Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mr. Pickwick on the way to prison

Yesterday’s post on the duel in Nicholas Nickleby reminds me of two things.

First, that there is a sort of dueling scene in Chapter 2 of The Pickwick Papers, which is derailed just before the shooting begins. Just an adventure for Mr. Winkle, nothing serious.

Second, a scene of transportation to prison is much like the journey to a duel or execution. Here is Mr. Pickwick, in Chapter 50, being taken to debtors’ prison for failing to pay a dishonorable bill:

“The hackney coach jolted along Fleet Street, as hackney coaches usually do. The horses ‘went better,’ the driver said, when they had anything before them, (they must have gone at a most extraordinary pace when there was nothing,) and so the vehicle kept behind a cart; when the cart stopped, it stopped; and when the cart went on again, it did the same. Mr. Pickwick sat opposite the tipstaff; and the tipstaff sat with his hat between his knees, whistling a tune, and looking out of the coach window.”

Pickwick might be at his lowest point in the entire novel. What is he thinking? Dickens doesn’t tell us, but instead creates a new character who we will never see again after this page.


  1. I've long wanted to read Pitwick because of a line in Anne of the Island (third in the Anne of Green Gables Series) about how hungry it made the Phil because of all of the great food in it. I've long wanted to read Nicholas Nickleby because I loved A Tale of Two Cities in high school and have been told I would like NN.
    Somehow my second Dickens novel ended up being Great Expectations (probably because of its shorter length) and it was such a slog, with neither the plot nor the humor of Tale of Two Cities, that I haven't read any Dickens since.

    Which novel would you suggest if I were to give Dickens a much deserved third try?

  2. "Bleak House" is the best one I've read (I have not read most of them). "Best" = see post on "Mansfield Park". Ma femme, who has read them all, votes for "Our Mutual Friend".

    "Pickwick" is a great choice, but it is almost without plot, and was not originally meant to be a novel, just a series of adventures. Some episodes are dullish, while others are as good as anything Dickens would ever write. Sam Weller and his father composing a walentine, for example.