Mr. Pickwick, the lovable, generous old gentleman of one of Charles Dickens’s most popular novels, is one of the best-known characters of fiction. Mr. Pickwick benignly reigns over all activities of the Pickwick Club; under every circumstance, he is satisfied that he has helped his fellow creatures by his well-meaning efforts. The height of this Dickensian comedy is reached, however, with the creation of servant Sam Weller and his father. Sam’s imperturbable presence of mind and his ready wit are indispensable to the Pickwickians. Pickwick Papers has importance beyond its humorous incidents and characterization. It is the first novel of a literary movement to present the life and manners of lower- and middle-class life.
At the time a publisher in 1836 proposed that Dickens write the text for a series of pictures by the sporting artist Robert Seymour, Dickens was experiencing the first thrill of fame as the author of Sketches by Boz (1836). He was twenty-four years old and had been for some years a court reporter and freelance journalist; Sketches by Boz was his first literary effort of any length. The work the publisher proposed was of a similar kind: short, primarily humorous descriptions of cosmopolitan life, sometimes illustrated, and to be published monthly. Although Dickens already had the plan of a novel in mind, he was in need of cash and accepted the offer as a stopgap. He made one stipulation: that he, and not Seymour, have the choice of scenes to be treated. He did this because he himself was no sportsman and had little knowledge of country life beyond what his journalistic travels had shown him. It is evident from the digressive character of the first few chapters that he viewed the enterprise as an expedient.
For Pickwick Papers, Dickens was able to disguise his ignorance of country life by a canny selection of scenes and topics. Actual sporting scenes are kept to a minimum and treated with broad humor and slight detail. On the other hand, he knew country elections, magistrates, and newspapers well, and the chapters describing the Eatanswill election and those dealing with Mr. Nupkins, the mayor of Ipswich, and Mr. Pott, the editor of the Eatanswill Gazette, abound in atmosphere and choice observation. Most useful of all was his intimate knowledge of stagecoach travel, of life on the road, and of the inhabitants and manners of inns great and small. The device of a journey by coach unifies the first part of the novel, and a large portion of the action, including several key scenes, takes place in inns and public houses: Mr. Pickwick meets Sam Weller at the White Hart Inn, Mrs. Bardell is apprehended at...
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