via Mrs Harris is like watching Dickens creating himself or defining himself though his characters”:
Stationmaster commented that “Steven Marcus’s tribute to Mrs. Gamp reminds me of critical praise of Shakespeare’s Falstaff.” I responded, wondering whether Mrs. Gamp is the supreme example of why Dickens also needs to be read aloud:
Stationmaster then shared with us a fabulous clip of the great Miriam Margolyes doing Mrs. Gamp:
Meanwhile, Chris shared an article which helps to illuminate the ill-fated Eden purchase:
Here is Chris’ file:
Here, the Stationmaster tackles the offensiveness–or otherwise–of Dickens’ portrayal of America, and how he channels his anger into his biting comedy:
Chris responds, as to why “the American scenes are difficult reading,” but why the whole sojourn is effective for the interior journey of our heroes:
“I guess if I were to take issue with any part of Dickens’s satire of America or say that America has progressed past it by now, it’s the idea that Americans are obnoxiously patriotic or jingoistic” but “other than that, I’d say Dickens’s satire of the USA was pretty spot on. LOL. (Actually, I’d say that even the part I just pushed back against was spot on. Just more spot on for Americans I meet on social media than the ones I meet face to face.)”
~ Adaptation Stationmaster comment
Martin Chuzzlewit as “Problem Novel”: Problematic Comedy; Young Martin as “Antihero”; Finding Mercy’s “Core Sensibilities”
Following up on one paragraph in the Stationmaster’s comment above, I am considering his idea about whether or not the American voyage really works as a vehicle for young Martin’s character development:
Lenny had brought us back earlier to this whole notion that we’ve begun discussing in relation to several aspects of Martin Chuzzlewit. With its “antihero,” its problematic comedy, its manipulations for good and ill…is this a “problem novel”?
Yes…how to “the comic and ‘tragic’ or serious moments weigh against one another”? Here, Lenny comments on that extraordinary bit of dialogue between old Martin and Merry, as he tries to probe her reasoning for accepting Jonas as a husband, warning her of impending unhappiness:
I responded about my love of this scene, and that it has, perhaps, planted a seed in Merry’s mind, to bear fruit later.
A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Martin Chuzzlewit (22-28 Nov, 2022)
This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 27-41, which constitute installments XI-XV, published November 1843-March 1844.