In Which My Membership in The Pickwick Club is Terminated

It is with great sadness that I announce that my membership in the Pickwick Club has officially come to an end.

Pickwick Club 002aMr. 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.

 

 

 

 

15 comments

    • Nice to meet you too! Thanks for stopping by.

      Pickwick was my first Dickens novel. I must say, it was much less of a slog than I thought it would be. I thought it would be a very difficult read, but it was a fairly easy and enjoyable read. I think I’ll tackle something else of his very soon.

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  1. I found Dickens relatively easy reading compared to other books of the period, which were tough sledding indeed. One must calibrate oneself to read books from the past, and I can’t say that I have been successful. I tend to stay in the twentieth century for my Lit, though one time, my father gave me a copy of Dickens’ PWP, albeit in a mouse-font, which made reading not only challenging but migraine inducing. I’m sure it was a passive-aggressive move on his part.

    I greatly enjoy hearing the classics in audio form – Great Expectations was an especial treat. Audible member, me – it brings out another dimension to the works, if the reader is good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya, Wilt! Great to hear from you, as always.

      I found “Pickwick” to be relatively easy reading. In spite of his long, rambling sentences, they were surprisingly readable and coherent. (Unlike, say, Faulkner, who can strain your brain.)

      And I laughed when you mentioned the mouse font. The copy I had was very similar. It was the paperback “pocket” version (though I can’t imagine stuffing that thick beast into a pocket) and the font was unreadable in anything but the brightest light. I recommend larger-print versions.

      Like you, I prefer 20th century lit, though in the narrow band from about 1910 to 1945. I rarely venture outside that era. I don’t know why.

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    • Howdy, Masercot! Good to hear from you!

      I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read a lot of Dickens before “The Pickwick Papers”. However, I really enjoyed it and probably will try to read a few of his other books. I just wish they weren’t so dad-blamed thick! It’s very daunting for a man of my limited attention span. 😀

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  2. It’s one of the few Dickens novels I haven’t yet read, but I remember how it’s referenced in Little Women, with the girls taking on the characters. Did Dickens get paid by the word or the chapter (newspaper serials)? I know it was one or the other which explains the length of his books!

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    • Wow, I had not heard that before, but it certainly makes sense. I checked it out on dickens.ucsc.edu and apparently he was paid by the installment (roughly equivalent to a chapter, I suppose), which appeared monthly in a very well-defined format. I suppose this would ordinarily lead to a large volume of very short chapters. However, “The Pickwick Papers” seemed to consist of both long and short chapters. Maybe he just did it for the public adoration.

      Can you imagine how awesome it would be to get paid by the word or by the post! I’d be on here every day! Ha ha!

      Anyway, I highly recommend TPP. Not every chapter is a winner, but overall I found it to be a wonderful read. And the short, non-dependent chapters made it easy to put down and pick up without having to read it cover to cover.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never read the Pickwick Papers, but I do enjoy collections of letters and such, so the structure of the book is appealing. I’ve tucked it onto “The List” — maybe for this coming winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you would really enjoy it. The book is indeed sliced up into bite sized chunks, which makes picking it up and putting it down easy. The book starts out indicating that it will be a series of “field reports” from the adventuring club members back to the other members of the club, so it does indeed have the feel of a series of letters.

      I find myself fascinated at how Dickens constructs a sentence. They appear as rambling run-on sentences, but yet easy to follow along with. By the time one gets to the end of one of his hundred-word sentences, it somehow makes complete sense. And he is a master of creating vivid and well fleshed-out characters and, to a lesser degree, scenery.

      I can’t wait to read your impressions of it!

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