It is with great sadness that I announce that my membership in the Pickwick Club has officially come to an end.
Mr. Pickwick Addressing the Club Concerning My Termination
It wasn’t by choice, you understand. Who in their right mind, would voluntarily sever their relationship with a club so rich in tradition and so filled with so many august and entertaining personalities?
Certainly not I.
But there comes a point in every association where those involved must go their separate ways. In this particular instance, this was necessitated by the dissolution of the Pickwick Club itself.
Today I read the final page, page number 875, of Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers.”
Now I’m sad.
I can’t even remember when I started reading this book. I think it was some months ago. I tossed it in the car and would read it when I would get a spare minute or two (or ten). So I may have been reading it for upwards of a year, one small chunk at a time. “The Pickwick Papers” is ideal for intermittent reading because it consists of 57 roughly bite-sized chapters. Or, if not bite-sized, at least easily digestible chapters. And the chapters more or less stand alone and don’t require any fresh and accurate memories of the chapters preceding it in order to enjoy it.
Therefore, I have been following the antics of the members of The Pickwick Club and everyone associated with it for some months now. I felt like I came to know them all very well. I grew very close to some of them, such as Mr. Pickwick himself, Sam Weller Jr. (of course), Sam Weller Sr., Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle. I even had a soft spot for Mr. Jingle and his servant, Mr. Job Trotter. They were all so very unique and so clearly defined and well-written. Not all characters in the book are sympathetic, of course. Some of them are dark and easily detestable (such as Messrs. Dodson and Fogg). But sympathetic or not, all of the characters are equally vivid.
Reading “The Pickwick Papers” is a strange journey. As I mentioned earlier, the chapters are only loosely related to one another, though the book tells a coherent and steadily progressing story. Some chapters are side-splittingly funny. Some chapters are pastoral and serene. Some chapters are dark and nearly terrifying. Some are absolutely heart-rending.
Throughout the book, an unobtrusive social commentary runs like a dark slurry in a gutter on a busy street. It is there if you look for it, but generally you don’t notice it for all of the other activity taking place. Dickens particularly skewers the legal profession and the penal system (especially debtor prisons).
So, in reading this book, the cliched phrase “I laughed, I cried …” is particularly true. There are even ghost stories to give one a chill or two. There is pathos. There is comedy. There is something for everyone.
Truthfully, I did not care for the book much when I first started it. I was perhaps prejudiced against “The Pickwick Papers” by having just recently finished Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”, which is a far superior book by nearly every measure. But I persevered in reading “The Pickwick Papers”. And as I continued reading it, I grew to like it more and more.
Eventually I realized that it is unfair to compare “The Pickwick Papers” to “Vanity Fair”. They are two different types of books. On some level they are both social satire, but they differ in scope and method and structure. “Vanity Fair” is more coherent from start to finish and is truly more what we consider a novel to be. “The Pickwick Papers” is more like a serialized collection of stories that were later collated into a book (which is indeed the case).
So, judging “The Pickwick Papers” on its own merits, and not as a product in competition with “Vanity Fair”, I came to quite enjoy it. Some of the chapters can drag a bit. Some of the minutia of the legal system of that time is a bit incomprehensible to the layman, but all in all it was a wonderful read.
As I said, I was very sad to read the final page. I’d like to say I will read it again someday, but at 875 pages, and given my backlog of books I’m trying to read, I’m doubtful that I ever will. However, I highly recommend it to those who like British novels of that era.