The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers
The Pickwick Papers  
Original Pickwick cover issued in 1836
Original cover issued in 1836
Author(s) Charles Dickens ("Boz")
Original title The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members
Illustrator Robert Seymour
Robert William Buss
Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
Country England
Language English
Series 20 Monthly parts:
April 1836 – November 1837
Subject(s) Travels in the English Countryside
Genre(s) Fiction
Social criticism
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Publication date 1837
Media type Print (Serial, Hardback, and Paperback)
ISBN 0812967275
OCLC Number 52861910
Dewey Decimal 823/.8 22
LC Classification PR4569 .A1 2003
Preceded by Sketches by Boz
Followed by Oliver Twist

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (also known as The Pickwick Papers) is the first novel by Charles Dickens. After the publication, the widow of the illustrator Robert Seymour claimed that the idea for the novel was originally her husband's; however, in his preface to the 1867 edition, Dickens strenuously denied any specific input, writing that "Mr Seymour never originated or suggested an incident, a phrase, or a word, to be found in the book."

Dickens was asked to contribute to the project as an up and coming writer following the success of Sketches by Boz, published in 1836 (most of Dickens' novels were issued in shilling instalments before being published in the complete volume). Dickens (still writing under the pseudonym of Boz) increasingly took over the unsuccessful monthly publication after Seymour had committed suicide.

With the introduction of Sam Weller in chapter 10, the book became the first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise.



Written for publication as a serial, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely-related adventures. The action is given as occurring 1827–8, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms.[1] The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to remote places from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief theme of the novel. A distinctive and valuable feature of the work is the generally accurate descriptions of the old coaching inns of England.[2]

Mr Pickwick addresses the Club

Its main literary value and appeal is formed by its numerous memorable characters. Each character in The Pickwick Papers, as in many other Dickens novels, is drawn comically, often with exaggerated personalities. Alfred Jingle, who joins the cast in chapter two, provides an aura of comic villainy. His devious tricks repeatedly land the Pickwickians in trouble. These include Jingle's nearly-successful attempted elopement with the spinster Rachael Wardle of Dingley Dell manor, misadventures with Dr Slammer, and others.

Further humour is provided when the comic cockney Sam Weller makes his advent in chapter 10 of the novel. First seen working at the White Hart Inn in The Borough, Weller is taken on by Mr Pickwick as a personal servant and companion on his travels and provides his own oblique ongoing narrative on the proceedings. The relationship between the idealistic and unworldly Pickwick and the astute cockney Weller has been likened to that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.[3]

Other notable adventures include Mr Pickwick's attempts to defend a lawsuit brought by his landlady, Mrs Bardell, who (through an apparent misunderstanding on her part) is suing him for the breach of promise to marry her. Another is Mr Pickwick's incarceration at Fleet prison for his stubborn refusal to pay the compensation to her because he doesn't want to give a penny to Mrs. Bardell's lawyers, the unscrupulous firm of Dodson and Fogg. The general humorous tone is here briefly replaced by biting social satire (including against the legal establishment) and foreshadows major themes in Dickens' later books.

Mr Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Weller Senior also appear in Dickens's serial, Master Humphrey's Clock.


Central characters

Sam Weller and his father Tony Weller(The Valentine)
  • Samuel Pickwick – the main protagonist and founder of the Pickwick Club. Following his description in the text, Pickwick is usually portrayed by illustrators as a round-faced, clean-shaven, portly gentleman wearing spectacles.
  • Nathaniel Winkle – a young friend of Pickwick's and his travelling companion; he considers himself a sportsman, though he turns out to be dangerously inept when handling horses and guns.
  • Augustus Snodgrass – another young friend and companion; he considers himself a poet, though there is no mention of any of his own poetry in the novel.
  • Tracy Tupman – the third travelling companion, a fat and elderly man who nevertheless considers himself a romantic lover.
  • Sam Weller – Mr. Pickwick's valet, and a source of idiosyncratic proverbs and advice.
  • Alfred Jingle – a strolling actor and charlatan, noted for telling bizarre anecdotes in a distinctively extravagant, disjointed style.[4]

Supporting characters

  • Joe – the "fat boy" who consumes great quantities of food and constantly falls asleep in any situation at any time of day; Joe's sleep problem is the origin of the medical term Pickwickian syndrome which ultimately led to the subsequent description of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome.
  • Job Trotter – Mr Jingle's wily servant, whose true slyness is only ever seen in the first few lines of a scene, before he adopts his usual pretence of meekness.
  • Mr Wardle – owner of a farm in Dingley Dell. Pickwick's friend. Joe is his servant.
  • Rachael Wardle – the spinster aunt who tries in vain to elope with the unscrupulous Jingle
  • Mr Perker – an attorney of Mr Pickwick
  • Mary – "a well-shaped female servant" and Sam Weller's "Valentine"
  • Mrs Bardell – Mr Pickwick's widowed landlady
  • Emily Wardle – one of Mr Wardle's daughters
  • Arabella Allen – a friend of Emily Wardle
  • Ben Allen – Arabella's brother, a dissipated medical student
  • Bob Sawyer – Ben Allen's friend and fellow student
  • Mr Serjeant Buzfuz – Mrs. Bardell's lawyer in legal dealings with Mr. Pickwick

Other adaptations

Mr.Pickwick Slides

The novel has been filmed at least four times:

  • 1913 – a silent short starring John Bunny as Pickwick and H. P. Owen as Sam Weller
  • 1921 – The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick, silent, starring Frederick Volpe and Hubert Woodward
  • 1936 - On November 13, 1936 (less than two weeks after the BBC began regularly scheduled television broadcasts) The British Music Drama Opera Company under the direction of Vladimir Rosing presented the world's first televised opera: Pickwick by Albert Coates.[5]
  • 1938 - 'The Pickwick Papers', Orson Welles' "Mercury Theater on the Air" (November 20, 1938)[6]
  • 1952 – starring James Hayter, Nigel Patrick, Alexander Gauge and Harry Fowler (the first sound version)

There have also been BBC radio and television adaptations. The first TV adaptation was by Constance Cox. In 1985 BBC released a 12-part 350-minute production starring Nigel Stock, Alan Parnaby, Clive Swift and Patrick Malahide

There was also a London stage musical version entitled Pickwick, by Cyril Ornadel, Wolf Mankowitz, and Leslie Bricusse. It starred Harry Secombe, later to become more famous as Mr. Bumble in the film version of Oliver!. But Pickwick (the musical) was not a success in the United States when it opened there in 1965, and the show was never filmed. It did feature the song If I Ruled the World, which became a modest hit.

Part of the Pickwick Papers featured in Charles Dickens' Ghost Stories, a 60 minute animation made by Emerald City Films (1987). Including The Ghost in the Wardrobe, The Mail Coach Ghosts, and The Goblin and the Gravedigger.


The Goblin and the Sexton
Discovery of Jingle in the Fleet

The novel was published in 19 issues over 20 months; the last was double-length and cost two shillings. In mourning for his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, Dickens missed a deadline and consequently there was no number issued in May 1837. Numbers were typically issued on the last day of its given month:

  • I – March 1836 (chapters 1–2);
  • II – April 1836 (chapters 3–5);
  • III – May 1836 (chapters 6–8);
  • IV – June 1836 (chapters 9-11);
  • V – July 1836 (chapters 12–14);
  • VI – August 1836 (chapters 15–17);
  • VII – September 1836 (chapters 18–20);
  • VIII – October 1836 (chapters 21–23);
  • IX – November 1836 (chapters 24–26);
  • X – December 1836 (chapters 27–28);
  • XI – January 1837 (chapters 29–31);
  • XII – February 1837 (chapters 32–33);
  • XIII – March 1837 (chapters 34–36);
  • XIV – April 1837 (chapters 37–39);
  • XV – June 1837 (chapters 40–42);
  • XVI – July 1837 (chapters 43–45);
  • XVII – August 1837 (chapters 46–48);
  • XVIII – September 1837 (chapters 49–51);
  • XIX-XX – October 1837 (chapters 52–57);

It is interesting to keep the number divisions and dates in mind while reading the novel, especially in the early parts. The Pickwick Papers, as Charles Dickens's first novel, is particularly chaotic: the first two numbers featured four illustrations by Robert Seymour and 24 pages of text. Seymour killed himself and was replaced by R.W. Buss for the third number; the format was changed to feature two illustrations and 32 pages of text per issue. Buss didn't work out as an illustrator and was replaced by H.K. "Phiz" Browne for the fourth issue; Phiz continued to work for Dickens for 23 years (he last illustrated A Tale of Two Cities in 1859).

As a testament to the book's popularity, many other artists, beyond the three official illustrators, created drawings without the approval of the author or publisher, sometimes for bootleg copies or hoping that "Extra Plates" for the original issue would be included in later issues. The artists included William Heath, Alfred Henry Forrester ("Alfred Crowquill"), Thomas Onwhyn (who sometimes signed as "Sam Weller") and Thomas Sibson. In 1899 Joseph Grego collected 350 Pickwick Paper illustrations, including portraits based on stage adaptations, with other notes and commentary in Pictorial Pickwickiania[7]

The Pic-Nic Papers

In 1841 the three-volume anthology titled The Pic-Nic Papers[8] was published composed of miscellaneous pieces by various authors. It was originated by Dickens to benefit the widow and children of 28-year old publisher John Macrone, who died suddenly in 1837. Dickens had begun soliciting submissions in 1838, and he eventually contributed the "Introduction" and one short story "The Lamplighter's Story". Other contributors included William Harrison Ainsworth, Thomas Moore, Leitch Ritchie and Agnus Strickland. Macrone's widow eventually received 450 pounds from this charitable publication.[9]


Mary Weller, Charles Dickens's nurse, recalling her famous charge's occupations as a child, said: "Little Charles was a terrible boy to read."

"In the young Charles Dickens's reading we have in some ways the very core of his novels...the young Charles came upon the great picaresque novels of the eighteenth century – Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, their French counterpart Gil Blas, and their great predecessor Don Quixote. Don Quixote's connection with Mr. Pickwick, as Dostoevsky saw, is basic. With Don Quixote, of course, goes Sancho Panza, who with the reinforcement of the faithful, shrewd, worldly servants of the young heroes Tom Jones, Peregrine Pickle, Roderick Random and the rest, goes to make up Sam Weller." [10]

See also

  • Pickwickian syndrome
  • The Spaniards Inn
  • The Moosepath League books of Van Reid are a tribute to the Pickwick Papers with thoroughly pickwickian characters. In chapter four of Cordelia Underwood, Cordelia finds a copy of the Pickwick Papers in her uncle's chest.


  1. ^ Mark Wormald (2003) "Introduction" to The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. London, Penguin.
  2. ^ Mark Wormald (2003) "Introduction" to The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. London, Penguin
  3. ^ Mark Wormald (2003) "Introduction" to The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  4. ^ Mark Wormald (2003) "Introduction" to The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. London, Penguin.
  5. ^ Herbert, Stephen A., History of Early Television Vol 2., (2004), p. 86-87. Routledge.
  6. ^ "Orson Welles Offers 'Pickwick Papers'", The Milwaukee Journal - Nov 20, 1938
  7. ^ Pictorial Pickwickiania .. see External Links
  8. ^ The Pic-Nic Papers .. see External links
  9. ^ Paul Schlicke. Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. ISBN 0-19-866253-X – page 455-56
  10. ^ The World of Charles Dickens Angus Wilson ISBN 0-14-00.3488-9

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia.

External links

Source editions online

Other online books


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