Monday, May 2, 2016

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

While The Pickwick Papers is considered Charles Dickens’ first  novel, it actually began as a commission to write brief, satirical sketches about a private Gentlemen’s Club to accompany comic drawings for serial publication.  However, Dickens soon convinced his publishers that this should be the other way around and the drawings should be commissioned to accompany his ever mushrooming story regarding the adventures of the members of the Pickwick Club.  [There is also a rather sad side story of the original illustrator, Robert Seymour, committing suicide after the first two issues were less successful than anticipated and whispers of Dickens’ bullying ways contributing to his untimely demise.  Dickens addresses and defends these rumors in the preface to the 1867 edition which was included in the Modern Library Classics edition that I read which is pictured above.]
Since I did know the history of the book prior to reading it, I readily noticed as it went on that the chapters got longer, the plot more convoluted and the character arcs more apparent. Most importantly, the titular Pickwick starts off as object of ridicule but ends up (along with his faithful servant Sam Weller) being the hero of the book. The notion of satirizing private clubs is eventually dropped and replaced with social critiques of Victorian society which will later be more fully expressed in subsequent Dickens’ novels such as Bleak House and Little Dorrit. All this makes for a slightly rambley and inconsistent read and no doubt there were humorous bits I didn’t fully grasp since I am so far removed from the type of society Dickens was satirizing, but nevertheless I did really enjoy it.   
I don’t know if The Pickwick Papers is the best place to start with Dickens, but then again, maybe it is or rather maybe it doesn’t really matter? Martin Chuzzelwit will forever remain my favorite if only because it was the first book of Dickens that I read and made me fall in love. I admit the superiority of certain other works by Boz, but that title will always be on the top of my list for purely sentimental reasons!  And certainly The Pickwick Papers has everything that I love about Dickens, exaggerated characters, humorous pokes at human nature, sympathy for the poor, indignant anger at hypocrisy, etc.   So perhaps this first novel is absolutely the best place to start, because if you like this “sampler’, you will probably like the rest of Dickens as well!

This book was my read for the category of 19ths Century Classic in the 2016 Back to the Classic Challenge hosted by Karen on the blog Books and Chocolate.
 

8 comments:

  1. I love this book! I read it early in life and often, most recently a couple of years ago, I listened to it. I think Dickens really cut his teeth as an author with this book, and you can see him get increasingly comfortable as an author as the book progresses. I really enjoyed all the side ghost stories, plus the absolutely perfect Sam Weller. I cannot conceive of a better sidekick for Mr. P.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Jane! I was worried that I wouldn’t like The Pickwick Papers because it wasn’t a “traditional” Dickens novel. But I ended up really enjoying it and seeing Dickens’ evolution as a writer in it . And yes, Sam Weller is a wonderful character!

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  2. I read this 5 or 6 years ago. I liked it and would recommend to another reader who already liked Dickens, but I don't remember much about it, other than the debtor's prison scenes. I'm rather off Dickens now because I had to put down Barnaby Rudge 100 pages in. But Sketches by Boz and his short fiction beckon.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Major! I haven't tried Barnaby Rudge yet. But I remember Karen at Books and Chocolate liked it, so there is hope! : )

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  3. I've tried this book twice in my life, and I cannot get the hold of it, even though I made it to say 60 pages or so... It's considered maybe his best book, (or maybe up with A Tale of Two Cities). One day!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Silvia. I wouldn't consider this his best book; IMO of those that I have read, that would probably be Great Expectations or Bleak House. It is very rambley and doesn't really start to gell until well past page 60! So I say skip it unless you are a Dickens completeist!

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    2. Lol, I am not a Dickens completist!, I enjoyed his Great Expectations, and his Christmas Carol and short stories. I may try his Bleak House.

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