With only SKETCHES BY BOZ to his credit, Dickens asked his publisher to allow him to present a free “range of English scenes and people,” and in PICKWICK PAPERS, his first novel, he does just that. There is little coherence to the Pickwickians’ journey. As they wander through the country, they repeatedly get into trouble because of their innocence. Pickwick in particular is the embodiment of simplicity and innocence--an angel in gaiters--and hence easily victimized. Yet his benevolence triumphs; he redeems both spiritually and financially those who seek to prey upon him.
Dickens reveals a masterfully light touch: The various incidents are comic in themselves, and the work itself is a comedy, presenting the triumph of goodness. Indeed, the work has a fairy-tale atmosphere.
Occasionally a darker tone does intrude. The nine interpolated stories present visions of poverty, madness, and drunkenness unrelieved and unredeemed by any benevolent angel in gaiters. Pickwick and his friends are able to leave debtor’s prison, but most of the inmates are not so fortunate. Legal chicanery, political corruption, and religious hypocrisy also cast their shadows across the landscape.
“Like another sun,” Pickwick keeps these shadows small, though, and the book is filled with cheerfulness. Dickens’ first and happiest novel, it hints at the themes that would preoccupy him for the remainder of his life.
(The entire section is 458 words.)