STUMP » Articles » A Year of Dickens: Starting with Pickwick Papers » 13 January 2019, 12:33

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

A Year of Dickens: Starting with Pickwick Papers  


13 January 2019, 12:33

Charles Dickens didn’t start writing with Pickwick Papers — his first published pieces were short “sketches” that ran in newspapers and other periodicals, and then compiled in Sketches by Boz. While I mainly focus on Dickens’s novels, Dickens would continue to write these short pieces throughout his career, and even used some short stories within Pickwick Papers itself.

The Pickwick Papers was his first novel, loosely defined, because it doesn’t really have much of a plot. What it has is a bunch of stuff, a lot of life, and a lot of laughter. I will talk about the characters later, but the novel is the only pure comedy of Dickens’s novels (though Martin Chuzzlewit comes a wee bit close… the murders in that book kind of remove the “pure comedy” aspect.) There are some minor dark spots at the end, when Mr. Pickwick is in debtor’s prison, but it’s not much.

It was a huge success during its time, and I think that lightness helped propel its popularity. I don’t fully agree with Sarah Hoyt about the need for darkness for people to take a book seriously (though I do agree with her that books can be too dark), and this novel is definitely a light touch. And there is a reason this book isn’t taught much except to the hard-core scholars. But then, neither is Martin Chuzzlewit nor Barnaby Rudge, and they’re a bit more serious.

Nothing terribly serious occurs throughout the book. Mr. Pickwick ends up in the debtor’s prison after a comical misunderstanding, a somewhat more serious civil trial, and then Mr. Pickwick’s moral indignation at the legal result and his refusal to pay damages. He backs down from this stance ultimately, because other people’s well-being is more important to him than his pride. Separately, Pickwick shows Christian forgiveness to other people who did him wrong and who have fallen on evil times themselves (though completely expected given their behavior).

I will talk about the “villains” of Pickwick next week.


The audiobook version of Pickwick Papers I’m listening to is narrated by Simon Prebble. I’ve listened to several books narrated by Prebble, and he’s been uniformly fabulous. I highly recommend Arguably as well.

The great thing about Pickwick, and pretty much all Dickens novels, is that there are so many different types of characters represented, in terms of class, age, and personality. It takes an excellent narrator to place each character properly.


Thus far.

See you next week!

Related Posts
A Year of Dickens: Literature for the Masses
Saying Goodbye to Pickwick: The Real Villains and Sam Weller
Merry Christmas! Have New Public Pensions Projections