on 2 March 2004
The Pickwick Papers was my first real encounter with a Charles Dickens novel. Before I started reading this epic comedy, my only experience of Dickens was having read the seasonal Christmas Books (mini-masterpieces in themselves)and seen the various cinematic adaptations that we are all bought up on. I will confess at this point that I had already seen Noel Langley's 1952 film version of the book, which I deem to be one of the most hilarious films i've ever had the pleasure of seeing, and so I was a bit biased when I started reading.
However, from the first chapter I was hooked and can safely say that the novel surpassed any expectations the film had given me. Never before have I encountered a piece of literature that has made me laugh so much. The novel depicts the adventures of Mr Pickwick and his friends as they travel the country in order to observe human nature. Beyond this, there is only the faintest notion of a plot but this is the intention of the author due to the monthly form in which the book was published. The novel pretends to be nothing more than it is.
And what the novel IS, is jolly good fun. It does not take itself seriously and spans all kinds of humour, ranging from the verbal kind to memorable scenes of slapstick.This is the book by which all other comedies, be they written or cinematic, should be judged! Each new situation is unique and virtually all the characters, be they major ones or minor, are so vividly drawn that they remain with the reader a long while after the novel ends. Each of them from Mr Pickwick to Dodson and Fog are distinct, and what is even more wonderful is that the reader can laugh both at, and with, the characters.
In my view, The Pickwickians and Sam Weller became like good friends, whom I knew I could have a good time with, and indeed I felt surprisingly sad at having to leave them at the end of the book. Also, The Pickwick Papers is a must for anyone interested in the later works of Charles Dickens, since it contains important precursors to themes which he was to focus on in his following novels. The Christmas chapter, for example, which contains a story that appears to be an early version of A Christmas Carol, and the references to the poor and destitute who are depicted through tales told by the characters.
On the whole though this novel is an uplifting read, with plenty of loveable and more importantly realistic characters, that encompasses all areas of human life, from politics to relationships, from sport to the media. A sheer comic masterpiece to raise a smile, no matter how low the reader maybe feeling.
on 20 February 2011
For some reason I had been reading - as I'm writing this - English literature quite intensively for the last 25 years but had never read anything by Dickens. Was it because I feared being disappointed by the books, having seen several film and television adaptations? Or because of the rumours of his 'flat' characters? Whatever the case, when I recently determined this could no longer do I simultaneously resolved to go about it methodically and read Dickens' novels chronologically, which meant starting with 'The Pickwick Papers'.
I confess I felt at first rather daunted by the prospect due to the sheer size of this novel (in comparison: Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics) is a mere 480 pages, Hard Times (Oxford World's Classics) just over 300 pages), but as soon as I got started I was hooked instantly, and every time I opened the book to read on (an urge I could barely suppress, even during working hours) I was immediately transported back to the England of the 1820s, in the delightful company of Mr. Samuel Pickwick and his companions.
In a way, this is surprising as 'The Pickwick Papers' has little, if anything, of a plot. Mr. Pickwick founds an amateur club 'to enlarge his sphere of observation, to the advancement of knowledge, and the diffusion of learning' (as it says on page 1), and the rest of the book chronicles the adventurous travels across England of Mr. Pickwick and his 3 companions (Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Winkle). So why would one feel this incessant appetite to read on and find out 'what happens next'? Well, in my case there were a number of reasons. First of all, there is a truly incredible gallery of fascinating characters. True enough, they may be 'flat' according to the textbook definitions of flat vs. round characters, but they are - in all their quirkiness and eccentricity - extremely lifelike, and often very likable. Mr. Samuel Pickwick himself seemed to me (speaking as a foreigner) the very embodiment of much of what constitutes 'Englishness' to me (at times quick to take offense but with a heart of gold, fond of good company and a good laugh). His manservant Samuel Weller ('Samivel' as his father calls him) also seems the very embodiment of the streetwise Londoner, and I could go on and on and on. Even characters appearing just briefly in the story are so well captivated by Dickens (often in just a few lines) that you not only feel them to be entirely credible but often enough feel you know someone exactly like them.
Secondly, there's the language, and especially the dialogues. Dickens must have had an incredible ear for speech, because all major characters really have their own 'voice', and it perfectly suits the man (or woman) they are. But in setting the scene too, and describing people, inns, offices, coaches, cities, ... Dickens uses a very colourful vocabulary and always seems to find exactly the right word. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, 'The Pickwick Papers' is a book bursting at the seems with good-hearted humour. There are some serious passages too, but all in all Mr. Pickwick and his companions succeed in getting into one ludicrous situation after the other (with often as not Sam Weller coming to the rescue), and I found myself absolutely captivated by the mood of this splendid book. What one wouldn't give to have accompanied Mr. Pickwick on his travels!
To conclude: I could kick myself for having waited so long to read Dickens because 'The Pickwick Papers' was an absolute delight. So now I am already halfway into Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics), with Nicholas Nickleby (Oxford World's Classics) lying ready on the bedside table!
on 31 December 2011
This is a piece of a masterpiece. It is amazing that an young author, hardly over twenty, with a scarce experience, could produce such a piece of comic satire, just under contract! Among Dickens'works I consider this the best, together with David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
Pickwick, as everybody surely knows is an ironic, yet not bitter picture of the English society of the Regency time: the leisurely retired gentlemen of means who can spend money, the arranged marriages coupled the need for a fixed income, the rigid separation social classes, the squalor of the proletariat during the incipient industrial revolution, the religious revival.
In many ways it is written, be it a coincidence or not, under the pattern of Don Quixote: a leisurely rich retired gentleman goes abroad to learn about the real world (Don Quixote tried to mend it!), in the company of his friends that more often than not spoil his fun. Like Don Quixote, Mr Pickwik makes a first outing, where he meets Jingle, who is to play an important part in all the novel. For his second journey he hires a servant, Sam Weller, who like Sancho Panza, is all down-to-earth knowledge, puns, wisecracks and love for his master. Mr Weller senior is a jewell that would merit a whole novel by himself. Sancho Panza in the end believes in Don Quixote and suffers him gladly, Sam Weller sticks to his master through thin and thick, in order to better serve him, whom he loves dearly. Perhaps Dickens had Sterne's "Tristam Shandy" in mind when he wrote Pickwik: not only Mr Pickwick, but Mr Weller Sr have problems with their respective widows (or vidder, as Mr Weller said). One can only remember Uncle Tobby and his pains with the beautiful widow. Sterne was also a great Quixotic admirer.
As other readers point out, many of the later dickensian themes are present here: Christmas tales, the hard times of the industrial revolution, the dissipation of young students (the dinner at Bob Sawyer's is nearly literally copied in later novels), the debtor prisons seen in Copperfield, Twist and Little Dorrit, the cruel deportations, and the absurd, swindling English legal system, the elections... Like Cervantes, and Sterne, and Hogarth's paintings, his narrative includes stories within stories, funny wanderings, and other narrative tricks.
There is farce, satyre, irony, but darkness is shown only when Pickwick meets degraded people, like those in the prison (Dickens worked tirelessly towards its reform). For Pickwick is a part of Dickens himself: a man who sees the world, wants to understand it better, who is moved to piety, who is generous, ready to do good. And Sam is a bit of his cockney infance and London life.
But always there is rithm, hilarity, wonder, caring, enthusiasm. Some of his later novels were not so fluid, not so agile like Pickwick. Pickwick maybe lacks the program that other novels had, but on the other hand its freshness wins the day. This is the work of an artist at the summit of his powers.
A must for the clever reader.
on 15 November 2001
...Dickens' first novel is a comic masterpiece; his reading public hoped in vain that he would continue to produce humorous novels, and although his subsequent works have humorous (generally satirical) elements, they all fundamentally bear a much heavier, serious message. This is simply an enjoyable romp. "Ode to an expiring frog" is genius.
Dickens's first, and most light-hearted, work. It's an episodic novel, originally published in monthly installments, about the adventures of Mr Pickwick, the wannabe-womaniser Mr Tupman, the poet Mr Snodgrass and Mr Winkle, who have all formed a club, the aim of which is simply to observe life. You can see the influence it had on much later works by the likes of P G Wodehouse, E F Benson etc. There are many funny scenes here, some involving broad slapstick, such as Mr Pickwick being dumped in a wheelbarrow in the village pond! There's even fore-runners of the bedroom farce, as in the episode when Mr Pickwick ends up, (purely by accident you understand), in the bedroom of a middle-aged lady at a hotel in Ipswich. Coming in and out of the story at intervals is the incorrigible chancer Mr Jingle, who makes a living trying to con money out of impressionable women. This also must be where the Dickensian image of Christmas first came from, with the Pickwickians going to spend a traditional Christmas at Dingley Dell. Dickens achieves the feat of creating a light-hearted comedy, which never descends into whimsy. It is a tale of stagecoaches (coming to the end of their natural life, as the railway was beginning to take off when Dickens wrote this), poor people living off oysters, with oyster-stalls along the streets (not then a rich man's delicacy), and vivid details of coaching inns and old London hostelries. It is an engaging tribute to the late Georgian era of Dickens's youth.
I read the Pickwick Papers a long time ago, followed by quite a few other of Dickens' novels and then moved on to other things. Then an accident with a blocked drain, a high pressure hose and an internal drain cover led to my entire collection of Dickens novels being rendered aromatic and unreadable. Casting around for something to read recently I decided it was time to start rebuilding my collection, and thought Pickwick would be a good place to start.
I was not wrong. In many ways I appreciate Dickens' humour far more nowadays, and the illustrations of the collection of grotesques that people this epic work really emphasise it. I particularly love the picture of Mr Tupman dressed as a brigand to attend a fancy-dress dejeune (which costume Mr Pickwick considered him to be too old and too fat to wear). Some of the embedded tales I find a bit intrusive (and play to the Victorian love of melodrama - "he fell back - dead!" type of things) but one forgives Dickens that since he was, after all, writing a part-work and needed to keep the punters coming back by giving them both something complete in each edition, and a continuing narrative. It's amazing, in fact, that it hangs together as a novel, given its origins - but it does, and a very funny one at that. You can clearly see Dickens' narrative skills coming together that come into full flower in his later novels that were written as novels.
on 24 February 2010
As a fan of Dickens, I'd always overlooked this book since I had heard that it just meandered around without ever going anywhere. However, having now read it I realise that I was in danger of missing out on a hugely enjoyable read. The book is steeped in comic genius and even the more verbose passages manage to hold the reader's attention. It's true that it goes nowhere, but that's the fun of the novel. The reader is taken along on a fun filled romp. It was with a sigh that I started to read the first "story" embedded in the main narrative, with nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, since I'd remembered feeling impatient with two such stories in "Nicholas Nicholby". However, I quickly realised that such stories had more place here than in N.N. and that's just as well because there are many more of them. The funniest section is the description of a skating expedition, one that can't fail to strike a chord with any novice skater, and a passage that would stand alone as a short story.
on 8 October 2011
One of the very earliest books from Dickens (his first real book, as "Boz" was a compilation of previously published sketches), this one lacks the greatness of the later novels, and in fact isn't really a novel at all - its more a collection of tales linked - sometimes very loosely - with an overall narrative thread. But the energy, enthusiasm and exhuberence of the young Dickens shines through and it is a delightful book. It is gently humorous, although Dickens uses the device of "inset" tales to darken the mood at times. I agree with a previous reviewer that once started you can hardly bear to put it down. It has some ledgendary scenes (such as Christmas at Dingley Dell, Fleet Prison, the pursuit of Jingle) and some wonderful characters (such as Pickwick, Winkle, Sam Weller and Jingle) and is a joy to read. Highy recommended.
on 2 December 2010
Book Review: Pickwick Papers
For a middle-aged man busy with family and work the Pickwick Papers is an unlikely read. Brought to it by an urge to compensate for a mediocre knowledge of the classics I found this book remarkably upbeat and gratifying. Dickens has a florid and yet masterly light touch to his writing style which leaves the reader at times spellbound by his craftmanship.
Whilst there is little coherence to the Pickwickians' journey, some of the stories within the novel would win first prize in any short story competition. As the Pickwickians wander through the country, they repeatedly get into scrapes and troubles because of their innocence. Pickwick in particular, who has been defined as "an angel in gaiters", is the embodiment of simplicity and innocence, and consequently easily victimized. Yet through all of his trials and tribulations his benevolence triumphs. The book has a Quixotian feel to it, perhaps stemming from a Cockney character called Weller who gave rise to his own brand of distinct humour with phrases like "Everyone to his own taste," said the old woman when she kissed her cow.
Interestingly, the novel was published in 19 issues over 20 months. Given the books slightly incoherent plot new readers should keep these divisions in mind while reading the novel.
on 8 November 2012
I presume that everybody is familiar with the content of this book. It gets off to a bit of a scrappy start, but improves enormously once Sam Weller is on the scene and is a thoroughly good piece of escapist literature with some surprising descents into pathos.
This edition contains no typos or annoying formatting errors, comes with a list of contents for easy navigation and has all the original illustrations. My one quibble with it would be that there is no way, at least on my Kindle keyboard, to make the illustrations bigger, so some of the detail is lost. That said, 72p for a decent edition of a very good and rather large book is an absolute bargain.