The Pickwick Papers
This is primarily a serious novel, presented in the guise of comedy. Not that Dickens makes the reader swallow a bitter pill with sugar coating. All of the elements of comedy are presented against the backdrop of an unsettled early 19th century. Pickwick Papers exhalts the joys of travel, the pleasures of eating and drinking well, the fellowship of men, innocence, benevolence, youthfulness and romance. However, Dickens achieves these values against rather unpleasant realities. Comforable travel is contrasted with the stagnent squalor of prison life. Good food and drink are played off against the grubby victuals and cheap wine of prison. Male friendships are set off against predatory wives, widows and spinsters as well as mean and unscrupulous men.
Behind the episodic work lies the influence of Cervantes, Voltaire and Dante with the sarcastic criticism of the legal and political corruptions of their day. And in the case of the Pickwick Papers, it is the idea of debtor’s prison that has Dickens all afire.
In May, 1827, the Pickwick Club of London, headed by Samual Pickwick, decides to establish a traveling society in which four members travel about England and make reports on their travels. The four members are Mr. Pickwick, a kindly businessman and philosopher whose thoughts never rise above the commonplace, Tracy Tupman, a ladies man who never makes a conquest, Augustus Snodgrass ,a poet who never writes a poem and Nathaniel Winkle, a sportsman of incredible ineptitude.
The four are met with all kinds of civil unrest , unwanted marriage proposals and hilarious treachery as they travel about. They cause a lot of damage, through no adventure of their own, and when Pickwick refuses to pay damages for things not his fault, he is thrown into Fleet Prison, an incarceration facility for debtors. Eventually, he pays his debts in order to be freed to pay off the debts of his associates (the result of several political corruption scandels). His associates are forever grateful, though the Pickwick Society is later dissolved because of the class hatred from “lesser” society. In the end, he becomes Godfather to many of his associates children garnished through the ruthlessness of their predatory wives, widows and spinstered mistresses. It is a grand portal through which English Society is seen in the squaler that greed has created through industry and politics.
The Resident Scholar - Doug Taylor