Study Guide

Martin Chuzzlewit

by Charles Dickens

Martin Chuzzlewit Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Selfishness is a strong family trait in Martin and Anthony Chuzzlewit, two aged brothers. From his cradle, Anthony’s son, Jonas, has been taught to think only of money and gain; in his eagerness to possess his father’s wealth, he often grows impatient for the old man to die. Old Martin Chuzzlewit suspects the world of having designs on his fortune; his distrust and lack of generosity have turned his grandson, his namesake, into a model of selfishness and obstinacy. The old man’s heart is not as hard as it seems, for he has taken into his house as his companion and ward an orphan named Mary Graham. He tells her that she will have a comfortable home as long as he lives but that she should expect nothing at his death. His secret wish is that love might grow between her and his grandson, but when young Martin tells him that he has chosen Mary for his own, old Martin is displeased, afraid that the young couple are acting in their own interests. A disagreement follows, and the old man turns his grandson out of his house.

Thrown on his own resources, young Martin decides to become an architect. He arranges to study with Mr. Pecksniff, an architect and land surveyor, who lives in a little Wiltshire village not far from Salisbury. Mr. Pecksniff agrees to train two or three pupils in return for a large premium and exorbitant charges for board and lodging. He thinks highly of himself as a moral man, and he has a copybook maxim to quote for every occasion. He and old Martin Chuzzlewit are cousins, but even though there has been bad feeling between them in the past, Mr. Pecksniff sees in young Martin a possible suitor for one of his daughters, and he accepts him as a student without requiring the customary fee.

Mr. Pecksniff has never been known to build anything, a fact that takes nothing away from his reputation. With him live his two affected daughters, Charity and Mercy, both as hypocritical and mean-spirited as their father. His assistant is a former pupil named Tom Pinch, a meek, prematurely aged draftsman who looks upon Mr. Pecksniff as a tower of knowledge.

Young Martin arrives in Wiltshire and takes the place of John Westlock in Mr. Pecksniff’s establishment. Westlock was never a favorite in the household, his contempt for Mr. Pecksniff having been as great as his regard for the honest, loyal Tom Pinch. At first, Martin treats Tom in a patronizing manner. Tom, accustomed to the snubs and ridicule of Charity and Mercy, returns Martin’s slights with simple goodwill; before long, the two become friends.

One day, Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters depart suddenly for London, summoned there by old Martin Chuzzlewit. The old man calls on them at Mrs. Todgers’s shabbily genteel rooming house and accuses his grandson of having deceived the worthy man who shelters him. Mr. Pecksniff pretends to be pained and shocked to learn that Mr. Chuzzlewit has disowned his grandson. When the visitor hints at future goodwill and expectations if the architect will send the young man away at once, Mr. Pecksniff—even though the old man’s proposal is treacherous and his language insulting—agrees eagerly. Returning to Wiltshire, he puts on a virtuous appearance as he announces that young Martin has ill treated the best and noblest of men and has taken advantage of his own unsuspecting nature. His humble roof, Mr. Pecksniff declares, can never shelter so base an ingrate and impostor.

Homeless once more, Martin makes his way to London in the hope of finding employment. As the weeks pass, his small store of money dwindles steadily. At last, when he has nothing left to pawn, he decides to try his fortunes in America. A twenty-pound note in a letter from an unknown sender gives him the wherewithal for his passage. Mark Tapley, the hostler of the Blue Dragon Inn in Wiltshire, accompanies him on his adventure. Mark is a jolly fellow with a desire to see the world. Martin cannot leave London, however, without seeing Mary Graham. He reads her a letter he has written to Tom Pinch, in which he asks his friend to show her kindness if the two should ever meet. Martin also arranges to write to Mary in care of Tom.

As steerage passengers, Martin and Mark have a miserable voyage to New York. Martin is not fond of the bumptious, tobacco-chewing Americans he meets, but he is excited by accounts of the fortunes to be made out West. Taken in by a group of land promoters, he writes to Mary, telling her of his bright prospects.

Meanwhile, old Anthony Chuzzlewit dies suddenly in the presence of his son, Mr. Pecksniff, and a faithful clerk, Chuffey. Sarah Gamp is called in to prepare the body for burial. She is a fat, middle-aged Cockney with a fondness for the...

(The entire section is 1922 words.)

Martin Chuzzlewit Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-3 Summary

The Chuzzlewit family is of a distinguished and noble heritage, descended directly from Adam and Eve. Like the First Parents, there may have been “murderers and vagabonds” among its descendants, but for the most part, the Chuzzlewits have been illustrious and involved in many aspects of English history. It is said that one Chuzzlewit ancestor was involved in Fawkes’ plot to blow up Parliament. It may even be that Fawkes himself was a Chuzzlewit, since there was one female ancestor who was known as “the Match Maker” for her tendency to start fires. All in all, the Chuzzlewits, though not possessing vast landed estates and titles, have long been one of the finest families in England.

On a windy autumn day, Seth Pecksniff, architect and land surveyor, returns to his home only to be knocked on his back by his front door, slammed in his face by the wind. His younger daughter, Mercy, helps him inside. She and her sister Charity (who retains the habits and personality of a girl) listen to their father expound on morality. Tom Pinch, Pecksniff’s loyal assistant, enters and says that John Westlock, a departing student of Pecksniff’s, would like to say good-bye and hopefully make peace, as there had been some conflict between the two. Pecksniff chastises Pinch for this, but Westlock enters anyway. He asks for forgiveness and to shake hands. Pecksniff says that of course he forgives Westlock but will not shake his hand. Irate, Westlock leaves. He and Pinch have been good friends, but they disagree about the worthiness of Pecksniff. Westlock views him as a moral hypocrite, concerned only with himself and his interests, while Pinch believes in his inner goodness. Westlock leaves for London.

A carriage pulls up to the Blue Dragon Inn in the same village. Out comes Martin Chuzzlewit, who is ill, followed by a young woman, Mary Graham. Mrs. Lupin, the landlady of the Blue Dragon, assists the elder Mr. Chuzzlewit to a...

(The entire section is 566 words.)

Chapters 4-5 Summary

Mr. Pecksniff stays away from Martin Chuzzlewit for three days, but then he checks on him frequently, looking in at the keyhole. At one such time, he is surprised to be dragged outside by a person dressed strangely in a “genteel-shabby” fashion. The man's name is Montague Tigg, and he is functioning as a representative for Chevy Slyme, who is married to Martin Chuzzlewit’s niece. He informs Mr. Pecksniff that several members of the Chuzzlewit family will be arriving, or even now have arrived, in the village, having ascertained Martin’s whereabouts.

The Chuzzlewit relatives assemble at the Pecksniff home. Among them are Mr. Chuzzlewit’s niece, Mrs. Spottletoe, and her husband as well as Anthony Chuzzlewit and his son, Jonas. They all are concerned about the presence of Mary Graham, who is no relation to the family but has the most immediate contact with Mr. Chuzzlewit. Pecksniff is most concerned that the old man be interested in the welfare of Chuzzlewit's grandson, also named Martin. The various Chuzzlewit family members cannot agree on a course of action, especially one proposed by Pecksniff, whom they presume is claiming to be the head of the Chuzzlewit family, and one by one, they depart with the news that the elder Martin Chuzzlewit and Mary Graham have left the Blue Dragon.

Tom Pinch takes the horse and carriage to Salisbury to pick up Mr. Pecksniff’s new architecture student. He is greeted amiably by all whom he passes. At Salisbury, Pinch looks at all the shops, buys a knife that turns out to be dull, and regrets not being able to afford a watch with a repeater. Going to the inn, he meets the young Martin Chuzzlewit, who is Mr. Pecksniff’s new student. The pair hit it off immediately, both having similar personalities. On the road back, Pinch tells Martin of his love of playing the organ in the local church. One time, a lovely woman came in to listen, and Pinch was instantly captivated by her. Back at the Pecksniff home, Mr. Pecksniff and the girls express surprise at Martin’s arriving so early. Mr. Pecksniff shows him the house and his room, which he will share with Pinch. Despite being caught unawares, Pecksniff seems to have already arranged for a sumptuous banquet. Charity and Mercy are quite taken with young Martin. Martin and Pinch retire to their room, accompanied by Pecksniff, who warns Martin of Pinch’s occasional forgetfulness concerning his station. The family goes to sleep, each having pleasant dreams.

Chapters 6-8 Summary

The next morning, Mr. Pecksniff receives a letter summoning him to London on business. At breakfast, he explains to Martin that he had promised his daughters to take them the next time he went to the city. They will be gone for a week, so he suggests that Martin practice his architecture by drawing plans for a grammar school. (Pecksniff is in the habit of taking his students’ drawings, adding insignificant details to them, claiming them as his own, and selling them.) After the Pecksniffs leave, Tom Pinch notices that Martin is depressed. Martin explains that Pecksniff informed him that his grandfather had been in the village recently. Martin’s parents died when he was young and so does not miss them, but Tom commiserates with...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Chapters 9-10 Summary

On the second day of their stay in London, Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters are to deliver Tom Pinch’s letter to his sister, Ruth, who is a governess for the children of an important copper manufacturer. They are accompanied by Mrs. Todgers and find that Ruth Pinch is not as unattractive as they had assumed she would be. She is quite pretty and has the same grateful and pleasant personality as her brother. Ruth's pupil takes note of what the governess does to report later. The footman arrives to ask what the pupil is learning, which is a sign for the Pecksniffs to leave. As they depart, Pecksniff points out the architectural features of the house until the owner tells him to get off the grass and leave. Mr. Pecksniff assumes his...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Chapters 11-12 Summary

Bailey announces to the Pecksniff daughters that a gentleman has come to see Charity. He had told the visitor to go on up as a joke, so he had become lost. Charity finally finds him in the parlor, and it is Jonas Chuzzlewit, the son of Anthony. Charity is disappointed and speaks bluntly to him. Jonas constantly asks questions about “the other one,” meaning Mercy, until Charity offers to go fetch her. Jonas invites his two cousins to go for a walk and to dine with him and his father afterward. Mercy is reluctantly dragged along, even though Jonas is obviously more interested in Charity. After visiting all the free sights in London, the trio arrives at the Chuzzlewit home. Anthony is waiting for them, and Jonas refers to him...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Chapters 13-15 Summary

Martin Chuzzlewit walks in the rain, having no clear direction. He looks at the book that Tom gave him and, seeing that it is a French novel, almost throws it away. He opens it, however, to find the money that John Westlock had given to Tom. Martin silently blesses Tom and finds his way to an inn. There he finds a ride to London for the price of a silk handkerchief that the teamster fancies. He finds very cheap lodgings and goes to pawn his watch. At the pawnshop, he encounters Montague Tigg, who informs him that he has left Chevy Slyme. Martin sees that this is good reason to avoid any future contact with Tigg.

Over the next five weeks, Martin tries to find a way to get on a ship to America, but has no success. He...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Chapters 16-17 Summary

Martin and Mark are surrounded by newsboys selling newspapers as soon as they disembark in New York. Martin is quickly picked up by Colonel Diver, who is the editor of the New York Rowdy Journal. He escorts the two Englishman down Broadway to his office. There Martin meets Jefferson Brick, who is the war correspondent for the Rowdy Journal. Each person Martin meets in New York is introduced as one of the most remarkable men in the country. Jefferson joins Diver and Martin as they go to the boarding house where the journalists live, suggesting that Martin and Mark might also find accommodations there. When the door is answered by the Irish maid, Martin makes the mistake of referring to her employer as her...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Chapters 18-20 Summary

Anthony and Jonas Chuzzlewit, along with Chuffey, sit before the fire. Anthony speaks of the short amount of time that he has left, but Chuffey assures him that he is still a boy. Jonas mutters under his breath that it is high time for his father to die and leave the business in his son’s hands. He creeps to the files and pulls out his father’s will, making sure that the bulk of the estate is left to him, with a thirty-pound annuity for Chuffey. He is startled to find Pecksniff looking at him. Later, when they are alone, Anthony tells Pecksniff that Jonas wants to marry one of Pecksniff’s daughters. He warns Pecksniff to arrange it soon before Jonas loses interest. Jonas returns, and Anthony falls asleep. Soon, he makes...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Chapters 21-23 Summary

Martin and Mark are on a train bound west when they are interrupted by Mr. Lafayette Kettle, who listens in on their conversation. General Choke also joins them and begins to speak against tyranny in England, although he insists, despite Martin’s attempts to correct him, that Queen Victoria lives in the Tower of London. He represents a group called the Watertoast Association of United Sympathisers, which is an anti-British group. Martin has been given a letter of introduction to General Choke by Dr. Bevan. General Choke tells them that he is involved in the town of Eden's development. This bothers Martin because Bevan had told him that Choke would be a disinterested advisor. At their destination, General Choke escorts Martin and...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Chapters 24-26 Summary

The elder Martin Chuzzlewit and Mary Graham arrive at the Pecksniff house. Pecksniff, confused and frustrated, hides Jonas in one room, puts on his gardening gear, and opens the door, apologizing to Mr. Chuzzlewit for the delay. He tells Mr. Chuzzlewit that his nephew Jonas is in the house. After bidding Tom Pinch to fetch Mercy and Charity, Pecksniff retrieves Jonas. The nephew and uncle coldly shake hands. Pecksniff assures Mr. Chuzzlewit that Jonas has been a model son in the manner of his grief over his father’s death. Mr. Chuzzlewit has Tom escort him and Mary back to the Blue Dragon Inn. He ascertains that as much as he had been favorably impressed by Tom, he is in fact too subservient to Pecksniff after all. On the way...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapters 27-29 Summary

Bailey has come into the employment of Montague Tigg, now known as Tigg Montague. Tigg, along with the pawnbroker David Crimple, has formed the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company. Tigg and David argue as to who first came up with the idea of the Anglo-Bengalee. The medical officer of the company is Mr. Jobling, who had been the physician of both the late Anthony Chuzzlewit and the patient for whom Mrs. Gamp had served as the night nurse. Jonas Chuzzlewit is introduced into the meeting of the board. He explains contemptuously that he has come for information only, with no commitment to join the company. He is thinking of insuring the life of his wife, although she is young. He does not want Mercy to have...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Chapters 30-32 Summary

Tension has continued to grow between Mr. Pecksniff and his daughter Charity. He begs her to return to his fatherly embrace, but she hints that she knows where his true affection lies. He thinks she speaks out of jealousy over Mercy’s marriage to Jonas. She demands that he provide her an allowance so that she may live on her own, such as in London with Mrs. Todgers. Pecksniff agrees, seeing this as an excellent way to get rid of such unpleasantness.

Pecksniff runs across Mr. Chuzzlewit out on a walk. He has thought of a way to manage to get the Chuzzlewit money. He invites Mr. Chuzzlewit to live with him, since Charity is leaving. He also has designs on Mary, so he suggests that an inn is no place for a young lady....

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapters 33-35 Summary

The day after their arrival at Eden, Martin falls ill with a fever. Desperate, Mark goes to a neighbor for help and discovers his fellow passengers, the woman and her three children, along with her husband. They are overjoyed to be reunited, but Mark sees that their little girl is on the brink of death. The husband goes with Mark to examine Martin and declares that he has fever and ague (malaria). He himself has had it for a long time, but it is not serious in his case. That night, the little girl dies, and Mark helps his friends bury her under a tree. Martin is ill for many weeks, and Mark watches over him by night and works on the land by day. A neighbor, Hannibal Chollop, comes to visit. Spitting tobacco on the floor, Chollop...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapters 36-38 Summary

Tom Pinch arrives in Salisbury and decides that he will go on to London. The next available coach does not leave until the next night, so Mrs. Lupin brings his trunk to him, along with a basket full of food for the journey. The coach driver is interested both in Mrs. Lupin and in the basket, so Tom shares the food with him. In London, Tom goes to see John Westlock, who is overjoyed to see him. Afterward, Tom goes to the home where his sister, Ruth, is governess. He is offended by the rude treatment of the footman. He greets Ruth warmly but is surprised to see that she has been crying. He ascertains that she has been ill treated, which he can quickly guess from the footman. Ruth's employer, his wife, and his daughter (Ruth’s...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Chapters 39-41 Summary

Tom and Ruth Pinch settle into their life in Islington. Tom is trying to write a resume in preparation for searching for a position, and Ruth is trying to make a beefsteak pudding, her first attempt. They are surprised when John Westlock walks in. Tom introduces him to his sister, and John is immediately taken with Ruth, despite her flour-covered hands. To Ruth’s horror, Tom invites John to dinner that evening, which John accepts. He tells Tom that he has come for the specific purpose of conveying a job offer to Tom. A Mr. Fips had approached him that morning, asking if he knew a Thomas Pinch. John tells Tom that he is being offered a position as a secretary to an unknown person, at the salary of one hundred pounds a year. Tom is...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapters 42-44 Summary

It is a stormy night as Jonas, Tigg, and Bailey take the coach to Salisbury. Montague is unsure of the wisdom of such a journey, but Jonas is insistent. In the coach, Montague falls asleep, only to wake up and see Jonas holding a bottle over him. Though Montague thinks that Jonas is trying to hit him over the head, Jonas simply takes a drink out of it. Because of the storm, the coach overturns, throwing all out of the carriage, except for those who jumped to safety. Jonas unleashes the terrified horses and moves them toward Montague, who is lying in the road, in an effort to have their hooves crush his skull. The driver stops him in time, not perceiving his real intention. They see that Bailey is seriously injured. They manage to...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapters 45-47 Summary

Ruth Pinch usually waits for her brother after his day is done at work, but one afternoon, Tom is late. John Westlock happens to pass by and approaches Ruth. Tom arrives just then, and John invites them to dinner at his rooms. Tom accepts gladly and teases Ruth about her previous dinner that John had shared at their home. As they dine, Tom talks about what a perfect life John lives in his bachelor flat, though John tries to say how solitary an existence it is. Tom refutes this and dominates the conversation, with Ruth only occasionally drawn in. Tom tells John of his encounter at the wharf and his concern that Mercy will think that he is somehow involved in the matter, whatever it is. John urges Tom to talk to Mercy and set the...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Chapters 48-50 Summary

Early one morning, Mark Tapley arrives at Tom Pinch’s home, accompanied by Martin. Tom is overjoyed to see his old friends back from America. As they catch up on each other’s news, Mark takes over the role as servant until Tom warns him that if he will not sit down, he will swear at him. Tom suggests to Martin that his friend John Westlock might have some advice for him, so the men travel to London. John welcomes them, but explains that he has another visitor, whose business has some connection with Martin. Tom and Mark leave, and Mark announces to Tom that he is planning on marrying Mrs. Lupin. Tom is overjoyed and chides Mark for not marrying her long before.

Martin is introduced by John to Mr. Lewsome, John’s...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Chapters 51-52 Summary

Jonas has decided to put Chuffey into an insane asylum, supposedly assisted by Mrs. Gamp, who takes him upstairs. Mercy has gone to see Mrs. Todgers. Jonas asks Mrs. Gamp where her assistant is, but Mrs. Gamp says that Mrs. Prig is not to be trusted and so has asked Mrs. Harris to help. When Jonas asks to see her, Mrs. Gamp is hesitant. She is about to leave when Mr. Chuzzlewit and John Westlock arrive. Mr. Chuzzlewit accuses Jonas of murder, and Mr. Lewsome arrives to present his evidence against Jonas. Mr. Chuffey interrupts, saying that Anthony was not poisoned. He had discovered Jonas’s plan and so had not taken the medicine in which Jonas had put the poison. He felt guilt over raising a son who wanted to kill his father. He...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Chapters 53-54 Summary

Ruth and John begin by talking about Martin and Mary’s marriage to come, but John can wait no longer. He professes his love to Ruth and asks her to marry him. Ruth agrees wholeheartedly but says that she cannot leave her brother Tom alone. John states that he cannot leave him either and proposes that they live out in the country, where he can pursue his architectural career with Tom as his assistant. The three of them will live together, which pleases Ruth. Tom returns with Mr. Chuzzlewit. Ruth had wanted to break the news to Tom while they were alone, but she cannot wait. He is overjoyed, and Mr. Chuzzlewit is not surprised. In fact, he had anticipated this and so had asked Tom to go with him to leave the couple alone. He...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear, Michael Foster