Pickwick Papers - A synopsis and review
Samuel Pickwick, a retired businessman, founder of the Pickwick Club.
Nathaniel Winkle, an amateur sportsman.
Tracy Tupman, a romantic portly middle aged bachelor.
Augustus Snodgrass, an aspiring poet and former ward of Mr Pickwick.
Other Major Characters:
Sam Weller, Cockney boots at the White Hart Inn, later servant to Mr Pickwick
Tony Weller, Sam’s dad, a stout red-faced coachman
Susan Clarke Weller, Tony Weller’s second wife, Sam’s mother-in-law, and mistress of the Marquis of Granby in Dorking
Mr Wardle, the hospitable owner of Manor Farm Dingley Dell
Rachel Wardle, Mr Wardle’s spinster sister of uncertain age
Joe ‘the fat boy’, Mr Wardle’s servant, who sleeps and eats a lot
Mr Pott, editor of the Eatanswill Gazette
Mrs Pott, hiis wife, a domineering woman prone to hysterics
Alfred Jingle, an itinerant actor
Job Trotter, servant to Alfred Jingle
Messrs Dodson and Fogg, unscrupulous and money-grabbing attorneys at law
Martha Bardell, comely widow of agreeable appearance, Mr Pickwick’s landlady
I wasn't very impressed when I read this book for the first time, although I found the characters both quite funny and likeable, I thought the book lacked a sense of continuity in the storyline, resembling more a collection of short stories. Imagine my surprise therefore, when having previously written it off as a dull and out of character novel for Dickens, I found myself re-reading it and engrossed in the hilarious adventures (or should I say misadventures) of this disparate group of un-worldly-wise friends, the Pickwickians: Mr Pickwick himself; Nathaniel Winkle; Augustus Snodgrass and Tracy Tupman.
The book covers a period of approximately two years in the life of the Pickwick Club and can best be described as an adventurous romp through the south of England with travels ranging from Bristol and Bath in the west to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Chatham and Rochester in Kent in the East. During these travels the quartet of Club members, accompanied by Sam Weller, Mr Pickwick’s cockney valet enjoy the hospitality and generosity of many worthy, noble and influential people, notably Mr Wardle, in Dingley Dell Kent, Mr and Mrs Pott and other dignitaries when they visit Eatanswill during a parliamentary election and of course anyone who is anybody in Bath and Bristol during a season there. Along the way, the Club members have many interesting experiences some very pleasant, some gloriously brave and public spirited, others quite the reverse, where they suffer indignities at the hands of confidence tricksters, the embarrassment of several compromising situations involving the fair sex, and culminating in a trial in which Mr Pickwick is sued for breach of promise by his landlady Martha Bardell encouraged by shady attorneys Dodson and Fogg, where the aforementioned indiscretions are used in evidence. This leading to a term of imprisonment in the Fleet where further comical and eventful encounters occur, including a reunion with the artful and rascally Alfred Jingle and his side-kick Job Trotter, and the surprising appearance of Mrs Bardell in the prison when she finds herself unable to pay the exorbitant fees of Dodson and Fogg, no doubt due to Mr Pickwick’s stubborn refusal to pay her the prescribed compensation.
The novel is full of interesting and colourful characters of every description, rich poor, good, bad, clever, stupid, artistic, pompous and charming, each brought to life in vivid detail with individual voices and accents in the author’s own inimitable style. To my mind the real hero of this book is Sam Weller, a young cockney valet, wise beyond his years, streetwise and incorrigible with a positive and optimistic outlook, characteristics probably inherited from his dad Tony Weller a seasoned and experienced coach driver who lives with his second wife, the mistress of the Marquis of Granby Inn in Dorking. Indeed some of the highlights of this novel are the interactions between Sam and his dad, for example when, in moments of reflection they phylosophise and wax lyrical, with much wisdom about the virtues or otherwise of married life, and the sometimes inconvenient and disagreeable influences of religion. Who could fail to fall for the charm of this humble son of a coachman and master of any tricky situation, a trusty confidante always on hand to rescue his boss and his vulnerable and accident prone pals from what are sometimes their own inadequacies, saving the day at anxious moments, when the friends are faced with the unforeseen consequences of their unassuming naivety, not least of which being, the prospect of a calamitous conclusion of a duel at dawn.
If rip roaring adventure is being presented here as the main feature of this book, perhaps it is also worth drawing attention to those wonderful moments of pathos and intrigue as romance blossoms and the amorously afflicted pursue their matrimonial ambitions, of course actively encouraged and assisted by Mr P himself. A very meaty tome, this snapshot in history reaches, an entirely satisfactory conclusion with a collective settling down to domestic harmony in magnificent happy ever after fashion, with Mr Pickwick setting up home in the exceptional surroundings of Dulwich after ensuring the continuing prosperity of all his friends, including Sam and his new wife Mary and Sam’s dad Tony who is left financially secure in his retirement from the road through his inheritance and wise investment advice from - who else but Mr Pickwick?
Mr Pickwick journeys to Ipswich (their driver Sam’s dad), and meets with a romantic Adventure with a middle-aged Lady in Yellow Curl Papers.
‘That 'ere your governor's luggage, Sammy?,' inquired Mr Weller of his affectionate son, as he entered the yard of the Bull Inn, Whitechapel, with a travelling bag and a small portmanteau. 'You might ha' made a worser guess than that, old feller,' replied Mr Weller the younger, setting down his burden in the yard, and sitting himself down on it afterwards. 'The Governor his-self'll be down here presently.' 'He's a cabbin' it I suppose?' said the father. ‘Yes, he's a havin' two mile o' danger at eight-pence,' responded the son.'How's mother-in-law this mornin'?' 'Queer, Sammy, Queer,' replied the elder Mr Weller' with impressive gravity.
'She's been gettin' rayther in the Methodistical order lately, Sammy; and she is uncommon pious, to be sure. She's too good a creetur, for me, Sammy. I feel I don't deserve her.' ‘Ah,' said Mr Samuel, 'that's wery self-denyin' o' you.' 'Wery,' replied his parent, with a sigh.' 'She's got hold o' some inwention for grown-up people being born again, Sammy; the new birth, I thinks they calls it. I should wery much like to see that system in haction, Sammy'. I should like to see your mother-in-law born again. Wouldn't I put her out to nurse!' 'What do you think them women does t'other day,' continued Mr Weller, after a short pause, during which he had significantly struck the side of his nose with his fore-finger some half-dozen times. ‘What do you think they does, t'other day, Sammy?' 'Don't know,' replied Sam,'what?' 'Goes and gets up a grand tea drinkin' for a feller they calls their shepherd,' said Mr Weller. 'I was a standing starin' in at the pictur shop down at our place, when I sees a little bill about it; “tickets half-a-crown. All applications to be made to the committee. Secretary, Mrs Weller;" and when I got home there was the committee a sittin' in our back parlour. Fourteen women; I wish you could ha' heard 'em, Sammy. There they was, a passin' resolutions, and wotin' supplies, and all sorts o' games. Well, what with your mother-in-aw a worrying me to go, and what with my looking for'ard to seein' some queer starts if I did, I put my name down for a ticket; at six o'clock on the Friday evenin' I dresses myself out wery smart, and off I goes with the old 'ooman, and up we walks into a fust floor where there was tea things for thirty, and a whole lot o' women as begins whisperin' to one another, and lookin' at me, as if they'd never seen a rayther stout gen'lm'n of eight-and-fifty afore. By and bye, there comes a great bustle down stairs, and lanky chap with a red nose and a white neckcloth rushes up, and sings out, "Here's the shepherd a coming to wisit his faithful flock;" and in comes a fat chap in black, vith a great white face, a smilin' avay like clockwork. Such goin's on, Sammy! “The kiss of peace,” says the shepherd; and then he kissed the women all round, and ven he'd done, the man vith the red nose began. I was just a thinkin' whether I hadn't better begin too - ‘specially as there was a wery nice lady a sittin' next me - ven in comes the tea, and your mother-in-law, as had been makin' the kettle bile down stairs. At it they went, tooth and nail.
Such a precious loud hymn Sammy, while the tea was a brewing; such a grace, such eatin’ and drinkin'! I wish you could ha' seen the shepherd walkin' into the ham and muffins. I never see such a chap to eat and drink; never. The red-nosed man warn't by no means the sort of person you'd like to grub by contract, but he was nothin' to the shepherd. Well; arter the tea was over, they sang another hymn, and then the shepherd began to preach: and wery well he did it, considerin' how heavy them muffins must have lied on his chest. Presently he pulls up, all of a sudden, and hollers out "Where is the sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?” Upon which, all the women looked at me, and began to groan as if they was a dying. I thought it was rather sing'ler, but hows'ever, I says nothing. Presently he pulls up again, and lookin' wery hard at me, says, "Where is the sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?” and all the women groans again, ten times louder than afore. I got rather wild at this, so I takes a step or two for'ard and says, "My friend,” says I, "did you apply that 'ere obserwation to me?” ‘Stead of begging my pardon as any gen'lm'n would ha' done, he got more abusive than ever: called me a wessel, Sammy - a wessel of wrath - and all sorts o' names. So my blood being reg'larly up, I first give him two or three for himself, and then two or three more to hand over to the man with the red nose, and walked off. I wish you could ha' heard how the women screamed, Sammy, ven they picked up the shepherd from under the table - Hallo! here's the governor, the size of life.’
As Mr Weller spoke, Mr Pickwick dismounted from a cab and entered the yard. 'Fine mornin' sir' said Mr Weller senior. 'Beautiful indeed,' replied Mr Pickwick. 'Beautiful indeed,' echoed a red-haired man with an inquisitive nose and blue spectacles, who had unpacked himself from a cab at the same moment as Mr Pickwick. 'Going to Ipswich, sir?' 'I am,' replied Mr Pickwick. 'Extraordinary coincidence. So am I.' Mr Pickwick bowed. 'Going outside?' said the red-haired man. Mr Pickwick bowed again. 'Bless my soul, how remarkable - I am going outside, too,' said the red-haired man: 'we are positively going together.' And the red-haired man, who was an important-looking, sharp-nosed, mysterious-spoken personage, with a bird like habit of giving his head a jerk every time he said anything, smiled as if he had made one of the strangest discoveries that ever fell to the lot of human wisdom. 'I am happy in the prospect of your company, sir,' said Mr Pickwick. 'Ah,' said the new-comer, 'it's a good thing for both of us, isn’t it? Company, you see - company is - is - it's a very different thing from solitude - ain't it?' 'There's no denying that 'ere,' said Mr Weller, joining in the conversation, with an affable smile. 'That's what I call a self-evident proposition, as the dog's-meat man said, when the housemaid told him he warn't a gentleman.' 'Ah,' said the red-haired man, surveying Mr Weller from head to foot with a supercilious look. 'Friend of yours, sir?' 'Not exactly a friend,' replied Mr Pickwick in a low tone. 'The fact is, he is my servant, but I allow him to take a good many liberties; for, between ourselves, I flatter myself he is an original, and I am rather proud of him.' 'Ah,' said the red-haired man, 'that, you see, is a matter of taste. I am not fond of anything original; I don't like it; don't see the necessity for it. What's your name, sir?' 'Here is my card, sir,' replied Mr Pickwick, much amused by the abruptness of the question, and the singular manner of the stranger. 'Ah,' said the red-haired man, placing the card in his pocket-book, 'Pickwick; very good. I like to know a man's name, it saves so much trouble. That's my card, sir, Magnus, you will perceive, sir - Magnus is my name. It's rather a good name, I think, sir?' 'A very good name, indeed,' said Mr Pickwick, wholly unable to repress a smile. 'Yes, I think it is,' resumed Mr Magnus. ‘There's a good name before it, too, you will observe. Permit me, sir - if you hold the card a little slanting, this way-you catch the light upon the up-stroke. There - Peter Magnus - sounds well, I think, sir.' 'Very,' said Mr Pickwick. 'Curious circumstance about those initials, sir,' said Mr Magnus. 'You will observe - P.M. - post meridian. In hasty notes to intimate acquaintance, I sometimes sign myself "Afternoon." It amuses my friends very much, Mr Pickwick.' 'It is calculated to afford them the highest gratification, I should conceive,' said Mr Pickwick, rather envying the ease with which Mr Magnus's friends were entertained. 'Now, gen'lm'n,' said the hostler, 'coach is ready, if you please.' 'Is all my luggage in?' inquired Mr Magnus. 'All right, sir.' 'Is the red bag in?' 'All right, sir.' 'And the striped bag?' 'Fore boot, sir.' 'And the brown-paper parcel?' 'Under the seat, sir.' 'And the leather hat-box?' 'They're all in, sir.' 'Now, will you get up?' said Mr Pickwick. 'Excuse me,' replied Magnus, standing on the wheel. 'Excuse me, Mr Pickwick. I cannot consent to get up, in this state of uncertainty. I am quite satisfied from that man's manner, that that leather hat-box is not in.' The solemn protestations of the hostler being wholly unavailing, the leather hat-box was obliged to be raked up from the lowest depth of the boot, to satisfy him that it had been safely packed; and after he had been assured on this head, he felt a solemn presentiment, first, that the red bag was mislaid, and next that the striped bag had been stolen, and then that the brown-paper parcel 'had come untied.' At length when he had received ocular demonstration of the groundless nature of each and every of these suspicions, he consented to climb up to the roof of the coach, observing that now he had taken every thing off his mind, he felt quite comfortable and happy. 'You're given to nervousness, an't you, sir?' inquired Mr Weller senior, eyeing the stranger askance, as he mounted to his place. 'Yes; I always am rather, about these little matters,' said the stranger, 'but I am all right now - quite right.' 'Well, that's a blessin';' said Mr Weller. 'Sammy, help your master up to the box: t'other leg, sir, that's it; give us your hand, sir. Up with you. You was a lighter weight when you was a boy, sir.' 'True enough, that, Mr Weller,' said the breathless Mr Pickwick good humouredly, as he took his seat on the box beside him. 'Jump up in front, Sammy,' said Mr Weller. 'Now Villam, run 'em out. Take care o' the archvay, gen'lm'n. “Heads,” as the pieman says. That'll do, Villam. Let'em alone.' And away went the coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the whole population of that pretty-densely populated quarter. ...........
Samuel Weller makes a Pilgrimage to Dorking, and beholds his Mother-in-law
The Marquis of Granby in Mrs Weller's time was quite a model of a road-side public-house of the better class - just large enough to be convenient, and small enough to be snug. On the opposite side of the road was a large sign-board on a high post, representing the head and shoulders of a gentleman with an apoplectic countenance, in a red coat with deep blue facings, and a touch of the same blue over his three-cornered hat, for a sky. Over that again were a pair of flags; beneath the last button of his coat were a couple of cannon; and the whole formed an expressive and undoubted likeness of the Marquis of Granby of glorious memory. The bar window displayed a choice collection of geranium plants, and a well-dusted row of spirit phials. The open shutters bore a variety of golden inscriptions, eulogistic of good beds and neat wines; and the choice group of countrymen and hostlers lounging about the stable-door and horse-trough, afforded presumptive proof of the excellent quality of the ale and spirits which were sold within. Sam Weller paused, when he dismounted from the coach, to note all these little indications of a thriving business, with the eye of an experienced traveller; and having done so, stepped in at once, highly satisfied with everything he had observed.
'Now, then!' said a shrill female voice the instant Sam thrust his head in at the door, 'what do you want, young man?' Sam looked round in the direction whence the voice proceeded. It came from a rather stout lady of comfortable appearance, who was seated beside the fire-place in the bar, blowing the fire to make the kettle boil for tea. She was not alone; for on the other side of the fire-place, sitting bolt upright in a high-backed chair, was a man in thread-bare black clothes, with a back almost as long and stiff as that of the chair itself, who caught Sam's most particular and especial attention at once. He was a prim-faced, red-nosed man, with a long, thin countenance, and a semi-rattlesnake sort of eye - rather sharp, but decidedly bad. He wore very short trousers, and black-cotton stockings, which, like the rest of his apparel, were particularly rusty. His looks were starched, but his white neckerchief was not, and its long limp ends straggled over his closely-buttoned waistcoat in a very uncouth and unpicturesque fashion. A pair of old, worn beaver gloves a broad-brimmed hat, and a faded green umbrella, with plenty of whalebone sticking through the bottom, as if to counterbalance the want of a handle it the top, lay on a chair beside him, and, being disposed in a very tidy and careful manner, seemed to imply that the red-nosed man, whoever he was, had no intention of going away in a hurry.
To do the red-nosed man justice, he would have been very far from wise if he had entertained any such intention; for, to judge from all appearances, he must have been possessed of a most desirable circle of acquaintance, if he could have reasonably expected to be more comfortable anywhere else. The fire was blazing brightly under the influence of the bellows, and the kettle was singing gaily under the influence of both. A small tray of tea things was arranged on the table, a plate of hot buttered toast was gently simmering before the fire, and the red-nosed man himself was busily engaged in converting a large slice of bread into the same agreeable edible, through the instrumentality of a long brass toasting-fork. Beside him stood a glass of reeking hot pine-apple rum and water, with a slice of lemon in it; and every time the red-nosed man stopped to bring the round of toast to his eye, with the view of ascertaining how it got on, he imbibed a drop or two of the hot pine-apple rum and water, and smiled upon the rather stout lady, as she blew the fire.
Sam was so lost in the contemplation of this comfortable scene, that he suffered the first inquiry of the rather stout lady to pass unheeded. It was not until it had been twice repeated, each time in a shriller tone, that he became conscious of the impropriety of his behaviour. 'Governor in?' inquired Sam, in reply to the question. 'No, he isn't,' replied Mrs Weller; for the rather stout lady was no other than the quondam relict and sole executrix of the dead-and-gone Mr Clarke; 'No, he isn't, and I don't expect him, either.' 'I suppose he's a drivin' up to-day?' said Sam. 'He may be, or he may not,' replied Mrs Weller, buttering the round of toast which the red-nosed man had just finished. 'I don't know, and, what's more, I don't care. Ask a blessin', Mr Stiggins.' The red-nosed man did as he was desired, and instantly commenced on the toast with fierce voracity.
The appearance of the red-nosed man had induced Sam, at first sight, to more than half suspect that he was the deputy shepherd of whom his estimable Parent had spoken. The moment he saw him eat, all doubt on the subject was removed, and he perceived at once that if he purposed to take up his temporary quarters where he was, he must make his footing good without delay. He therefore commenced proceedings by putting his arm over the half-door of thebar, coolly unbolting it, and leisurely walking in. ‘Mother-in-law,' said Sam, 'how are you?' 'Why I do believe he is a Weller!' said Mrs W., raising her eyes to Sam's face, with no very gratified expression of countenance. 'I rayther think he is,' said the imperturbable Sam; 'and I hope this here reverend gen'lm'n 'll excuse me saying that I wish I was the Weller as owns you, mother-in-law.' This was a double-barrelled compliment. It implied that Mrs Weller was a most agreeable female, and also that Mr Stiggins had a clerical appearance. It made a visible impression at once; and Sam followed-up his advantage by kissing his mother-in-law.
'Get along with you!' said Mrs Weller, pushing him away. 'For shame, young man!' said the gentleman with the red nose. 'No offence, sir, no offence,' replied Sam; 'you're wery right, though; it ain't the right sort o' thing, wen mothers-in-law is young and good looking, is it, sir?' 'It's all vanity,' said Mr Stiggins. 'Ah, so it is,' said Mrs Weller, setting her cap to rights. Sam thought it was, too, but he held his peace. The deputy shepherd seemed by no means best pleased with Sam's arrival; and when the first effervescence of the compliment had subsided, even Mrs Weller looked as if she could have spared him without the smallest inconvenience. However, there he was; and as he couldn't be decently turned out, they all three sat down to tea.
'And how's father?’ said Sam. At this inquiry, Mrs Weller raised her hands, and turned up her eyes, as if the subject were too painful to be alluded to. Mr Stiggins groaned. ‘What's the matter with that 'ere gen'lm'n?' inquired Sam. 'He's shocked at the way your father goes on in,' replied Mrs Weller. 'Oh, he is, is he?' said Sam. 'And with too good reason,' added Mrs Weller, gravely. Mr Stiggins took up a fresh piece of toast, and groaned 'He is a dreadful reprobater' said Mrs Weller. 'A man of wrath!' exclaimed Mr Stiggins. He took a large circular bite out of the toast, and groaned again. Sam felt very strongly disposed to give the reverend Mr Stiggins something to groan for, but he repressed his inclination, and asked, 'What's the old 'un up to, now?' 'Up to, indeed!' said Mrs Weller. 'Oh, he has a hard heart. Night after night does this excellent man - don't frown, Mr Stiggins: I will say you are an excellent man - come and sit here, hours together, and it has not the least effect upon him.' 'Well, that is odd,' said Sam; 'it 'ud have a wery considerable effect upon me, if I wos in his place; I know that.' 'The fact is, my young friend,' said Mr Stiggins, solemnly, he has an obderrate bosom. ........
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