Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1661
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.
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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 resigns his matrimonial plans for the sum of 120. Miss Wardle tearfully returns to Manor Farm. The Pickwickians returns to London, where Mr. Pickwick engages as his servant Sam Weller, the sharp, shrewd young bootblack of the White Hart Inn.
When Mrs. Leo Hunter invites Mr. Pickwick and his friends to a party, they spy Mr. Jingle. He, seeing his former acquaintance, disappears into the crowd. Mrs. Hunter tells Mr. Pickwick that Mr. Jingle lives at Bury St. Edmonds. Mr. Pickwick sets out in pursuit in company with Sam Weller, for the old gentleman is determined to deter the scoundrel from any fresh deceptions he might be planning. At the inn where Mr. Jingle is reported to be staying, Mr. Pickwick learns that the rascal is planning to elope with a rich young lady who stays at a boarding school nearby. Mr. Pickwick agrees with the suggestion that to rescue the young lady he should hide in the garden from which Mr. Jingle is planning to steal her. When Mr. Pickwick sneaks into the garden, he finds nothing suspicious; he had been deceived, and the blackguard had escaped.
Mr. Pickwick’s housekeeper is Mrs. Bardell, a widow. Mr. Pickwick, when trying to tell her about having hired Sam Weller, beats about the bush in such a manner that she mistakes his words for a proposal of marriage. One day, Mr. Pickwick is resting in his room when he receives notice from the legal firm of Dodgson and Fogg that Mrs. Bardell is suing him for breach of promise. The summons is distressing; but first, Mr. Pickwick has more important business to occupy his time. After securing the services of Mr. Perker to defend him, he goes to Ipswich, having learned that Mr. Jingle had been seen in that vicinity. The trip to Ipswich is successful. The Pickwickians are able to catch Mr. Jingle in his latest scheme of deception and to expose him before he has carried out his plot.
At the trial for the breach-of-promise suit brought by Mrs. Bardell, lawyers Dodgson and Fogg argue so eloquently against Mr. Pickwick that the jury fines him 750. When the trial is over, Mr. Pickwick tells Dodgson and Fogg that even if they put him in prison he will never pay one cent of the damages, since he knows as well as they that there had been no grounds for suit.
Shortly afterward, the Pickwickians go to Bath, where fresh adventures await Mr. Pickwick and his friends. On that occasion, Mr. Winkle’s weakness for women involves the friends in difficulties. In Bath, the Pickwickians meet two young medical students, Mr. Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer. Mr. Allen hopes to marry his sister, Arabella, to his friend, Mr. Sawyer, but Miss Allen professes extreme dislike for her brother’s choice. When Mr. Winkle learns that Arabella had refused Mr. Sawyer because another man had won her heart, he feels that he must be the fortunate man, because she had displayed an interest in him when they had met earlier at Manor Farm. Mr. Pickwick kindly arranges to have Mr. Winkle meet Arabella in a garden, where the distraught lover can plead his suit.
Mr. Pickwick’s plans to further his friend’s romance are interrupted, however, by a subpoena delivered because he had refused to pay Mrs. Bardell. Mr. Pickwick is taken back to London and placed in the Fleet Street prison. With the help of Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick arranges his prison quarters as comfortably as possible and remains deaf to the entreaties of Sam Weller and Mr. Perker, who think that he should pay his debt and regain his freedom. Dodgson and Fogg prove to be of lower caliber than even Mr. Pickwick had suspected. They had taken Mrs. Bardell’s case without fee, gambling on Mr. Pickwick’s payment to cover the costs of the case. When they saw no payment forthcoming, they had Mrs. Bardell arrested as well and sent to the Fleet Street prison.
While Mr. Pickwick is trying to decide what to do, Mr. Winkle and his new wife, Arabella, come to the prison and ask Mr. Pickwick to pay his debts so that he can visit Mr. Allen with the news of Mr. Winkle’s marriage to Arabella. Arabella feels that Mr. Pickwick is the only person who can arrange a proper reconciliation between her brother and her new husband. Kindness prevails; Mr. Pickwick pays the damages to Mrs. Bardell so that he will be free to help his friends in distress.
Winning Mr. Allen’s approval of the match is not difficult for Mr. Pickwick, but when he approaches the elder Mr. Winkle, the bridegroom’s father objects to the marriage and threatens to cut off his son without a cent. To add to Mr. Pickwick’s problems, Mr. Wardle comes to London to tell him that his daughter, Emily, is in love with Mr. Snodgrass and to ask Mr. Pickwick’s advice. Mr. Wardle brought Emily to London with him.
The entire party comes together in Arabella’s apartment. All misunderstandings end happily for the two lovers, and a jolly party follows. The elder Mr. Winkle pays a call on his new daughter-in-law. Upon seeing what a charming and lovely girl she is, he relents, and the family is reconciled.
After Mr. Snodgrass marries Emily Wardle, Mr. Pickwick dissolves the Pickwick Club and retires to a home in the country with his faithful servant, Sam Weller. Several times, Mr. Pickwick is called upon to be a godfather to little Winkles and Snodgrasses; for the most part, however, he leads a quiet life, respected by his neighbors and loved by all of his friends.