Wednesday, 11 April 2001

Charles Dickens: The Pickwick Papers (1836)

Edition: Heron
Review number: 797

The immense success if the story that launched Dickens' career is shown by the fact that the 400 copies of the first issue of the serial had become 40000 by the fifteenth. It has remained something of a favourite with readers ever since.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I find the character of Mr Pickwick annoying, particularly at the start of the novel - at least until the introduction of Sam Weller; for someone who has lived to middle age he is unbelievably naive. The interpolated stories are dull and for the most part deserve to be skipped; one (Gabriel Grub) is interesting as a precursor to The Christmas Carol.

It is only really following the election at Eatonswill and Mrs Bardwell's breach of promise suit against Mr Pickwick that things pick up. Sam Weller and his father are good characters, even if the rendition of their accents now seems tediously affected rather than comic.

I like the later writings of Dickens better, when he had more discipline. The Pickwick Papers developed as its serial numbers were written, and it shows. (In fact, it was originally meant to be a set of pieces to accompany the illustrations, rather than the other way around, and the virtually unknown Dickens was not the first choice to write them.) There are elements which prefigure Dickens' strengths as a writer, but they are more enjoyable when more fully developed (in David Copperfield,say).

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