Martin Chuzzlewit, Week 4 ~ and a Week 3 Wrap-Up

Wherein we revisit our third week’s reading of Martin Chuzzlewit (Week 47 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a chapter summary and discussion wrap-up; containing a look-ahead to Week Four.

(Banner image: Tom Pinch’s Dismissal, by Fred Barnard. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.Via Victorian Web.)

Pecksniff, by Fred Barnard

By the #DickensClub members, edited/compiled by Rach

Friends, I hope you’ve hall had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend, for those who celebrate!

Can you believe that we are about to embark on our final week of Martin Chuzzlewit? Our break between reads will begin on Tues, 6 December, and we’ll have our second online group chat the following Saturday, for those who can make it.

Lots to catch up on, but first, here are some quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. Martin Chuzzlewit, Week Three (Chs 27-41): A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-Ahead to Week Four of Martin Chuzzlewit (29 Nov-5 Dec, 2022)

General Mems

Friends, I’m thrilled to welcome a new member to our lovely group, Kevin D.! Warm welcome, Kevin! Kevin is the first to find and join us through Mastadon, so this is a really delightful way to begin some Dickensian chat there, too…

SAVE THE DATE: Friendly reminder that we will have our second online group chat on Saturday, 10 December, 11am PT/2pm ET/7pm GMT! Watch for Rach’s email this week. If Rach doesn’t have you on her email list and you’d like the Zoom link, please email her here! This meeting will be mostly centered around Dickens’s “American works,” American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit. (Note: Please join if you’d like, even if you’re not up to date in the reading–as long as you don’t mind potential spoilers!)

Boze, Chris and I posted a little calendar of sorts related to some Dickensian events in the wider Dickensian community during the holiday season, and some of our favorite Dickensian holiday films, reads, or listens. If you have any suggestions we’d love to hear them!

If you’re counting, today is day 329 (and week 48) in our #DickensClub! Today we wrap up our third week of Martin Chuzzlewit, our ninth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the fourth 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.

Martin Chuzzlewit, Week Three (Chs 27-41): A Summary

Our old friend Bailey from Mrs. Todgers’ residence is now jobbing for the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company, run by the now-thriving and nearly-unrecognizable Mr “Tigg Montague.” (Remember Montague Tigg?) We are introduced to a Mr Jobling, a doctor who mentions the Company frequently. In Tigg’s orbit are also Messrs, Crimple, Wolf, Pip, and Nadgett—the latter a kind of stealthy, enigmatic spy for Tigg.

“The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company started into existence one morning, not an Infant Institution, but a Grown-up Company running alone at a great pace, and doing business right and left…”

Tigg encounters Jonas Chuzzlewit again and, intuiting that he can make more out of him by being “upfront” about his shady dealings in the business, invites Jonas to join the Company, with the assurance that there is plenty of money to be had. Jonas, flattered to be considered too clever to be taken in by Tigg, is still hesitant; he has dinner with Tigg to discuss. When Bailey takes the tipsy Jonas home, he witnesses firsthand, with sadness, the change that has taken place in Merry due to her unhappy situation.

Going for a “shave” to Poll Sweedlepipe the barber, Bailey sees Mrs Gamp enter, and then accompanies her to her next patient at an inn, and John Westlock enters after. The patient, in some distress, tells John that he needs to communicate some news to him, but he’s not yet strong enough.

“Mrs. Gamp shook her head mysteriously, and pursed up her lips. ‘There’s fevers of the mind,’ she said, ‘as well as body. You may take your slime drafts till you files into the air with efferwescence; but you won’t cure that.'”

Charity Pecksniff, still resentful of the way the situation with Jonas and Merry was handled, and thinking that her father means to take a second wife—and she believes she can guess the intended, Mary Graham—becomes rebellious at the Pecksniffery in the house, and wants her own lodging. (She does not leave, however, without a friendly parting from Tom Pinch.) The vacancy prompts Pecksniff, who believes that old Martin is somewhat on the decline mentally, to invite old Martin and Mary Graham to come and live with him. Old Martin seems agreeable, though he insists on paying.

“`I say,’ repeated Martin, with a glimmer of his old obstinacy, `you leave the recompense to me. Do you?’

`Since you desire it, my good sir.’

`I always desire it,’ said the old man. `You know I always desire it. I wish to pay as I go, even when I buy of you. Not that I do not leave a balance to be settled one day, Pecksniff.’

The architect was too much overcome to speak. He tried to drop a tear upon his patron’s hand, but couldn’t find one in his dry distillery.”

No sooner does Pecksniff get Mary alone, however, than he begins to press his suit to an unwilling listener—even to the point of threat: if she accepts him, he can use his influence with old Martin to have a beneficial effect on the grandson, young Martin, who is currently out of favor. (The implication being, that he can also do young Martin a lot of harm.)

“Martin is Much Gratified by an Imposing Ceremony,” by Phiz.

Mary, meeting with Tom in the church, confides in him about the harrowing experience with Pecksniff. (They don’t know, however, that Pecksniff, who had stopped in to rest, can hear the conversation.) While it is evident how high Tom regards Mary, his respect for her and his desire for her to be united with young Martin keeps him from saying anything more direct to her. Tom has great difficulty at first in accepting the truth about Pecksniff, for whom he had always had the greatest respect, but after Mary’s story the truth cannot be doubted, and he returns to the household dejected, knowing that he cannot stay—

–But Pecksniff is determined to get the better of Tom before Tom can let the cat out of the bag about his own dishonorable behavior and, accusing Tom of having feelings for Mary, dramatically dismisses Tom from his service, in front of old Martin.

At Mrs Todgers’ residence, Charity begins to be courted by Mr Moddle, who is interested in her more because he is reminded of his lost love, Mercy.

Meanwhile, in America, Mark, seeking medicine for Martin, runs into the family that he had helped on their trip across the ocean, and they give him their aid, though one of their children is sick. Mark and Martin are visited by the spit-wielding, European-bashing Hannibal Chollop. As Martin recovers, however, Mark becomes sick, and this reversal is the beginning of real reflection and change for young Martin, who begins to realize the full extent of his own selfishness and self-absorption.

“He made a solemn resolution that when his strength returned he would not dispute the point or resist the conviction, but would look upon it as an established fact, that selfishness was in his breast, and must be rooted out. He was so doubtful (and with justice) of his own character, that he determined not to say one word of vain regret or good resolve to Mark, but steadily to keep his purpose before his own eyes solely: and there was not a jot of pride in this; nothing but humility and steadfastness: the best armour he could wear. So low had Eden brought him down. So high had Eden raised him up.”

“Mr Pinch Departs to Seek His Fortune,” by Phiz.

As Mark recovers, Martin is willing even to ask help from his grandfather to get them out of the situation that young Martin has gotten them into; first, however, they decide to try and write to the kindly Mr Bevan. After meeting several other fine American specimens on the steamboat, they finally meet up with their old friend Mr Bevan, who loans them the money for their passage to England—however, they are quickly able to repay it, as Mark, who was recognized for his services on that same ship coming to America, has secured a position as a ship’s cook during their passage back.

Their return to England, though a very happy occasion, is clouded by witnessing the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the great architect, Pecksniff…only, the building is the very one young Martin had designed, which Pecksniff has taken the credit for!

“Mr Nadgett Breathes as Usual an Atmosphere of Mystery,” by Phiz.

Tom Pinch, meanwhile, journeys to London to seek his fortune—not without a kindly basket for the journey, provided by the kindly Mrs Lupin of the Blue Dragon. Seeking to take advice from John Westlock, who is overjoyed to see him—but doesn’t gloat about his disillusionment regarding Pecksniff, as Tom is too genuinely grieved by it, and so John is too—and John insists that Tom stay with him in the meanwhile.

Tom then visits his sister, and seeing the verbal/emotional abuse and the lack of respect in an untenable position she is placed in at her employer’s, Tom takes a stand for her and rescues her from that situation. They take a lodging together, and Tom is determined to find a situation that can provide for them both.

Meeting up with Charity in the streets and finding himself a bit lost, Tom is invited in to meet up again with Merry, and then a friend of theirs will accompany Tom after. Tom sees that Merry is greatly changed, and feels compassion for her, and speaks with her very kindly in spite of the treatment he’d experienced from all of the Pecksniff family. Merry considers now, and confesses to Tom, that although she is extremely grateful for the warning old Martin gave her before her marriage, she wishes he had been even a little more adamant, and pursued it a little longer, and she might have relented, and would have been saved.

“Mr Pinch and Ruth Unconscious of a Visitor,” by Phiz.

Sly Mr Nadgett has been spying on Jonas for Tigg, and when Jonas begins to express his dislike of the business proceedings and his lack of power within them, Jonas realizes that he might be trapped: Tigg has something on Jonas that must keep him involved. Tigg suggests that Jonas start working on Mr Pecksniff, to get his investment with the company.

Meanwhile, the domestic scene at Tom and Ruth’s little household charms John Westlock, who is even more charmed with Ruth. Tom invites him to dine with them, much to Ruth’s consternation, fearing she will make a mess of the dinner. While there, John says that a certain Mr Fips of Austin Friars, acting on behalf of a mysterious benefactor, has offered Tom a position as a kind of secretary and library-organizer to this unnamed person, for 100 pounds a year.

John and Tom meet with Mr Fips the following day, and the situation is agreed upon, and Tom shown his new workplace—though he is still unacquainted with his employer, who is out of town.

“Mysterious Installation of Mr Pinch,” by Phiz.

“Every day brought one recurring, never-failing source of speculation. This employer; would he come to-day, and what would he be like? For Tom could not stop short at Mr. Fips; he quite believed that Mr. Fips had spoken truly, when he said he acted for another; and what manner of man that other was, became a full-blown flower of wonder in the garden of Tom’s fancy, which never faded or got trodden down.”

On one of their pre-work walks, Tom and Ruth meet up one morning with Mrs Gamp near the dockyards, who is concerned about a young woman roughly handled by the man who is all but dragging her towards a ship—it is Mercy and Jonas—but a mysterious letter, which Tom was asked to deliver, convinces Jonas to forsake his travel plans. Tigg apologizes for ruining their trip. Later, as Tigg once again approaches Jonas about working on Pecksniff, Jonas, seeing that he is trapped, takes on an air of dangerous recklessness, and is ready for action.

Discussion Wrap-Up

What We Loved–and Didn’t

Daniel was curious about what Dickens was thinking when he considered Martin Chuzzlewit to be “immeasurably the best of my stories” so far; also, he is “intrigued by Tom Pinch”:

Daniel M. comment

Lenny, while wishing Daniel well after his bout of Covid (and we’re all so glad the quarantine is over and the symptoms were mild!), agrees with the considerations about the character of Tom Pinch:

Lenny H. comment

I respond:

Rach M. comment

Daniel agrees, and, although “MC seems to be missing some of [Dickens’s] best characters we have encountered so far,” there is a satisfaction in knowing that, “in time, the villains get their due and the good emerge intact and ‘triumphant'”:

Daniel M. comment
Daniel M. comment

Martin Chuzzlewit’s “Inflection Point,” and the “Slough of Despond”

Lenny is finding Martin Chuzzlewit a rough go in some of these middle passages–a true Slough of Despond, if we’re in the midst of a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress here–with the dismal reality of “Eden,” the insurance scam, and Merry’s hateful marriage to Jonas Chuzzlewit. The whole narrative seems to be “spiraling down,” and even Mrs Gamp seems too dark a figure to be altogether comical:

Lenny H. comment

Dickens’s “Writing Lab”: “Best Novel”; Response to Marcus

On “the question on Dickens’s assessment of MC,” Chris shares with us a passage from Steven Marcus’s Dickens from Pickwick to Dombey, where he argues, as Chris sums it up, “that in MC Dickens has successfully corralled language to do his bidding–this is the ‘power’ Dickens recognizes he has and which he will use to great advantage in his forthcoming works”:

Chris M. comment

Here is Chris’s file:

The Stationmaster and Lenny respond to Marcus:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment
Lenny H. comment

The Stationmaster writes that Chapter 31 is “the most emotionally devastating in the book” for him, particularly these passages:

“And now the full agitation and misery of the disclosure came rushing upon Tom indeed. The star of his whole life from boyhood had become, in a moment, putrid vapour. It was not that Pecksniff, Tom’s Pecksniff, had ceased to exist, but that he never had existed. In his death Tom would have had the comfort of remembering what he used to be, but in this discovery, he had the anguish of recollecting what he never was. For as Tom’s blindness in this matter had been total and not partial, so was his restored sight. His Pecksniff could never have worked the wickedness of which he had just now heard, but any other Pecksniff could; and the Pecksniff who could do that could do anything, and no doubt had been doing anything and everything except the right thing all through his career. From the lofty height on which poor Tom had placed his idol it was tumbled down headlong, and

“Not all the king’s horses, nor all the king’s men,
Could have set Mr. Pecksniff up again.
Legions of Titans couldn’t have got him out of the mud; and serve him right! But it was not he who suffered; it was Tom. His compass was broken, his chart destroyed, his chronometer had stopped, his masts were gone by the board; his anchor was adrift, ten thousand leagues away.”


“Early on summer mornings, and by the light of private candle-ends on winter nights, he had read himself half blind in this same room. He had tried in this same room to learn the fiddle under the bedclothes, but yielding to objections from the other pupils, had reluctantly abandoned the design. At any other time he would have parted from it with a pang, thinking of all he had learned there, of the many hours he had passed there; for the love of his very dreams. But there was no Pecksniff; there never had been a Pecksniff, and the unreality of Pecksniff extended itself to the chamber, in which, sitting on one particular bed, the thing supposed to be that Great Abstraction had often preached morality with such effect that Tom had felt a moisture in his eyes, while hanging breathless on the words.”

But the Stationmaster feels, at the same time, that “it’s gratifying that Tom maintains and even gains his dignity throughout the chapter.”

And Lenny agrees, feeling that he has “moved past the ‘inflection point'” and is enjoying the ride with Tom to London, away from Pecksniff. “We may,” Lenny writes, “have crossed the line from dark tragedy to redeeming comic feeling and events”:

Lenny H. comment

Martin Chuzzlewit as “Problem Novel”: The Redemption of Martin the Younger

Though much of our conversation could be considered in the light of “Martin Chuzzlewit as ‘Problem Novel,'” I’ll put here the Stationmaster’s consideration of “how Dickens handles the redemption of Martin the younger” and the potential problem of “a character undergoing some sort of spiritual rebirth while being ill and cared for by someone who’s morally superior to them”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

The Stationmaster’s blog on some interesting adaptations of two of Dickens’s Christmas Books can be found here.

“The Life and Adventures of Tom Pinch”

The Stationmaster wishes that “this book had been The Life and Adventures of Tom Pinch,” and he particularly loves the speech that Tom gives to Ruth’s employer.

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

I agree about wanting to read such a book, and wonder whether Dickens is enacting on paper some of the kinds of scenarios he would like to have been saved from, or brought into. If only the young Dickens had had a sibling like Tom to rescue him from the blacking factory; if only he had had a benevolent benefactor to bestow upon him the kind of dream job that Tom Pinch deservedly finds!

Rach M. comment

A Look-Ahead to Week Four of Martin Chuzzlewit (29 Nov-5 Dec, 2022)

This week, we’ll be finishing Martin Chuzzlewit (Chapters 42-54), and these final chapters constitute the monthly installments XVI-XX, published April to July 1844. (The last, XIX-XX or Chs. 51-54, was a double number.)

If you’d like to read it online, you can find Martin Chuzzlewit at The Circumlocution Office. It can also be downloaded at sites such as Gutenberg.


  1. I’ll add to that toast with one to Rach for another marvelous summary and collation of the various remarks in our most recent reading. To Dickens, to Rach, and to December!!! Hip, hip, Hooray!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is about last week’s reading, not this one’s, but I thought I’d mention that it’s interesting (to me) that Ruth finds being a housekeeper so much better than being a governess. In my culture, women seem to gravitate toward teaching jobs, and I don’t know anyone whose goal in life is to be a professional housekeeper. (Of course, such people could still exist, and I just don’t meet them in my lower middle-class neighborhood.)

    I’m not necessarily criticizing Dickens BTW. After all, the idea that being a governess was a miserable job appears in enough old novels that it must have had some basis in reality and it’s not like housekeeping is a fate worse than death. It’s just…interesting.

    I appreciated Chris’s article about the model for Eden. While I’d vaguely assumed it was based on real scams that were happening in America at the time, it had never occurred to me to do any research on them. Does anyone know if the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance company was similarly ripped from the headlines?

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  3. I still don’t find Mrs. Gamp that funny, but I got a kick out of this description of some of her belongings.

    What Mrs Gamp wanted in chairs she made up in bandboxes; of which she had a great collection, devoted to the reception of various miscellaneous valuables, which were not, however, as well protected as the good woman, by a pleasant fiction, seemed to think; for, though every bandbox had a carefully closed lid, not one among them had a bottom; owing to which cause the property within was merely, as it were, extinguished. The chest of drawers having been originally made to stand upon the top of another chest, had a dwarfish, elfin look, alone; but in regard of its security it had a great advantage over the bandboxes, for as all the handles had been long ago pulled off, it was very difficult to get at its contents. This indeed was only to be done by one or two devices; either by tilting the whole structure forward until all the drawers fell out together, or by opening them singly with knives, like oysters.

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    1. Stationmaster: there IS humor in this description of Sarah’s apartment’s accoutrements, but it is almost Chaplinesque, and as such, is there in spite of the reader’s awareness of the sad circumstances under which she lives. The Tramp in Chaplin’s films wears cast-offs that hardly fit him, that are often threadbare, and make him a clownish, figure who we laugh at in spite of ourselves. Classic Chaplin comedy in tragedy. We laugh at Keaton’s slipping on the banana peel perhaps the first two times, but then by the third time we begin to analyze and become aware of the looks on the actor’s face, the fact that his body is getting hammered by his fall, and that the whole routine is less funny than we think. This is the kind of humor we get out of Dickens’ portrayal of Sarah, her clothes, her living quarters, and the way she “makes her living.”
      And it explains my earlier comments about the way in which she DOES–for lack of a better words–function as a businesswoman. Parasitically, it appears, she lives off the acute tragedies of other human beings, or off women in the throes of childbirth. She seems to fill a function of some sort, and has created for herself in her little world something that brings her a modicum of satisfaction. But ultimately, she is as tragic a figure as those she “sits” for. Again, comedy in tragedy! We smile, we laugh (somewhat) until we realize what we are laughing at. Dickens, like Chaplin, is a master of this kind of comedy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great to catch up with all the discussion from last week. I had hoped to pop some comments down, but have had a jolly busy week of, at first, rehearsals and then performances ( I am working as a performer on The Polar Express Train Ride in Birmingham in case you are curious.) This largely entailed a lot of travelling to and from and waiting to change at railway stations and such like, so it did afford me a lot of reading time ( of the audiobook version, naturally)

    I was so drawn in and invested by the end of last weeks section that I just had to plough on through to the end of the novel, so this I did 🙂 Once I got to the end, I started from Chapter 28 again and am currently in Chapter 44, second time around.

    So much enjoyment so far, and absolutely loving this novel, that I can’t think what more to put down at the moment.

    I just HAD to find out who Tom’s mystery employer was… and when I did, I did not see that coming.

    Not sure if I will be able to organise my head full of thoughts and appreciation into any coherent form by the end of the week, but I hope to share some reflections on next weeks post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See now I feel bad because I’m going to be leaving a relatively dismissive comment about the book as a whole. Not the most dismissive comment ever. I’m definitely glad I read this book once. It’s just that reading it a second time, knowing the overarching plot, the things I didn’t like as much stood out more.

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    2. It sounds like a fascinating and BUSY work time, Rob!!! ❤ I absolutely LOVE that you went and relistened to nearly half of the book for a second time in quick succession!!! 🙂 I agree with you about this whole final section…I think this is the best section of the book, and the most dramatic, and filled with the most interesting character arcs.

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  5. Dear Inimitables,

    I continue to be mesmerized by the depth and breadth of insight about CD you perceive and share.

    It makes experiencing the maestro so much richer.

    Amother other things, the seven-page excerpt you shared, Chris, illuminated the issue of CD’s rightful satisfaction with what he accomplished in MC–loved the phrase, “disciplined, magisterial . . . .”

    It seems that Dickens could viscerally feel the power of words, of language–as Lenny points out–to capture and sweetly manipulate his readers (from our point of view, delightedly).

    Thanks to all of you for your rich contributions, as I continue to experience this work with new-found appreciation for Dickens’ staggering ability to portray the human condition in all of its complexity.



    P.S. And, I echo Lenny’s commendation of Rachel for her masterful mosaic of our common journey!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Mark Tapley involving Mrs. Lupin in the plan to help young Martin Chuzzlewit and Mary Graham, Chuffey protecting Merry from Jonas and Mark’s friends from America reappearing at the end were all cool things I forgot about from my first reading of the book.

    Man, the twist regarding Anthony Chuzzlewit has got to be one of the craziest reveals in all of Dickens! I did not see that coming. I did see the reveal of Tom Pinch’s secret benefactor coming, mostly because I couldn’t reconcile old Martin Chuzzlewit’s sudden trust in Pecksniff with his earlier characterization, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad story.

    Does anyone else wish Cherry Pecksniff had gotten a happy ending? Sure, she was a jerk, but Merry started out as a jerk too and Dickens gave her a redemptive ending. And Cherry was nice to Tom albeit for a creepy reason. #justiceforcharity

    You can tell Dickens wanted to stretch his storytelling muscles with Martin Chuzzlewit. It’s (arguably) his first book with an antihero and his first book to have a major part of the story take place outside of England. It has a relatively tighter plot than previous Dickens books and Mercy Pecksniff continues the trend set by Dolly Varden of a young leading lady starting out as something of a callous flirt and becoming more serious and sympathetic by the end. And in Tom Pinch, Dickens takes a Smike character on a journey where he becomes something of a Nicholas Nickleby character. But I feel like the overall result is more interesting than coherent. I love the humor of the American part with Martin and Mark, but it doesn’t work that well as a story. The part in England with Jonas Chuzzlewit and Tom Pinch is much better as a drama, but I don’t enjoy the comedy that much. (That being said, the scene of Betsey Prig telling Mrs. Gamp that she didn’t believe there was any such person as Mrs. Harris was hilarious.) I’d probably only recommend this novel to serious Dickens buffs.

    It’s interesting that Dickens was writing against begging letter writers, such as Pecksniff becomes, as early as this.

    This month, on my blog, I’m going to be analyzing one particular movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol scene by scene. It’s definitely not my favorite one, but it’s one of the most interesting to write about because it’s of such mixed quality. Here’s the first post.

    I also tried my hand at doing a YouTube comedy sketch about the Dickens fandom. Comedy/acting isn’t a big talent of mine (actually, YouTube videos in general aren’t something I do particularly well) but I’ve gotten some positive response to this one and I feel it turned out well. Check it out. It’s only a little more than a minute.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Stationmaster – #justiceforcharity is a fantastic idea – but – I think it would require several more chapters to explicate Charity’s change of heart. She has not, by the end of THIS novel, figured out where she has gone wrong. Yes, she “befriends” Tom Pinch, but not for unselfish reasons – her friendship is based upon the (inadvertent) violence done to Jonas (albeit warranted abuse) and I think we can hear the caveat of “once I’ve returned the favor there our pact ends” behind her offer of friendship,. The jilting by Mr Moddle in front of her awful relatives is an event that should cause her to pause and review her life – but is it enough? Will she, can she swallow her pride, her selfishness, and look at herself as other than the injured party? It would indeed be interesting to see what Dickens would do to achieve her change of heart

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  7. Reading the last two weeks’ sections was like reading a revision of “Nicholas Nickleby” – so much of that novel has been repurposed here. Smike and Nicholas have morphed together to become the healthy and more animated Tom Pinch; Like Nicholas, Tom is released from horrible employment, rescues his sister from the same, and then is employed by a beneficent old gentleman; Nicholas has also morphed into both Martin and John Westlock (with Mary and Ruth as their respective Madeline Bray’s); the Cheeryble brothers become Old Martin; Uncle Ralph splits into Jonas and, adding a little Squeers, into a smarmy Pecksniff; Madeline Bray’s prospective marriage to Gride is realized in Mercy’s horrible marriage to Jonas; Ralph’s “United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company” has realized its potential in Tigg’s “Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Insurance Company”; Miss LaCreevy becomes Mrs Todgers; Newman Noggs becomes Nadgett; John Brodie becomes Mark Tapley; Messrs Pyke and Pluck are reissued as Dr Jobling and Mr Pip; Fanny Squeers and Miss Knag (with a little of Mrs Kenwigs) have been smushed together to become the Pecksniff Sisters; and Mrs Nickleby has taken to drink and become the lush Mrs Gamp.

    I agree that Tom Pinch might be a better title character than is Martin Chuzzlewit because he is one character to whom all other characters relate. I think he experiences the most growth, moving from subserviently naive to actively self-sufficient after his eyes are opened to the true nature of Pecksniff. I’m glad Tom Pinch finds his backbone. It’s interesting that after all the slights he’s experienced from the Pecksniffs, and after having their characters explained to him by John Westlock and young Martin (and probably every other “student” of Pecksniff’s), Tom’s eyes are opened by the emotionally charged report of Mary Graham. Chinks had appeared in the Pecksniff facade – each example of their bad behavior troubled Tom’s psyche but he could never completely rationalize why. It takes the dastardly persecution of and thoroughly horrible threat to Mary, for whom Tom harbors a true and holy love, to ultimately clear the fog from his brain. After all he had seen and experienced first hand, it takes Mary’s report to convince him of Pecksniff’s falseness – proving that the messenger is as important as the message.

    Tom’s altercation with Jonas is interesting given Tom’s passivity up to this point. It’s the first sign we have of Tom’s inner strength – well, that’s not exactly true, Tom’s inner strength has supported him all along. This altercation shows that Tom can take care of himself both physically and mentally against any bully if he so chooses. It prepares us for Tom’s success in the world at large once he is freed from Pecksniff’s.

    The altercation also sets up the study of Jonas the bully. Bullies, like all children, only repeat the behaviors they are taught: Anthony “taught [Jonas] to be too covetous of what I have to leave, and made the expectation of it his great business” and though he loved Jonas, he could only show it through selfishness and the love of gain ( Ch 51). In true bully fashion, he is a coward at heart. He operates in knee-jerk mode, striking out at the obstacles in his way with little or no thought to the consequences beyond the initial strike. Yet he is always afraid of being found out, caught, taken advantage of, tricked, etc. He is so mean, in many definitions of the word. Without his father to rein him in, and fueled by his warped emotions, it is no wonder Jonas miscalculates so horribly.

    His only calculation that does reckon up is in his marriage plan. There are a few other battered women in Dickens – Nancy comes quickly to mind – but I think none are as sympathetic as Merry Pecksniff. Jonas marries her for the sole purpose of breaking her and he accomplishes this masterly. Though Merry is giddy and selfish and teases Jonas in a flirty, younger sister kind of way that really is relatively harmless, she absolutely did not deserve the treatment she received at his hands. It was a hard way for her to learn to be less selfish.

    The Pecksniff sisters are so interesting. Their sisterhood – meaning their “solidarity as women based on shared conditions, experiences, or concerns” (, as opposed to their family relationship – while never strong, is completely broken by their selfishness. Whereas they should be sources of comfort to each other, they isolate themselves from each other by their sibling rivalry. They are pigeonholed as the prudent, level-headed elder one versus the imprudent, giddy, flirty, younger one. Their father does nothing to foster their sisterhood, rather he sets them against each other most notably when Jonas comes courting. Pecksniff doesn’t care which sister is chosen so long as the alliance is made. The feelings of the girls do not enter into the equation – but in reality, the feeling of the sisters is all that matters. This breach is the final blow to whatever sisterhood they had – from here on in they, who should be all in all to each other, will be as strangers in terms of the emotional support they provide for each other. In fact, Charity does all she can to stick it to Mercy – latching onto Mr Moddle (who loves Mercy), openly expressing her pity for Mercy’s married life and her animosity toward Jonas – Charity must be in all things superior to her sister. Mercy, for her part, had no regard for Charity when she married Jonas. And so after her marriage does not (cannot?) seek Charity out as a means of comfort or support. Thank goodness Mrs Todgers is at hand to minister charity and mercy to these sisters who are in such desperate need of those benevolences.

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  8. Chris: I love your shrewd analysis of the ways in which the various characters in NICKLEBY “morph” into a whole new set of personalities in Chuzzlewit. I’m wondering if, also, you’re hinting at a process that moves from novel to novel as we get further into Dickens. I know in the past that both you and Rach have talked a lot about the similarities between characters from other novels we haven’t read to whatever novel we are currently reading. And I think I’m beginning to see that now as a mere novice reading the novels as they come. For example, with the exception of Pickwick, our various heroes through the first several novels seem to be rather nebulous characters. This fact is especially true when we put their “personalities” up against the villains that are eventually brought to justice.. And I’m wondering, also, if the sheer weight of the other characters in these novels sort of buries the so-called “heroic” figures.

    In fact, in CHUZZLEWIT–as you and Stationmaster affirm–Tom Finch seems to have a larger role than that of young Martin–in the entire scheme of things. And I also feel that the women in the novel–Ruth, Mrs. Todgers, Mrs. Lupin, Sarah Gamp–outshine many of the novel’s male characters . Is this, at its core, a novel belonging more to women than men–that it’s the women who provide the novel’s moral center?! I’m beginning to think that this is true.

    More specifically, in CHUZZLEWIT, “companion” and supposedly minor characters–Mark and Tom–play larger roles than Martin Jr. Old Martin, who we see as no doubt a “major” character at the beginning of the novel, literally disappears for several hundred pages and becomes dwarfed (as character) by his evil nephew Jonas–until the final denouement. And the same kind of obfuscation takes places with the various FEMALE characters in the novel. For example, The Pecksniff sisters make their entrances at the beginning of the novel, have supporting and key roles throughout the novel, whereas the seemingly very important Mary Graham–the ostensible “heroine” of MC–hardly appears, and when she does it’s only very briefly.

    So, Chris, can it be that your astute commentary about the morphing of characters from NICKLEBY to CHUZZLEWIT will be true of the novels that we’ll later read. One novel morphs into another, so that on some level there will be repeating groups of characters, as well as repeating lines of plot. If this is so, then we have a most interesting line of inquiry that will take us through all the novels to come.

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    1. Lenny – Yes!
      And while there is much that repeats, or morphs, in Dickens, there is also much that is new, or singular, in each. I am not with my books but I when I get back to them early next week I will endeavor to find scholarship on this point.
      Yes – we have much to keep our eyes opened for to see how Dickens repurposes what, in my opinion, he knows and does best.
      Thanks you for your kind words, by the way ; )

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  9. Friends, wow, what wonderful reflections! Forgive me that I’ve been so behind still, and just finishing on our second-to-last day with MC. 😊

    I love the thoughts on the women in Dickens—Stationmaster’s wish for #justiceforcharity; Chris’s reflections on the Pecksniff sisters and Dickens’s battered women, and the character arc of Mercy, which I find very moving. I loved Lenny’s comments on the Chaplinesque Comedy/Tragedy, and that his ensemble characters so often overshadow the heroes—with, as Lenny says, the exception of Pickwick!—and I’d say Nicholas too.

    I LOVED both Stationmaster’s & Chris’s thoughts on Nickleby, and that Tom is something of a fusion of the Smike-like figure, and Nicholas. I think he’s always been strong; he had just been naive, and didn’t know for a long time what it was that he really should have been fighting against.

    I was thinking again about MC as a “problem novel”—in the way some of Shakespeare’s plays are “problem plays.” Of course, as I mentioned (I think in the first week), old Martin Chuzzlewit reminds me a little of the Duke in MEASURE FOR MEASURE: he is in the background for large chunks of time, and proves, ultimately, to have been testing—and sometimes, downright manipulating—the characters and situations. Old Martin considers his role vis-à-vis Montague Tigg; he might nearly have been, in some indirect respect, responsible for the deaths of Martin & Mark, too, had he not inadvertently forced Martin to go and seek his fortune in the American disaster. I really like old Martin, and I like his arc and his seeking for forgiveness, which is what is ultimately important; but I find these Duke-like characters very fascinating, in a problematic way: it is like they are playing God, but from the very limited point-of-view of a flawed human being…with potentially deadly consequences.

    Too, I can’t help think of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT, and Pecksniff as a kind of Malvolio: hypocritical, often ridiculous and comically self-important….BUT a character who, when brought low & humiliated, could potentially become a dangerous antagonist. I’ve seen a number of TN productions where Malvolio is interpreted, in his last rather pathetic threats to those involved in his humiliation, as a potentially deadly opponent at some future time…even, an Iago in the making. Has old Martin Chuzzlewit, by his elaborate testing and humiliation of Pecksniff, potentially turned a ridiculous, Malvolio-like figure, into an Iago? It is interesting to think of the possibilities…

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      1. I don’t necessarily think so, either, and I don’t think anything is missing from the end…but I love the ways in which Dickens has these overt or subtle hommages to Shakespeare, and one can’t help but mentally toy with the various possibilities…the *potential* consequences of humiliating even a scoundrel who deserves it, and of having such a behind-the-scenes hand in testing, judging, and possibly even manipulating the various dramas happening “onstage”! 🙂

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  10. Dear Inimitables,

    Once again, I affirm that I couldn’t learn more from a graduate seminar on Dickens!

    Such rich, layered insights.

    It makes really good sense that Dickens–under pressure to publish–would re-purpose characters, plots, and situations.

    I imagine that his adoring public (including us members of the DCRC) wouldn’t not have grumbled!

    The reflections about Dickens’ female and male characters and their vividness of portrayal also seems to me to be somewhat related to the issue of “publish or perish.” I can’t imagine that Dickens had lots of time to map out the identities, character trajectories, and such.

    Anyway, thanks much for sharing your very enriching insights!



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