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.
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:
- General Mems
- Martin Chuzzlewit, Week Three (Chs 27-41): A Summary
- Discussion Wrap-Up
- A Look-Ahead to Week Four of Martin Chuzzlewit (29 Nov-5 Dec, 2022)
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.)
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.”
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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”:
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:
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'”:
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:
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”:
Here is Chris’s file:
The Stationmaster and Lenny respond to Marcus:
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”:
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”:
“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.
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!
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.)