Pickwick Papers Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Samuel Pickwick, Esq., is the founder and perpetual president of the justly famous Pickwick Club. To extend his own researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other Pickwickians should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the stay-at-home members of the club. The first destination decided upon is Rochester. As Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tracy Tupman, Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, and Mr. Augustus Snodgrass go to their coach, they are waylaid by a rough gang of cab drivers. Fortunately, the men are rescued by a stranger who is poorly dressed but of the friendliest nature. The stranger, who introduces himself as Alfred Jingle, also appears to be going to Rochester, and the party mounts the coach together.

After they arrive at their destination, Mr. Jingle arouses Mr. Tupman’s curiosity by telling him that there is to be a ball at the inn that evening and that many lovely young ladies will be present. Because, says Mr. Jingle, his luggage has gone astray, he has no evening clothes, and so it will be impossible for him to attend the affair. This is a regrettable circumstance because he had hoped to introduce Mr. Tupman to the many young ladies of wealth and fashion who will be present. Eager to meet these young ladies, Mr. Tupman borrows Mr. Winkle’s suit for the stranger. At the ball, Mr. Jingle, observing a middle-aged lady being assiduously attended by a doctor, goes up to her and starts dancing with her, much to the doctor’s anger. Introducing himself as Dr. Slammer, the angry gentleman challenges Mr. Jingle to a duel, but Mr. Jingle refuses to give his name.

The next morning, a servant identifies Mr. Winkle as the gentleman wearing the suit as described by the doctor and tells Mr. Winkle that Dr. Slammer is awaiting his appearance to fight a duel. Mr. Winkle had been drunk the night before, and he decides he is being called out because he had conducted himself in an unseemly manner that he can no longer remember. With Mr. Snodgrass as his second, a trembling Mr. Winkle approaches the battlefield. Much to his relief, Dr. Slammer roars that he is the wrong man. After much misunderstanding, the situation is satisfactorily explained, and no blood is shed.

During the afternoon, the travelers attend a parade, where they meet Mr. Wardle in a coach with his two daughters and his sister, Miss Rachael Wardle. Mr. Tupman is impressed by the elder Miss Wardle and accepts for his friends and himself Mr. Wardle’s invitation to visit his estate, Manor Farm. The next day, the four Pickwickians depart for the farm, which is a distance of about ten miles from the inn where they are staying. They encounter difficulties with their horses and arrive at Manor Farm in a disheveled state, but they are soon washed and mended under the kind assistance of Mr. Wardle’s daughters. In the evening, they play a hearty game of whist, and Mr. Tupman squeezes Miss Wardle’s hand under the table.

The next day, Mr. Wardle takes his guests rook hunting. Mr. Winkle, who will not admit himself unable to cope with any situation, is given the gun to try his skill. He proves it by accidentally shooting Mr. Tupman in the arm. Miss Wardle offers her aid to the stricken man. Observing that their friend is in good hands, the others travel to a neighboring town to watch the cricket matches. Here, Mr. Pickwick unexpectedly encounters Mr. Jingle, and Mr. Wardle invites him to return to Manor Farm with his party.

Convinced that Miss Wardle has a great deal of money, Mr. Jingle misrepresents Mr. Tupman’s intentions to Miss Wardle and persuades her to elope with him. Mr. Wardle and Mr. Pickwick pursue the couple to London. Here, with the help of Mr. Wardle’s lawyer, Mr. Perker, they go from one inn to another in an attempt to find the elopers. Finally, through a sharp-featured young man cleaning boots in the yard of the White Hart Inn, they are able to identify Mr. Jingle. They indignantly confront him as he is displaying a marriage license. After a heated argument, Mr. Jingle...

(The entire section is 1661 words.)

Pickwick Papers Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-2 Summary

On May 12, 1827, the members of the Pickwick Club gather to hear Mr. Samuel Pickwick present a paper, “Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with Some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats.” These observations are met with great applause, and it is moved that a Corresponding Society of the Pickwick Club be formed. The members will be Samuel Pickwick, founder of the Club; Tracy Tupman, a great fan of the ladies; Augustus Snodgrass, a poet of little note; and Nathaniel Winkle, a sportsman. It is further moved that these four gentlemen shall pay all their own expenses and report at times to the Club on their travels, all costs of postage being paid by the four gentlemen. Mr. Pickwick rises to the occasion and accepts the Club’s designation despite the current dangers for travelers in England. Some member of the Club objects to this. Mr. Pickwick takes offense and implied insult to the objector. It is discovered that it is Mr. Blotton of Aldgate who has disagreed with Mr. Pickwick, though he resents Mr. Pickwick’s accusation and calls Mr. Pickwick a humbug. The Chairman asks Mr. Blotton if he meant the term “humbug” in the common sense. Mr. Blotton replies that he meant it in the Pickwickian sense. All are satisfied and the meeting comes to a close.

Mr. Pickwick arises the next morning and takes a cab to meet the other members. The driver regales him with ludicrous facts about his horse, which Mr. Pickwick writes down. When they arrive at their destination, the driver accuses Mr. Pickwick of being an informer. The three other members join the fight, which is soon broken up by a stranger. This stranger suggests that they go for a drink to recover, which in the end is paid for by Mr. Pickwick.

On the way to Rochester, the stranger joins the four Pickwickians and tells them of his many (though doubtful) adventures. When they arrive at the inn, the members invite the stranger to dine with them. At the dinner,...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Chapters 3-5 Summary

When Winkle and Snodgrass return to the inn, they find the other members of the club joined by another stranger, who is a friend of the stranger’s from the day before. His name is Dismal Jemmy and is an actor in the area. He tells a story of a Stroller, a traveling actor, who takes the role of a clown. Because of his heavy drinking, the stroller is slowly dying. He invites Dismal Jemmy to visit him at his home. Dismal Jemmy does and meets the clown’s wife and small child. The stroller is slipping into delirium, but Dismal Jemmy returns and stays by his side until he dies. Before anyone can ask questions about the story, Doctor Slammer and his guests arrive. He is startled to recognize both Winkle and the stranger who insulted him. After some discussion and more insults, Doctor Slammer and his companions leave. Mr. Pickwick attempts to follow them to demand satisfaction, but his friends restrain him.

The next morning, the company joins the citizens at a military display. Mr. Tupman disappears but Pickwick, Snodgrass, and Winkle find places close to the front. They are pushed from behind and soon find themselves facing the soldiers’ guns. Although the guns are loaded with blanks, the club members try to find some place of safety, only to be caught between the opposing sides. They manage to scurry to the sides (not without some injuries) and find Tupman in a carriage filled with the Wardle family. Mr. Wardle is joined by his maiden sister, Rachael; his daughters, Isabella and Emily; Mr. Trundle; and Joe, a fat boy who is constantly falling asleep. The Pickwickians join the Wardles for the remaining part of the show. Miss Rachael and Tupman flirt with each other, much to the amusement of the two girls. Mr. Wardle invites the members of the Pickwick Club to come to his home, Manor Farm in Dingley Dell, the following day. The companions readily accept the invitation.

The next morning, Dismal Jemmy asks Mr. Pickwick if he may forward...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Chapters 6-8 Summary

The members of the Pickwick Club are welcomed to a game of cards at Manor House, as are several other guests. In attendance is Mr. Wardle’s deaf, old mother, whose hearing improves once cards are mentioned. The clergyman tells the tale “The Convict’s Return,” which is about members of his local parish. A woman, much abused by her husband, is a faithful attendant at the church with her young son. She devotes herself to prayer and reading the Bible. After several years, the son, now a young man, does not show up with her at church. He has taken to running with a wild crowd, and it is not long before he is convicted of robbery. He is initially sentenced to death but the sentence is commuted to transportation overseas for...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Chapters 9-11 Summary

The party sits down to supper, but soon someone notices that Jingle and Miss Rachael are missing. A man comes running in with the news that he saw them down the road, eloping. Tupman is upset; he realizes that Jingle cheated him. Wardle also feels put out by Joe, thinking the fat boy deliberately misled him into thinking that it was Tupman in whom Rachael was interested. Wardle and Pickwick take off after the couple, but their carriage overturns and is damaged. Jingle stops to laugh at them but refuses to help them. Wardle tells Pickwick there is nothing left to do but walk if they intend to stop Jingle and Rachael from procuring a marriage license.

At an inn in London, Sam Weller, the boot man, is attending to...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Chapters 12-14 Summary

Mr. Pickwick rents rooms from the widow Mrs. Bardell, who has a young son. Although Mr. Pickwick is only a lodger, he is definitely the ruler of the home. One day he sends the young Bardell boy off on an errand and has a conversation with Mrs. Bardell that will have repercussions in Mr. Pickwick’s future. He asks her if she thinks it is as easy for two to live as cheaply as one. Mrs. Bardell jumps to the conclusion that Mr. Pickwick is leading up to a proposal of marriage. Mr. Pickwick says he has someone in mind who will be a helpmate for Mrs. Bardell and a companion to her son. He is shocked when Mrs. Bardell throws herself on him. He tries to push her off but she faints in his arms just as the Bardell boy and the three other...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Chapters 15-17 Summary

Mr. Pickwick receives an invitation from Mrs. Leo Hunter to attend a fancy-dress ball at her home. Mr. Pickwick is concerned that he has no costume, but he is told that because he is the celebrated Mr. Pickwick, it is unnecessary for him to come in masquerade. Pickwick and Tupman have a heated debate about Tupman’s costume as a bandit. Mr. Pickwick says Tupman is too old and too fat. Tupman takes offence and dresses as a bandit anyway. The rest of the Pickwickians finds costumes purported to be “classical” but are in reality nothing of the sort; they merely have a great deal of spangles. At the ball, the Pickwickians are shocked to find Alfred Jingle, who is going by the name Charles Fitz-Marshall. Pickwick resolves to track...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Chapters 18-20 Summary

While Pickwick stays in Bury St. Edmonds, Winkle remains in Eatanswill, where he continues to entertain Mrs. Pott. One day Mr. Pott bursts in and throws a newspaper at Winkle, calling him a serpent. A poem in the paper hints that Mrs. Pott has “strayed” with Winkle. When Mrs. Pott comes in and learns of her public disgrace, she throws a fit and her husband tries to calm her. When Mrs. Pott is finally subdued, a letter arrives requesting that Tupman and Winkle join Pickwick at Bury St. Edmonds.

Mr. Tupman is caught off guard when he sees Mr. Wardle, who tells him that Rachael has gone to live with some other relatives. Mr. Snodgrass is startled to learn that there is to be wedding at Manor Farm; he is relieved to...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapters 21-23 Summary

As Mr. Pickwick and Sam sit in Mr. Perker’s law offices, an old man regales them with tales of lonely men who die and haunt the next tenants of their dwellings. He tells “The Tale of the Queer Client”: A man named Heyling has been imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. His wife and child come to visit him every day. Heyling sees his family suffering and starving, forced to move to ever cheaper lodgings. One day his wife comes alone; their son has died. Soon, she also dies in Heyling’s arms. As her body is carried out of the prison, Heyling vows to avenge the deaths of his family, which were caused by the cold-heartedness of his wife’s father. When he is released, Heyling visits his father-in-law just in time to...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Chapters 24-26 Summary

The next morning, Peter Magnus asks Pickwick if he has ever proposed marriage to a woman. Pickwick strenuously denies having done so (thinking of Mrs. Bardell’s breach-of-promise lawsuit). He gives Magnus some advice on the act of proposal, which Magnus accepts and puts into practice with success. When he introduces Pickwick to his new fiancée, Miss Witherfield, Pickwick is surprised to find the woman in whose bedchamber he had found himself the night before. Miss Witherfield is equally shocked, which arouses Magnus’s suspicions. He eventually comes to the conclusion that Pickwick made inappropriate advances upon Miss Witherfield. Pickwick and Magnus get into a fierce argument, and they are soon joined by Tupman. Miss...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Chapters 27-29 Summary

With two days left before the Pickwickians are to leave for Dingley Dell, Sam Weller decides he should visit his father. With Mr. Pickwick’s ready permission, Sam goes to the Marquis of Denby public house and finds his stepmother (“mother-in-law”) in the company of Mr. Stiggins, the red-nosed reverend who serves as her spiritual adviser. His red nose indicates that he drinks heavily, contrary to his preaching. Mrs. Weller does not appreciate Sam’s disrespect toward Mr. Stiggins or his flirtations with her. She has already given up her husband, Sam’s father, as a lost cause. Sam stays overnight and leaves in the morning, advising his father to get rid of Mr. Stiggins, but Mr. Weller tells his son that he does not...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Chapters 30-32 Summary

Two medical students arrive at Manor Farm the day after Christmas: Benjamin Allen (Arabella Allen’s brother) and Bob Sawyer. Ben has come to escort Arabella home, which saddens Mr. Winkle very much. Before dinner, the two students discuss dissections they are currently working on, much to the disgust of Mr. Pickwick, who warns them to stop before the ladies arrive.

Mr. Wardle invites everyone to go ice skating. Bob Sawyer asks Mr. Winkle if he knows how to skate. Winkle replies that he does, though he is out of practice and has no skates. The house is stocked with more than enough skates to go around, so Mr. Wardle leads the way to a frozen pond. Mr. Winkle is completely unable to remain upright on the skates, even...

(The entire section is 436 words.)

Chapters 33-34 Summary

Sam Weller receives a message from his father to come see him at once. On the way, Sam sees a Valentine’s Day display in a stationer’s window, which reminds him that the following day is Valentine’s Day. He stops and buys some gilt-edged paper and a pen, and then he proceeds to the Blue Boar Inn. While he waits for his father, Sam begins to write a letter to Mary, the Nupkins’s maid. Mr. Weller arrives. When he sees what Sam is doing, he warns him against writing a valentine to any woman—using himself as an example of what bad may come of it. Mr. Weller tells Sam that it would be a heavy trial to him to see Sam married. Sam reads his valentine letter to his father, who offers suggestions throughout. Rather than signing...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Chapters 35-37 Summary

In the days following the trial, Mr. Pickwick assures Mr. Perker that he will not pay damages to Mrs. Bardell. He will continue on with his life until he is dragged off to debtor’s prison, which Perker tells him may be in two months. Pickwick decides that he and the other Pickwickians will go to Bath.

The members of the Pickwick Club meet Mr. Dowler, who is accompanying them to Bath, along with his wife. At Bath, Mr. Dowler introduces his friend, Angelo Cyrus Bantam, to Pickwick. Bantam is the Grand Master of Ceremonies at Bath. The Pickwickians wander around Bath until that evening’s assembly. Sam meets a footman, who shows interest in Sam and hopes to meet him again.

A varied crowd attends the assembly...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapters 38-40 Summary

Mr. Winkle fears that Mr. Dowler would seek a duel with him—and that he might end up killing Mr. Dowler—so he escapes to Bristol. Seeking a place to live, he walks into an apothecary shop and discovers Bob Sawyer, who is living now in Bristol with Ben Allen. Bob’s business is slow, but he deceives the community into thinking he is constantly busy.

Ben tells Winkle that he is trying to match Bob and his sister, Arabella, which Winkle does not like to hear. Ben confesses that Arabella resists his efforts, and he suspects that she has a prior attachment. Winkle hopes it might be he in whom she is interested. Ben has secluded his sister nearby in the home of an old aunt.

Winkle, Ben, and Bob drink to their...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapters 41-43 Summary

The prison warden gives Mr. Pickwick, accompanied by Sam Weller, a tour of Fleet Prison. Pickwick is appalled by the filthy living conditions of the inmates, mistaking rooms for coal bins. He becomes disheartened when he sees entire families with young children within the prison walls. He retires to his room, which has the rusty bedstead he rented from the warden from the night. He bids Sam find himself room in some inn nearby and return in the morning so that they can decide how best to retrieve Pickwick’s goods from the George and Vulture. After Sam leaves, Pickwick prepares for bed. He puts his nightcap on his head, thankful that he thought of sticking it in his pocket at the last minute. He is awakened a half hour later by...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Chapters 44-46 Summary

Pickwick is so touched by Sam’s willingness to be imprisoned so he can continue to serve his master that he does not protest. He does, however, want to know who Sam’s debtor is so he may pay him off. Sam says the person does not deserve to be paid off and refuses to tell. Sam finds a place to sleep in the room of a cobbler, who sleeps under the table that reminds him of his four-poster bed. Winkle, Snodgrass, and Tupman arrive. They are horrified by Pickwick’s surroundings. Winkle is upset that Sam has also made himself a prisoner; he had intended to have Sam run an errand but now he must go himself. Sam noticeably trembles at this news, but he will not divulge his secret to Pickwick.

Pickwick learns that the...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Chapters 47-49 Summary

Job Trotter leaves Fleet Prison to tell Mr. Perker that Mrs. Bardell has been imprisoned for court costs. Perker arrives at the prison and tells Pickwick that he is the only person who can release Mrs. Bardell. Pickwick refuses to even consider doing so. Perker shows him a letter in which Mrs. Bardell clears Pickwick of all wrongdoing and states that Dodson and Fogg created the case.

Sam interrupts, telling Pickwick that a lady is there to see him. Fearing that it is Mrs. Bardell, Pickwick refuses to see her, but Sam persists. Mr. Winkle arrives with Arabella Allen, whom he now introduces as his wife. He explains that Ben Allen does not know they have been married, and Arabella pleads with Mr. Pickwick to reunite her...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Chapters 50-52 Summary

As Pickwick, Ben, and Sam set off to see Mr. Winkle’s father, Bob Sawyer arrives and announces that he is going along. He is leaving his apothecary business to take care of itself, much to the consternation of Pickwick, who fears for the community, which is being left without a means to obtain medicine. As the carriage travels along, Bob becomes increasingly loud, clearly under the influence of the contents of the bottle he has brought along. Pickwick ascertains that it is milk punch, and he and Ben decide it would serve Bob right if they drank it all, which they do. Soon Ben and Pickwick also become tipsy. They decide to stop for lunch and refill the bottle. Several times along the way this process is repeated, and both Ben and...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapters 53-55 Summary

Arabella learns from Mr. Pickwick that Mr. Winkle, Senior, was not moved by his appeal to accept his son’s marriage. She is upset that she is the cause of an estrangement between father and son, but Pickwick tells her that in time Mr. Winkle, Senior, may come around. Arabella is worried that her father-in-law will cut off financial assistance to his son, but Pickwick assures her that, if he does, some other friend (hinting at himself) will come to Winkle’s aid.

Pickwick bids good-bye to Jingle and Job Trotter, the latter choosing to go with his friend to the West Indies rather than stay in England and take the job Perker offered him. Perker is skeptical that the two former rascals will do well out in the colonies,...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Chapters 56-57 Summary

Mr. Pickwick contemplates the changes in his life that have arisen from the marriages of his friends Winkle and Snodgrass. He also realizes that Sam and Mary are in love. Their marriage will result in Sam’s also leaving him, but he realizes that life must go on and he must not stand in the way. As he is thinking these things, Mr. Weller and Sam arrive. Mr. Weller has something to ask Mr. Pickwick but cannot bring himself to say it, so he has deputized his son to do so. Sam explains that his father has withdrawn his inheritance and would like to give it to Mr. Pickwick for safekeeping. This will also partially replace the losses in Mr. Pickwick’s fortune from paying the damages to Mrs. Bardell. After giving Mr. Pickwick a purse...

(The entire section is 483 words.)