The Pickwick Papers – 1836-1837 – a monthly serialised novel
This was the first novel of Charles Dickens.
Following the success of Sketches by Boz, Dickens was asked by the publisher Chapman & Hall to supply descriptions to explain a series of comic ‘cockney sporting plates’ drawn by illustrator Robert Seymour. These were later assembled into a novel.
Seymour’s widow claimed that the idea for the novel was originally her husband’s, but Dickens strenuously denied any specific input in his preface to the 1867 edition: ‘Mr Seymour never originated or suggested an incident, a phrase, or a word, to be found in the book’.
Pickwick is, because of its episodic nature, a less structured novel than subsequent Dickens novels. The various encounters and tales show the story-telling skills of Dickens populated by ‘well-painted characters’. It touches on some dark matters but the whole retains a light-hearted approach and inhabits the more pleasurable aspects of Victorian life.
It is generally assumed that Pickwick was set in 1827-1828, thus, around a decade before its actual publication. However, several anachronisms have been noted, most notably the satire of an 1836 scandal, the legal action between two politicians of the time, George Norton MP v the PM Lord Melbourne. See more details below.
With The Pickwick Papers Dickens latterly took on a very serious subject, the injustice of the justice system, yet contained this within a successful comedy.
Its success helped to popularise the notion of serialised fiction – and developed the use of ‘cliff-hangers’ at the end of episodes. The book became a publishing phenomenon, prompting bootleg copies, inspiring theatrical performances, and the sale of joke books and other merchandise.
The monthly episodes gave its readers the latest news of the Club, and included seasonal themes, as for example a Christmas themed Dec 1836 issue, and a Valentine’s Day theme for Feb 1837. The episodes also draw out and examine the various elements of Pickwick’s character.
The wise-cracking, warm-hearted servant Sam Weller from The Pickwick Papers sparked numerous spin-offs and Pickwick and Weller merchandise made the 24-year-old Dickens famous.
The Pickwick Papers contains a number of stories within the general plot:
· The Stroller’s Tale (III) May 1836
· The Convict’s Return (VI) Jun 1836
· A Madman’s Manuscript (XI) Jul 1836
· The Bagman’s Story (XIV) Aug 1836
· The Parish Clerk: A Tale of True Love (XVII) Sep 1836
· The Old Man’s Tale About the Queer Client (XXI) Nov 1836
· The Story of the Goblins who stole a Sexton (XXIX) 31 Dec1836)
· The True Legend of P. B. (XXXVI) Ap 1837
· The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle (all of XLIX) Sep 1837
|NORTON V MELBOURNE|
Lord Melbourne had a rather colourful private life, with accusations of spanking sessions with aristocratic ladies and whippings of orphan girls brought into his household as apparent charitable actions.
Caroline Norton, 1832 portrait by Sir George Hayter
The society beauty and hostess, author and social reformer Caroline (née Sheridan) Norton, was controversial, revealing in later life that she had participated in the Tolpuddle Martyrs protest march in 1834. Caroline left her husband in 1836. Though no divorce was formally granted, a court ceded her earnings as an author to George and she lost all access to her three sons, when George hid them in Scotland.
Norton accused her close friend Lord Melbourne of having an affair with Caroline and tried to get the then PM to pay him £10,000 to keep this all private. When Viscount Melbourne refused the ‘blackmail’ Norton publicly accused Melbourne of the affair and sued him for criminal conversation, aka adultery. This sort of scandal could have finished the PM’s political and social life, and forced his Whig Government to fall. However, Norton’s nine-day court action failed, Melbourne’s place in history is today most remembered for his political tutoring of the young Queen Victoria.
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, PC, PC, FRS
Mr Pickwick holding forth at the Club
The Pickwick Papers, has a much longer title, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members.
The Pickwick Papers tell the adventures of four gentlemen, led by Samuel Pickwick.
His companions are Mr Augustus Snodgrass, who desires to become a poet but produces no poetry; Mr Tracey Tupman, an obese self-professed ladies’ man though exhibits little success with them; Nathaniel Winkle, who believes he is a sportsman, but displays little sporting ability. They travel around the south-east and prepare reports for the other club members.
They travel to various locations and enthusiastically. But naively, encounter a series of entertaining characters. The individuals often find themselves in affairs of the heart, Despite these and other challenges, Pickwick remains calm and carries on. The early segments are clear episodic events.
High Street, Rochester Kent
On their first trip they encounter an angry cabman. But are saved by Alfred Jingle, who becomes their principal antagonist. Jingle is a con-man, he travels with them to Rochester and gets them embroiled into various predicaments. He extracts meals and drinks from the Pickwickians, and has an eye for wealthy woman. Pursuing both he gets Winkle into a duel with Dr Slammer, a quick-tempered army medic.
Coach and Horse
When they attend army manoeuvres at Chatham the Pickwickians are rescued by Mr Wardle who invites them to his home. He becomes a firm friend.
Seeking wealthy women
Two of his fellow travellers fall in love, Tupman with Wardle’s sister, Rachael, and Snodgrass with Emily his daughter.
Sam Weller to the rescue
Sam Weller, a boot cleaner, becomes Pickwick’s Cockney valet, and proves lively and trustworthy. He digs them out of the problems they find themselves in.
The quartet go to Eatanswill to see an election. Pickwick and Winkle stay with Mr Pott, the editor of a newspaper. They attend a costume party held by Mrs Leo Hunter, where much silliness ensues. Jingle attends the party and Pickwick pursues him and encounters various embarrassments.
The team go to Bury St Edmunds, with Wardle planning a hunting trip. While there Pickwick learns of the legal action by Mrs Bardell.
We encounter Sam’s father, Tony, falling prey to a widow, and unwittingly Pickwick now also falls foul of one. This is the result of one of his returns to home. His landlady, Mrs Martha Bardell, believes him to have proposed marriage and, when he doesn’t follow through, she sues him for damages. The later stages of the novel look at the Bardell v Pickwick court case and its implications.
However they get a break and go to Mr Wardle’s farm to celebrate Christmas. They also take a trip to Bath where Winkle has further difficulties.
Pickwick refuses to pay damages and is sent to Fleet Prison as a result. There he meets Jingle again. He also encounters Mrs Bardell who has been sent there by her own lawyers for failure to pay their fees.
Pickwick eventually agrees to pay costs. He and Mrs Bardell are released from prison.
Pickwick helps his acquaintances, good and bad, to seek out a better life. Winkle has married Arabella. Pickwick sorts out the reactions of both Arabella’s brother Ben, and Winkle’s father. He despatches Jingle and his servant to the West Indies for a new life. He convinces Mr Wardle that Snodgrass should marry Emily Wardle. They are married in Pickwick’s recently purchased home. He assists Sam Weller to marry Mary.
The Club is dissolved and Samuel Pickwick looks forward to being the godfather to his friends’ children.
There were four main members of the Club, loosely described as sporting gentlemen. [Do recall that this work was originally intended as text to illuminate sporting drawings by the illustrator Robert Seymour]:
Samuel Pickwick – a rotund retired businessman, who thinks himself a deep thinker and adventurer
Augustus Snodgrass, a serene character who desires to become a poet, yet produces no poetry
Mr Tracey Tupman, an obese self-professed ladies’ man though records little success with them
Nathaniel Winkle, deludes himself that he is a sportsman, but has no sporting ability
Sam Weller – Pickwick’s loyal Cockney valet
Alfred Jingle – the main antagonist
Wardle, Mr – the owner of Dingley Dell
Mrs Martha Bardell – Pickwick’s landlady
Allen, Arabella – sister of Ben, a friend of Emily
Allen, Benjamin (Ben) – a medical student
Joe (The Fat Boy) – consumes much food and falls asleep
Mary – a servant, Sam Wellers ‘Valentine’
Perker, Mr – an attorney to Wardle, and to Pickwick
Sawyer, Robert (Bob)- another medical student, friend of Ben
Stiggins, Reverend – an alcoholic Non-conformist minister
Trotter, Job – Mr Jingle’s servant
Wardle, Rachael – Wardle’s spinster sister, designs on Jingle
Wardle, Emily – Wardle’s daughter, keen on Snodgrass
Bantam, Angelo Cyrus
Bilson and Slum
Blazo, Sir Thomas
Clubber, Sir Thomas
Fizzgig, Don Bolero
Hunter, Mrs Leo
Hutley, Dismal Jemmy
Manning, Sir Geoffrey
Raddle, Mary Ann
Wardle, Old Mrs
Wugsby, Mrs Colonel
Issued monthly in 19 issues across 20 months, usually issued on the last day of the month from Mar 1836 to Oct 1837 at one shilling per copy, however the last issue was double-length and cost two shillings.
In May 1837 there was no Pickwick issue while Charles mourned the death of his sister-in-law Mary.
I – March 1836 (chapters 1–2);
II – April 1836 (chapters 3–5);
III – May 1836 (chapters 6–8);
IV – June 1836 (chapters 9-11);
V – July 1836 (chapters 12–14);
VI – August 1836 (chapters 15–17);
VII – September 1836 (chapters 18–20);
VIII – October 1836 (chapters 21–23);
IX – November 1836 (chapters 24–26);
X – December 1836 (chapters 27–29);
XI – January 1837 (chapters 30–32);
XII – February 1837 (chapters 33–34);
XIII – March 1837 (chapters 35–37);
XIV – April 1837 (chapters 38–40);
XV – June 1837 (chapters 41–43);
XVI – July 1837 (chapters 44–46);
XVII – August 1837 (chapters 47–49);
XVIII – September 1837 (chapters 50–52);
XIX-XX – October 1837 (chapters 53–57).