A review and synopsis of an 1843 novel by Charles Dickens, written after a trip to the USA a year earlier.
Martin Chuzzlewit (the elder) - A rich old man, the patriarch of the Chuzzlewit family, who is keeping his extended family at arms length, paranoid they are individually trying to get their greedy hands on his money.
Mary Graham - the elder Martin's young ward and personal assistant.
Seth Pecksniff - An apparently virtuous and well respected but scheming and unscrupulous architect who takes in prospective new talent as pupils and exploits them.
Charity Pecksniff (Cherry) - Seth's elder daughter.
Mercy Pecksniff (Merry) - Seth's younger daughter.
Tom Pinch - a very likeable character and talented church organist, general dogsbody in the Pecksniff household and ex pupil, who irrationally idolises his employer.
Ruth Pinch - Tom's sister a governess employed by a Brass Founder and his wife in London.
John Westlock - an ex pupil who later inherits family wealth. A good friend of Tom Pinch who comes to his aid in his hour of need.
Martin Chuzzlewit (junior) - Grandson of the elder Martin, a young man who knows his own mind and is determined to seek his fortune. He succeeds John Westlock as a pupil of Seth Pecksniff.
Anthony Chuzzlewit - the elder Martin's brother and father of Jonas.
Jonas Chuzzlewit - Anthony's thoroughly obnoxious money grabbing son.
Mr. Chuffey - an elderly and eccentric employee of Anthony Chuzzlewit.
Mrs. Sarah Gamp - a night nurse and midwife.
Paul Sweedlepipe (Poll) - a barber and bird fancier, Mrs. Gamp's landlord and special friend and confidante of Benjamin Bailey.
Mark Tapley - an employee at the Blue Dragon in Salisbury with an irrepressible and cheerful disposition, later becoming friend and valet to the young Martin.
Mrs. Lupin - The likeable landlady at the Blue Dragon and Mark Tapley's employer in the earlier part of the novel.
Mrs. Todgers - landlady at Todger's boarding house in London and a friend of the Pecksniff's, who seems to have had romantic feelings for Seth at one time.
Benjamin Bailey - irrepressible and street-wise young lad, initially employed at Todger's Boarding House, later moving to the Anglo Bengalee Company for better prospects.
Montague Tigg - a wheedling and conniving, money grabbing con man, later the Chairman of the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Life Assurance Company.
Chevy Slyme - a distant relative of the Chuzzlewit's and friend of Montague Tigg.
Mr. Nadgett - a spy (private investigator) in the employ of the Anglo Bengalee Company to gather intelligence for the malign purposes of Montague Tigg.
Dr. Jobling - a physician in the employ of the Anglo Bengalee Company.
Zepheniah Scadder - an American con man selling land in the Eden Project to unsuspecting newly arrived immigrants.
Mr. Bevan - an American gentleman who befriends Martin and Mark in New York who comes to their rescue when they become victims of a scam.
Mr. Fips - an agent (lawyer?) of a mysterious employer who gives Tom Pinch a job when both he and his sister need to pay the rent in London.
Other Characters - Mr. Jinkins, Mr. Lewsome, Augustus Moddle, Bill Simmons, Mr. Spottletoe.
Quite a lengthy novel and not an easy read but non-the-less a gripping and very entertaining storyline written with playful wit and elegant prose. Only after the second time of reading did I really come to appreciate the quality of this book, which may best be described as a scenic journey through the colourful landscape, which is the social life of London and Salisbury in the mid nineteenth century, with more than the odd glimpse into its darker side. It relates the adventures of the Chuzzlewit family and their associates, a diverse cohort of interesting characters brought to life by this master wordsmith with a unique and wonderfully fertile imagination. It is interesting to note that sections of this book are set in America, written in the year following the authors visit to that country. The tone of language used in these passages suggests to the reader that Dickens was not over-impressed by the experience.
The early parts of the book documents the people and the goings-on within the Pecksniff household in Salisbury, which incorporates the celebrated Pecksniff School of Architecture. Initially it comprises the Principal, Seth Pecksniff, his two daughters Charity (Cherry) and Mercy (Merry), ex-pupil and general assistant Tom Pinch, and pupil John Westlock. Tom Pinch idolises his boss and benefactor Seth, but as the story unfolds Pecksniff is gradually exposed as a wheedling conniving gold digging scoundrel who exploits Tom, his pupils and everyone else he comes into contact with. Tom Pinch is a simple, optimistic, and cheerful soul who sees only good in people, he enjoys his work and playing the organ in the local church during the week for practice and for Sunday services, and is very much liked and respected in the local community. Tom is apparently the only person who can't see the reality of his situation, feeling secure in his employment and unable to see Mr. Pecksniff for the out and out weasel that he is.
Martin Chuzzlewit senior is a wealthy old man of business whose wealth seems to have become something of an embarrassment to him, being paranoid that his relatives are circling around him like vultures in the hope of being favoured with a legacy or two. To make matters worse, there has been some sort of disagreement between himself and his grandson, also called Martin, resulting in them becoming estranged. Martin senior has assumed the guardianship of a beautiful young orphan girl Mary Graham who has taken on the role of his personal assistant, and the reader can't help suspecting that young Martin and the young orphan girl have become romantically involved, a relevant factor in young Martin's estrangement from his grandfather.
When Martin senior first appears on the scene, he arrives in Salisbury apparently fleeing to avoid the attentions of his voracious relatives who also show up to harass him in the hope of receiving some financial benefit. Seth Pecksniff, also a relative by marriage is naturally part of the company trying to wheedle their way into his rather deep pockets and seems to be impressing Martin as one of the more trustworthy characters surrounding him. Two other significant family members appearing at this time are Anthony Chuzzlewit, Martin's brother, also a wealthy retiree and his only son Jonas, a money grabbing thoroughly loathsome brute. Both will play a major role in the parallel storylines which unfold as the book progresses.
In the Peckniffian household John Westlock the pupil has become friendly with Tom Pinch but is increasingly at loggerheads with his tutor and after coming into his inheritance leaves his studies and goes to London to take up further opportunities. His place as a pupil at the school is taken by young Martin who is determined to make his own way in the world independently from his grandfather. Seemingly left to his own devices at the hallowed institute, he is given a project, and with guidance from his mate Tom he designs a new Grammar School, a masterpiece of design which when Pecksniff has been persuaded by Martin senior to dismiss his grandson from the school, is put in the archives only to re-appear later to great acclaim as the plagiarised work of Seth himself.
Charity Pecksniff is the older of the two sisters, rather plain looking and more of a pessimistic outlook whereas her younger sister Mercy is good looking, rather jolly and more than a little flighty. When Jonas Chuzzlewit starts to pay them attention, Charity strongly fancies her chances but is cruelly passed over as Jonas chooses to marry Mercy, acceptance of which she will surely come to regret. Charity finds it difficult to come to terms with the disappointment and decides to leave home to find work in London, eventually settling at Mrs. Todgers boarding house as part of the staff, the good landlady being a long standing family friend. It is during this employment that she finds a suitor in Augustus Moddle, later to add further insult to injury by jilting her at the altar and sailing for Van Diemens Land.
Meanwhile back in Salisbury the Pecksniff household is reduced to Seth and his loyal assistant Tom, but Seth by this time has gradually been gaining ever increasing influence over Martin senior and invites him and Mary to take refuge with him at his residence, no doubt with ulterior motives in mind. Martin accepts and appears to become more and more at the mercy of his Machiavellian advice and influence. By this time Pecksniff has started to have thoughts of taking a new wife and naturally sets his sights on the beautiful Mary who absolutely loathes the man. He follows her on one of her daily walks and begins to make his feelings known in no uncertain terms, taking the most offensive liberties in forcing his attentions on her. She does manage to escape his clutches and surprisingly remains silent about the whole episode, preferring not to confide in her guardian Martin. It is at this stage that Pecksniff commits his most outrageous act by turning his indignation on Tom, haranguing him in front of Martin implying improper designs on Mary's affections. Tom is unceremoniously dismissed from the illustrious institute forthwith, and sent off to London with his luggage in an emotional farewell and the best wishes of his friend Mrs. Lupin the landlady of the Dragon.
Tom meets up with John Westlock in London who offers him accommodation until he finds a job, in the meantime, Tom wants to make contact with his sister Ruth, a governess with a brass-founder's family in the city. Tom and his sister are very alike in a lot of respects, being of a friendly cheerful disposition, gentle and optimistic, but when he arrives at her place of work he finds a spoilt child complaining to her parents about Ruth and blaming her for failing to teach effectively, possibly a malicious attempt to deflect attention from her own lazy attitude to learning. It becomes obvious that the parents are on the point of dismissing Ruth, upon which Tom, not surprisingly extremely indignant at her treatment, and at his most eloquent, heroically springs to her aid, pouring out a tirade of respectful rebuke for the parents blindness to Ruth's qualities as a role model for their daughter. Having thus vented his anger he instructs his sister to get her things together, she is leaving. He will wait outside in the garden. Unexpectedly re-united by these events Tom and Ruth must find alternative accommodation rather than impose further on John Westlock's hospitality, finding suitable lodgings with a mysterious landlord Mr Nadgett, before returning to introduce John to Ruth.
Meanwhile young Martin and Mark Tapley, an acquaintance and ex-employee of Mrs Lupin at the Dragon who has determined to pursue a more ambitious adventurous lifestyle in the wider world, team up and embark together to seek their fortune in London. It is not long however, before at Martin's suggestion they decide, despite their meagre resources, to try their luck in America and before long they have secured berths on "The Screw" bound for New York. Mark's friendly and helpful personality helps make the Atlantic crossing more bearable and in doing so befriends a woman and her children who are travelling to join her husband who has secured some land, to sustain his family in the new world.
On arrival Martin and Mark meet many helpful and friendly people including Mr Bevan a respected citizen of New York, who they will come to thank in coming months as their ambitions founder on the rocks of unrestrained greed. Naively Martin and Mark fall into the hands of hustlers and confidence tricksters in the guise of Zepheniah Scadder, when they pool their resources to buy land in the Eden Project, which turns out to be an uninhabitable swamp and breeding ground for disease and early death. They travel to Eden by steamboat and are much disappointed to find very little resemblance to the plans they had been shown in New York. Many of the shacks and cabins on the site are empty, having been vacated by earlier tenants who have died trying to survive or left for other reasons. Martin and Mark take up residence in one of the less derelict cabins and optimistically start to make plans for the future, but as they go about their daily chores, to their great surprise, they meet the family that Mark befriended during the crossing. Eden had been their ultimate destination too. On meeting the very emaciated and sickly looking husband of his friend, the adventurers are starting to have misgivings about their prospects. Not only have they to cope with impossible swampy conditions and the ever present threat of disease, it soon becomes apparent that complaints or allegations of mis-representation are met with threats and intimidation in these lawless parts. As time goes on one of the children gets a fever and dies, a fate which will eventually threaten Martin and Mark as they struggle to establish themselves. Sure enough in time Martin is afflicted with fever, but with the loyal attention from Mark and the family he has befriended he is nursed back to relative health. Martin too has to take on the role of carer, as later Mark also succumbs. Their situation having become desperate, they decide to cut their losses and run for home when Mark has sufficiently recovered. Waiting for the next New York bound steamboat to arrive at the jetty seemed like and interminable age, but finally they arrive back in the big city and after seeking financial help from Mr Bevan, they once again secure passage home on "The Screw", this time Mark resourcefully signing on as part of the crew as cook to save money. Hopefully on their return Martin will be able to persuade his grandfather to reimburse Mr. Bevan despite their estrangement.
Earlier in the book we were introduced to two other characters Chevy Slyme, a down at heel penniless begging leach distantly related to the Chuzzlewits, and his roguish friend Montague Tigg, who were amongst the vultures encircling Martin senior in the hope of handouts. We become reacquainted with Tigg later in the book, now transformed into the chairman and chief executive of the Anglo Bengalee Disinterested Life Assurance Company, still up to no good swindling his unsuspecting clients with promises of large returns on their investments. Anthony Chuzzlewit has now died in mysterious circumstances and his boorish son, is now married to Mercy Pecksniff and is abusing her in a most abominable way, whilst he enjoys the wealth inherited from his father. Montague Tigg tempts Jonas to become a partner in his Company with the promise of rich pickings and instructs his employee, private investigator Mr Nadgett to follow him everywhere and make notes of his movements. It becomes clear that in this way Tigg has obtained power over Jonas and is manipulating him to entice his father-in-law, Pecksniff to invest in the Anglo Bengalee enterprise. Down at the docks shortly after, watching the Antwerp packet boat taking on passengers, Tom and his sister notice Jonas and his wife boarding and when Mr. Nadgett arrives breathless in pursuit, Tom is persuaded to deliver a note to Jonas, which has the effect of removing the unhappy couple from the packet, much against Jonas' will, to be reunited with Montague Tigg, from whose clutches they had been trying to flee.
This is now where things become desperate, Jonas and Tigg travel down to Salisbury to carry out their plan to part Pecksniff from his money, but of course there is no honour amongst thieves and although they succeed with the shady transaction, there is a sinister twist to the story and a murder is committed. Who is the victim and who is the perpetrator is left to the curious to explore this mighty tome further to its conclusion, surely there must be witnesses and suspects.
It's difficult to say there is anything unsatisfactory about this really good read, but if there was it would be the feeling that there are a few loose ends left to the reader's own imagination, mainly connected to the romantic ambitions which were obviously smouldering throughout the novel. Suffice it to say that justice prevails and the guilty party is carried off to court and will surely face hanging; and romance did blossom for some, although in the end it is not made explicit, I would like to think it did happen for Tom Pinch too, it is certainly alluded to. I must admit though one of the more satisfying moments in the book for me, was the chance meeting between Martin and Mark Tapley in London with their friends and helpers during their time in the American Eden Project, they too had been successfully repatriated from their swampy hell across the Atlantic.
Extract (and final soliloquy)
What sounds are these that fall so grandly on the ear! What darkening room is this!
And that mild figure seated at an organ, who is he? Ah Tom, dear Tom, old friend!
Thy head is prematurely gray, though Time has passed between thee and our old association, Tom. But in those sounds with which it is thy wont to bear the twilight company, the music of thy heart speaks out: the story of thy life relates itself.
Thy life is tranquil, calm, and happy, Tom. In the soft strain which ever and again comes stealing back upon the ear, the memory of thine old love may find a voice perhaps; but it is a pleasant, softened, whispering memory, like that in which we sometimes hold the dead, and does not pain or grieve thee, God be thanked!
Touch the notes lightly, Tom, as lightly as thou wilt, but never will thine hand fall half so lightly on that Instrument as on the head of thine old tyrant brought down very, very low; and never will it make as hollow a response to any touch of thine, as he does always.
For a drunken, begging, squalid-letter-writing man, called Pecksniff with a shrewish daughter haunts thee, Tom; and when he makes appeals to thee for cash, reminds thee that he built thy fortunes better than his own; and when he spends it, entertains the alehouse company, with tales of thine ingratitude and his munificence towards thee once upon a time; and then he shows his elbows worn in holes, and puts his soulless shoes up, on a bench, and begs his auditors look there; while thou art comfortably housed and clothed. All known to thee, and yet all borne with, Tom!
So with a smile upon thy face, thou passest gently to another measure; to a quicker and more joyful one; and little feet are used to dance about thee at the sound; and bright young eyes to glance up into thine. And there is one slight creature, Tom-her child; not Ruth's-whom thine eyes follow in the romp and dance: who, wondering sometimes to see thee look so thoughtful, runs to climb up on thy knee, and put her cheek to thine: who loves thee, Tom, above the rest, if that can be: and falling sick once, chose thee for her nurse: and never knew impatience, Tom, when Thou wert by her side.
Thou glidest now, into a graver air: an air devoted to old friends and byegone times; and in thy lingering touch upon the keys, and the rich swelling of the mellow harmony, they rise before thee. The spirit of that old man dead, who delighted to anticipate thy wants, and never ceased to honour thee, is there, among the rest: repeating, with a face composed and. calm, the words he said to thee upon his bed, and blessing thee!
And coming from a garden, Tom: bestrewn with flowers by children's hands: thy sister little Ruth, as light of foot and heart as in old days, sits down beside thee. From the Present, and the past, with which she is so tenderly entwined in all thy thoughts, thy strain soars onward to the Future. As it resounds within thee and without, thy kindling face looks on her with a Love and Trust, that knows it cannot die. The noble music, rolling round her in a cloud of melody, shuts out the grosser prospect of an earthly parting, and uplifts her, Tom, to Heaven!
Palfreyman, September 2022
Farthingale Publications: ..... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page or via one of the direct links below.
Local Interest: Richmond Hill Dairies; Mind Your Language; John Lancaster Wigan MP; Thomas Aspinwall Miners Agent; Thomas Aspinwall Obituary; Upholland Telephone Exchange; Thomas Linacre School Wigan; Scot Lane School Wigan; The Lindsays of Haigh; Dust Upon God's Fair Earth; The Nurburgring 1960; Wigan Advertisements 1960; Wigan Soldier Missing in Action; It's a Funny Life; Private Thomas Whitham VC; Isaac Watts 1674 - 1748; Wigan Old Bank 1792; The Brocklebank Line; John Byrom 1692 - 1793; The Holy City Liverpool; Jubilee Park Memorial, Ashton in Makerfield; Little Ships at War 1918; A Cricket Calypso; Not Much of a Warrior; Peveril of the Peak.
Walking & Cycling: Moss Eccles Tarn; Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor; Chorley Ice Cream Walk; Douglas Valley Dawdle; Three Counties Cycle Ride; Haigh to Borsdane Wood; A Lancshire Lineaer Walk; Blackrod or Bust; Cycle the Sankey Valley; Cycle the Monsal Trail; Wigan Circular by Bike; Freshfield to Crosby; Irwell Valley Trail (Bury to Rawtenstall); Irwell Valley (Bury to Salford).
Words & Poetry: The Heart of Midlothian; King Cotton; The Family Man; The Pickwick Papers; The Fair Rosamond; The Fair Rosamond Comic; When Winds Breathe Soft; The Wreck of the Hesperus; God Bless these Poor Wimmen that's Childer; Dombey and Son; Aw've Turned me bit O' Garden O'er; On Th' Hills; Four Favourite Poems; The Darkling Thrush; The Glory of the Garden; The Rolling English Road; The Antiquary; Hymn Before Action; Dust upon God's Fair Earth; Mind Your Language; Jeff Unsworth's dialect poetry; Martyrs of the Arena; Th' Coartin' Neet; Boat Song; Toddlin Whoam; Calm is the Sea; A Lancashire Mon.
Wallgate Chronicles: Hugo Boss comes to Wigan; In the footsteps of the Manchester Rambler; Fun with Trigonometry; Surprise at the Philharmonic; The Marriage of Figaro; Cat Bells; A Walk in the Hills; Eay Times Uv Changed; Fidelio; The Ravioli Room; Desert Island Discs; Travels in Time; The Spectroscope; The Bohemian Girl; Bookcase; Barnaby Rudge; Romance on a Budget; The Battle of Solferino; The Getaway Car; The Switchroom Wigan; The Force of Destiny; Adolphe Adam; The Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; Semele; Lohengrin.
Selected articles from the above listed:
Richmond Hill Dairies - Pemberton - These pages contain some personal memories from my youth and my association with Richmond Hill Dairies, a local business I grew up with and remember with some affection. A well known and important feature of the local community in its day and part of the heritage of Pemberton, this is my attempt to commit some small snapshot of its history to print, I hope these pages paint a worthy picture.
Mind Your Language - A humorous poem by "the bard of Haydock" George Anderton, inspired by memories of a trip to Bad Canstatt, Stuttgart Germany with the Haydock Male Voice Choir in 1975. This publication will bring a smile to the faces of not only those members who were there at the time and know the people involved but the wider population of Haydock as well who speak the language.
Wigan and the American Civil War - Wigan Coal and Iron Company, The Right Honourable John Lancaster MP for Wigan, the Confederate Raider Alabama, USS Kearsarge, Cherbourg and the yacht Deerhound all feature in the last great sea battle of the American Civil War.
Wigan Old Bank 1792 - A tragic boating accident on Windermere and a surprising journey through the social history of Wigan during the reign of Queen Victoria, highlighting the relationships between four families who played an important part in the commercial development of the town.
The Brocklebank LineDaniel Brocklebank (1741-1801), shipbuilder and mariner, a brief biography, and some background detail of his family and the shipping line he founded.
Little Ships at ZeebruggeAn account of a heroic attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge during the first World War, to protect supply routes into the UK by denying enemy submarines based there access to the open sea.
A Cricket Calypso - A short biopic of cricketer Cyril Washbrook and a snapshot of his career including his role in the West Indies tour of 1950 recorded in the lyrics of the Cricket Calypso.
Not Much of a Warrior - Wigan RLFC in the fifties and sixties, through rose coloured glasses. A golden age of legendary players and memorable moments, along with some personal memories.
Lyme Hall, Disley, Cheshire