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Literature / The Pickwick Papers

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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 clich├ęs 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. It also received a musical adaptation (simply entitled "Pickwick") starring Harry Secombe and best known for the Breakaway Pop Hit "If I Ruled the World."

Can be read here.

This book contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Tony Weller often calls his son, Sam, 'Sammy' or 'Sammivel' (Samuel).
  • Battle Butler: Sam Weller is a minor version, as well as a Hypercompetent Sidekick.
  • Big Fun: Mr. Wardle and Tony Weller are both stout and amiable fellows.
  • 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.
  • The Cynic: Mr. Weller Sr. has a very cynical view about matrimony, especially where widows are concerned.
  • Delusions of Local Grandeur: Mr. Pott is quick to assure Mr. Pickwick that London and the nation may rest easy knowing that the Eatanswill Gazette is on the watch.
  • Fainting: The sheer amount of it and the way in which it's handled by Dickens suggests he's going for comedy.
  • Feigning Intelligence: While not unintelligent, Nathaniel Winkle touts himself as an experienced sportsman, but putting his prowess into practice shows how wholly unskilled he is, whether it be at horse-riding, hunting, or skating.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mr. Peter Magnus, Mr. Pickwick's traveling companion to Ipswich, who courts a middle-aged lady that Mr. Pickwick accidentally encounters when trying to find his inn room in the middle of the night, and draws the worst conclusions when both refuse to say how they know each other. It helps that he's described as wearing green-colored spectacles.
  • Happily Married: Mr. Trundle and Isabella Wardle, Mr. and Mrs. Dowler, Mr. Winkle and Arabella Allen, Mr. Snodgrass and Emily Wardle, and Sam Weller and Mary the housemaid.
  • Henpecked Husband: Quite a number of examples, since marriage is a recurring theme in the story.
    • Mr. Pott, the editor of the Eatanswill Gazette, is verbose and powerful when writing his articles, but meek and submissive where his wife is concerned, especially as their isolation from society due to the former's job is a constant grievance for her, and she feels it necessary to keep him under her thumb in all matters. When Mr. Pickwick meets up with him again later, he learns that the Potts have been divorced.
    • Mr. Nupkins, the magistrate of Ipswich, is fierce and commanding when in his element, with his word being law among his subordinates, no matter how contrary they run to the truth, even if he often needs assistance from his clerk, Mr. Jinks. However, he, like Pott, is meek and submissive when it comes to his wife, who, in conjunction with their daughter, blames him for everything.
    • Mr. Raddle, the mild and ineffectual husband of the loud and vixenish Mrs. Raddle, often bears the brunt of her aggression, and he can't seem to say anything without evincing reproach. The picnic excursion they take with Mrs. Bardell and her friends gives the ladies ample opportunity to bully the poor man for the slightest thing.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The whole Pickwick club, Mr. Pickwick and Sam, and on the villainous side, Jingle and Job Trotter.
  • Honor Before Reason: Upon losing the action placed against him by Mrs. Bardell, Mr. Pickwick resolves that he would rather go to a debtor's prison than allow the unscrupulous Dodson and Fogg to get his money.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: How each of the chapters are titled.
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to other parts of Dickens' oeuvre.
  • 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.
  • Mystery Meat: Dodgy meat pies were a staple of Victorian street food, and appear again here. Sam Weller once knew a pieman who kept a large brood of cats, not because he was particularly fond of them, but because his customers were. He also comments that:
    Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens.
  • 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.
  • The Prankster: Both Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen have a well-meaning propensity for practical jokes, which becomes very vexatious for Mr. Pickwick when takes a journey to see Mr. Winkle Sr. on serious business.
  • 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, resembling somebody with Broca's Aphasia.
  • The Power of Trust: Mr. Pickwick uses this to reform Jingle and Job when they are at their lowest in the Fleet prison.
  • Story Within a Story: As the Pickwick Club's aim is to study human nature and the intricacies of society, Mr. Pickwick and his friends are told and related several different stories in the course of their adventures.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Mistakenly read into Mr. Pickwick's musings about hiring a manservant.
  • Under the Mistletoe: Happens during the lighthearted Christmas chapter spent with the Wardles at Manor Farm.
  • Undying Loyalty: Sam to Mr. Pickwick and Job to Jingle.
  • Urban Legend Love Life: Tracy Tupman, who fancies himself a ladies' man, even at his more advanced age and corpulent figure.