Literature / The Pickwick Papers

Full title The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, but usually known under this title.

Charles Dickens' first novel and still one of his best known, it's a far more comedic read than his later stuff, although with strong touches of darkness, especially the Fleet Prison part of the book. First published in 1837 (but set in 1827-28, a fact Dickens sometimes forgot in his writing), it was originally a 20-part serial. It follows the misadventures of a bunch of comedy clichés as they go about southern England. Along the way, a variety of interesting side-stories are related.

It wasn't doing too well, sales wise, until Samuel Weller entered the story. Weller, an early example of the chirpy Cockney archetype, is prone to punching people with little provocation, dispensing Cockney wisdom and engaging in an entire series of "as the X said" jokes, but adding something before and afterwards, such as:
"Wotever is, is right, as the young nobleman sveetly remarked wen they put him down in the pension list cos his mother's uncle's vife's grandfather vunce lit the king's pipe vith a portable tinder-box."

As can be seen from the above quote, the Cockney accent has changed a lot since 1837; without Dickens's habit of using Funetik Aksent to show Weller's pronunciation, this fact would be unknown to modern linguists.

The book became a literary phenomenon, Weller became a very popular character and the book became subject to one of the earlier major cases of book piracy. Contains the best surviving fictional account of a pre-1832 British by-election, an account of the Fleet debtors' prison that was a major eye-opener at the time and some rather good Lampshade Hanging on a couple of tropes.

Includes a character, Joe, who is rather obese and falls asleep frequently with no warning. This is exactly like the condition Obesity-Hypoventilation Syndrome, which is also known as "Pickwickian syndrome" because of it.

Has been adapted several times, including a 1952 film starring James Hayter as Mr. Pickwick, and a 1985 TV series starring Nigel Stock as Mr. Pickwick.

This book contains examples of:

  • Battle Butler: Sam Weller is a minor version, as well as a Hypercompetent Sidekick.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: One of Pickwick's adventures is being sued by his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, for breach of promise, although the alleged proposal was actually a misunderstanding on her part. Pickwick ends up in Fleet Prison after he refuses to pay compensation to her because he doesn't want any money to go to her unscrupulous lawyers.
  • Fainting: The sheer amount of it and the way in which it's handled by Dickens suggests he's going for comedy.
  • Kissing Cousins:
    "It is a delightful thing to see affection in families, but it may be carried rather too far, and Nathaniel Pipkin could not help thinking that Maria Lobbs must be particularly fond of her relations, if she paid as much attention to all of them as to this individual cousin."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Ghosts haunting the places that caused them most woe, fainting.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Mr Pickwick gets one in the Fleet since he can afford it, although Dickens also shows the nastier aspects of debtors' prisons.
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: Mrs. Bardell thinks Mr. Pickwick is proposing to her when he's actually asking her opinion on whether or not he should hire a manservant. Hilarity Ensues.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: "Eatanswill"note , the location of the by-election, is stated to be a disguised East Anglian town. It's generally thought to be either Sudbury or Ipswich. G. K. Chesterton, for this part, thought Dickens was just satirising England in general.
  • Present Day Past: Dickens has characters referencing events that haven't occurred in their world yet.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: Jingle, who constantly speaks in sentence fragments.

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