Don’t You Forget About Me

You probably thought I had forgotten about this blog, but, no, I haven’t forgotten about Charlie. I’ve just strayed…again. I have read more than I’ve written about—I finished Barnaby Rudge and read Martin Chuzzlewit—but then I lagged. I did buy the next book, Dombey and Son, but I have yet to open it. I could make excuses (I was working three jobs/I got a library card/I needed a break), but I don’t want to bore you with my excuses. That’s not what you’re here for!

Anyways, I’ve decided to give myself to the end of this calendar year to finish. Yes, I’m still not even half way done, but I’ve read more of these latter books, so I don’t think they’ll take me as long.

I’ll say a few words on Barnaby and Martin now.

There will be spoilers.

I was disappointed by the ending of Barnaby Rudge. I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of A Tale of Two Cities with its heroic end, but instead, this one gives you everything tied neatly with a bow—all the good guys happy (even if one is missing an arm) and the bad guys rightfully punished. But I could have been okay with that, if not for the fact that it felt like a cop out.

There’s this great build up at the beginning of the end where there appears to be no hope for our hero and title character. He’s going to be executed for the apparent crimes he committed (after his mental disabilities made him susceptible to the lies of a “friend”). The day and time he’s scheduled to be executed even passes, and the other characters believe him to be dead—and so did I. It was sad, and I was mad, but it somehow felt right.

But no. Events occurred that you only found out about after they had happened, and it turns out Barnaby was spared. Everyone rejoices and celebrates—but I was left feeling like my chair had been pulled out from under me.

Sure, I love a happy ending. But that was cruel.

I also definitely guessed the identity of the mysterious man correctly, but I was disappointed with his character arc. There was no redemption story, which is what I was expecting. I love a good redemption story.

And then I read Martin Chuzzlewit. Oh Martin Chuzzlewit.

First, it took me awhile to figure out who the story was actually about as this particular family line has a lot of Martins. Once I got through the initial bog of information, it turned into a decent Dickens story. I liked Martin’s character arc and how he learns and changes—and his grandfather’s character changes as well. There were some great secondary characters, too—Mark Tapley, John Westlock, Mercy Pecksniff—and Mr. Pecksniff was a fabulous, though typical, Dickens villain.

But oh, Tom Pinch.

Dear, sweet Tom Pinch, who loved everyone and thought the best of everybody and was always optimistic, yet ends the story in unrequited love and supposed heartbroken.

(I say “supposed” because Dickens doesn’t actually say that he’s heartbroken—in fact, he says he’s happy—but I don’t see how he could not be heartbroken so I’m supposing that he was.)

Tom Pinch, who witnesses his sister and dear friend marry—and then watches his other dear friend marry the woman that he loves, and he remains close friends with the couple his whole life, though he loves her and never tells her.

I have no problem with Martin marrying Mary; he was in love with her long before Tom met her, and Mary most certainly loves Martin.

But is Tom not allowed to move on and find love elsewhere? He could still remain close friends with Martin and Mary—even live next door to them—he could just bring another woman into the circle of friendship as well.

I envision the novel ending with Jonas dying a deserved death, and then Merry, in her changed character due to her depraved husband and his treatment of her, finds comfort and solace in the company of Tom Pinch. They then fall in love and marry.

How hard would that have been, Charlie?

Perhaps that’s why I took a break. I was a little peeved at Charlie.

Some historical facts:

  • Dickens wrote Martin Chuzzlewit after visiting America (the title character spends a disastrous time in America and almost dies), but his depiction of America angered Americans. He visited America in 1842 and was very disappointed in the country, which seethed into his portrayal of America in this novel.
  • Martin Chuzzlewit wasn’t as well received as previous novels, and to make up for the lack of finances, Dickens decided to write a small book to be published during the Christmas season while Martin Chuzzlewit was being published periodically—this small book was A Christmas Carol, and it continued the greed theme that Dickens was writing about in Martin Chuzzlewit.
  • Martin Chuzzlewit is the only Dickens novel to include the words “zoo” and “beetroot.” Don’t ask me why this is important.
  • (This isn’t historical) One of the best chapter titles I’ve ever read: Martin Chuzzlewit, Chapter 46, “In Which Miss Pecksniff Makes Love, Mr. Jonas Makes Wrath, Mrs. Gamp Makes Tea, and Mr. Chuffey Makes Business.”

Comforting Son on the Mountain Range

Dickens, for all his long-windedness, has a way of leaving you at the end of each chapter with a desire to keep reading. I suppose this was a necessary skill he needed, since his stories were published chapter-by-chapter.

Barnaby Rudge was published during 1841, but he first began writing the novel in 1836, back when Oliver Twist was being published. Originally, the book was entitled Gabriel Varden—the Locksmith of London, though I’m unclear yet as to why he changed the title.

This was his first attempt at a historical novel—his only other historical novel is the book that made me start this whole project, A Tale of Two Cities. This one takes place mostly in London during the Gordon Riots of 1780 (which, I admit, I hadn’t heard of before starting the novel). Basically, this guy named Lord George Gordon, a Protestant, got upset that some laws were going to be passed that granted certain freedoms that had been denied to Catholics. Gordon spent a lot of time rallying other Protestants together, and they caused violent riots. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if England wasn’t also preoccupied with this other set of rebellious people who’d gone and made their own country. Silly Americans, always causing so much trouble.

At the time of publication of his fifth novel, Dickens was 29. His second son and fourth child was born in February, the same month the serialization of Barnaby Rudge began. This is also the year that the family’s pet raven, Grip, died and Dickens had him stuffed. It’s no coincidence that Grip the raven is a prominent character in Barnaby Rudge.

But enough fun facts—on to the story!


A depiction of Barnaby and his raven, Grip.

Violence is never a good idea but makes for a good story.

I began this book like many of the others—not knowing much about it. The back description told me it was a murder mystery during the Gordon Riots of 1780 and followed the journeys of the title character, Barnaby Rudge. It sounded intriguing. And it has proven to be so far.

The beginning chapters seem to trade-off between characters, and it was difficult to figure out who were the main characters and who were just bystanders. Barnaby wasn’t even introduced until a good forty pages into the book, and I expected him to be the main character. I’m about half way through the book now, and it still jumps around between the characters. I’m of the opinion that there is no one main character, which is fine.

There are two love stories here, in the midst of the double murder mystery:  The murder took place twenty years previous to the novel’s beginning. A rich man, Mr. Haredale, was found murdered in his home and a few days later the body of his steward was found in the river. They’ve never discovered who killed them or why. Mr. Haredale’s only child, Emma, now lives with her uncle. Unbeknownst to her uncle, she is in love with Edward Chester, the son of Haredale-the-uncle’s enemy (for some unknown reason). Mr. Chester finds out and plots to tear his son and Emma apart (he’s a pretty conniving dude). Attempting to help Edward and Emma are Joe and Dolly. Joe’s father owns an inn and disapproves of pretty much anything Joe does. Dolly’s father is a decent guy, but her mother is pretty ridiculous, and she herself is a bit materialistic and does not commit to Joe.

Just when everything falls apart for the lovers—Chester succeeded in tearing Edward and Emma apart, and Edward leaves his father, disowning his father as his father disowns him; Joe has finally had enough at home and runs away to join the military, saying goodbye to Dolly who doesn’t believe that he’s really leaving—the book jumps five years into the future, to 1780, and introduces new characters that give rise to the Gordon Riots.

Now, where is the title character in all this? you may ask. Barnaby is the son of the murdered steward, and he lives with his mother. He’s also mentally disabled and referred to often as “the idiot.” I find him a fascinating character—he’s optimistic and easily distracted, yet he seems to know and understand more of what’s going on around him than he lets on. I will perhaps discuss him more when I finish the novel; I feel that I can’t do him justice as of yet.

The last character I must mention is the mysterious stranger. He name is unknown, but he is shown as a dangerous and shady character. He stabs and robs Edward Chester, and he takes money from Mrs. Rudge. She appears to know him, but she tells no one of his actions or his existence, and instead abandons her home and her life in order to avoid him and avoid giving him money. She takes Barnaby and they live where no one can find them for the five years that the book does not detail. I have my suspicions about who this mysterious person is—I think it’s possible he could be one of two people—but I’ll have to keep reading to figure it out for sure.

As for dates with Charlie, I must admit we’ve had a downer of a week, but he’s been understanding and supportive. One of my coworkers—the same one who gave me the stunning biography of Charles Dickens—passed away suddenly about a week and a half ago. I’d like to think that her memory will live on in my blog posts, due to this gift of the biography. I talked about death in my last post, however, so I don’t want to dwell too much on it. I will say that it caused me to write a poem, which I only do when I’m feeling a strong emotion. Charlie, though he writes poetically, doesn’t quite understand poems. Nevertheless, he is no stranger to tragedy, and he’s been encouraging to have near.

As always, I’d like to leave you with a quotation. However, this time, I’m not sure if I agree with what Dickens is saying, and I’d like some feedback from you.

This lord was sincere in his violence and in his wavering. A nature prone to false enthusiasm, and the vanity of being a leader, were the worst qualities apparent in his composition. All the rest was weakness—sheer weakness; and it is the unhappy lot of thoroughly weak men, that their very sympathies, affections, and confidences—all the qualities which in better constituted minds are virtues—dwindle into foibles, or turn into downright vices. (Chapter 36)

What do you think? Can weakness in a person turn virtues into vices? I’d like to hear your opinions, and then I’ll discuss it more in my next post.

For those curious about the title of this post: Barnaby means the son of comfort and Rudge is a variant of ridge, or a long, narrow mountain range.


A Dose of Honesty

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while. Well, I have a confession to make about that.

I cheated on Charlie.

It wasn’t intentional, I promise. I just got bored. You see, we had that fight. And then I went home for the holidays, and he didn’t come with me. Then, one of my good friends started a book club, and I’ve been reading those books. Charlie just got pushed to the back.

However, I am happy to say that we are in the process of reconciling. I won’t say that we’re there yet, but we’re definitely working on it.

The nice thing about Charlie is that as long as you’re still willing to stick with him, he’ll never give up on you.

On to the latest book that I read—The Old Curiosity Shop.

“Such is the difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the play or coming home from it.” (Chapter 40)

This book was different from the others in a number of ways, the first being that it starts out written in first person. We never learn much about this narrator, though, as he quickly pulls himself out of the story and resorts to relaying the story in third person. His character never re-enters—not even as the first-person narrator—so that by the time you reach the end of the novel, you could have forgotten that he even existed. He seems to merely be Dickens’s chosen way to introduce the main characters of the story—Little Nell and her grandfather.

The Old Curiosity Shop has the slowest pace out of Dickens’s novels so far, mainly because it seems that there’s no over-arching plot driving the novel. Sure, there are the little mysteries—what is the grandfather doing at night, what happened to Nell’s parents, does the grandfather really have money or not, who is the single gentleman—but I feel like a lot of the novel could have been avoided if Nell and her grandfather had just stayed in town. I still don’t understand exactly why they left. Their problems were mostly due to the fact that the grandfather just wasn’t honest with anyone. He didn’t tell anyone where he went at night, and he made everyone believe that he was a rich old man, when in reality he was gambling away what little money he had. If he had told the truth, perhaps he could have received help from others.

The pace picked up for me when Kit started having legal troubles—also based on lies. His story was the most interesting to me. First, I never guessed that Kit was a nickname for Christopher—I was a bit slow picking up on that. Second, he’s just a likable character, taking care of his family and remaining loyal to Nell and her grandfather. I expected that he and Nell would end up married at the end, but Dickens had different plans.

Even the single gentleman could have been honest all those years before and perhaps he never would have become so distanced from the grandfather, which led to his financial problems. (Dickens didn’t like naming any of these older characters, by the way.)

“It was but imagination, yet imagination had all the terrors of reality; nay, it was worse, for the reality would have come and gone, and there an end, but in imagination it was always coming, and never went away.” (Chapter 31)

The character that surprised me the most was Dick Swiveller. I didn’t like him at first, and I assumed he was only a minor character. Nope! By the end, he is one of the best characters and helps resolve Kit’s legal troubles, at the same time saving the life of a young servant girl who didn’t know her own name or age. (Cutest love story ever.) Dickens himself even said this of Dick before he had finished the book, “I mean to make much of him.” Dickens saw Dick’s potential from the very beginning.

The Life of Charles Dickens


When one of my coworkers found out about my Dickens project, she told me, “I have a book for you!” The next time I saw her, she gave me the above-pictured book, The Life of Charles Dickens by John Forster. This was the first biography written about Dickens, and Mr. Forster was one of Dickens’s closest friends. As such, it includes many direct quotations from Dickens as well as personal information and details about each novel. What a find! Any quotations or information I give about Dickens’s personal life will now come directly from this book.

Now, one last quotation from The Old Curiosity Shop that I think is the best explanation I’ve heard for why young people die:

“Oh! It is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty, universal Truth. When Death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer’s steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to Heaven.” (Chapter 72)

In Which We Have Our First Spat

*spoilers from Nicholas Nickleby ahead

I have finished reading Nicholas Nickleby now, and, honestly, I’m not so sure if I liked it or not. I didn’t know much about it when I started reading it, and, while the plot was interesting enough, the characters didn’t grip me like in other Dickens’ novels. Our hero and the title character didn’t seem to experience much growth throughout the novel. He was always in the right, whether he was beating up Mr. Squeers for being an abusive “teacher” or beating up Sir Mulberry Hawk for treating his sister wrongly or standing up to his uncle—he never does anything that the narrator or other good characters consider wrong. It would have been interesting to see what he was like before his father died and the novel began; maybe he grew from that, but the novel doesn’t show it. Also, he falls in love with a girl just from looking at her—and she loves him back even though they hardly have any normal interactions between them.

Kate was more interesting, being thrown into the working scene as a young and beautiful woman. And though she did experience growth at first through that and having to be away from her mother and brother, she quickly backpedals once she is re-situated with them and not working. But I think what made me upset with her the most was that she was so oblivious to the fact that Smike was in love with her. It was so obvious! I mean, she was the first woman who was ever kind to Smike; of course he was going to fall in love with her. What could have made for interesting character development for both characters would have been for Kate to find out that Smike loved her. I would have loved to see how both of them would have handled that situation, as well as Nicholas.

Newman Noggs was the best character and probably the only one who really changed. He starts out as a drunk with no ambition who does whatever Ralph Nickleby tells him to while secretly hating him. By the end, he finally acts, and not just secretly. His actions lead to the downfall of Ralph and the happiness of the rest of the Nickleby clan. Also, Newman always seems to be able to do whatever the heck he wants, no matter how odd it is. I do wish that the origin of his limp and the details of how Nicholas Nickleby, Sr., assisted him would have been explained.

Mrs. Nickleby truly annoyed me, with her selfish blindness to the truths of the world, her incessant chatter, and her inability to form any true opinion on her own. I was disappointed with the end of Ralph Nickleby—mainly because I was rooting for him to change his life and become a good character. (I’m all about the villains changing their tunes.) Instead, Smike is revealed to be his son—I knew his parentage would be important!—but only after he has died. This knowledge, along with the collapse of his kingdom of coins, drives Ralph to despair and his tragic end.

As for dates with Charlie, we haven’t gone on many lately because we’re fighting right now. He’s mad at me for not liking Nicholas Nickleby more, but I stand by my opinions. Also, I’m currently participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and trying to write 50,000 words in a month doesn’t leave much time for dates. Charlie thinks the whole idea of NaNoWriMo is silly, as he believes you should take your time with these things to produce the best story possible. He also thinks 50,000 words is a very small novel, even though I told him that you don’t have to stop at 50,000 words; that’s just the minimum goal. All that to say, we’re not currently speaking, but don’t worry—I’m sure we’ll be on speaking terms again soon.

Dreams, Nicholas, and Halloween

I think I dreamed that I wrote a post on here, because I did not realize that I hadn’t written in all of October. Whoops.

Anyways, I’ve been reading Nicholas Nickleby, which has taken me longer to get into than I expected.

Some background info first: Dickens began writing Nicholas Nickleby in March of 1838, while he was still working on Oliver Twist. Where Oliver Twist was mostly serious and The Pickwick Papers was mostly comical, Nicholas Nickleby combines the serious with the comical. I believe this is why it took me awhile to get into the story; I couldn’t figure out what the story was trying to tell me. The serious subject matter of the book deals with the mistreatment of children at boarding schools. Dickens and his illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, visited boarding schools in Yorkshire to do background research for the novel, so most of what is depicted in the novel are things that they actually witnessed. The evil characters in the story are the ones who mistreat these children and deal out abuse. But there are also the comic characters and the comic scenes, like the following, for instance:

“Where does she live?” cried Nicholas. “What have you learnt of her history? Has she a father—mother—any brothers—sisters? What did she say? How came you to see her? Was she not very much surprised? Did you say how passionately I have longed to speak to her? Did you tell her where I had seen her? Did you tell her how, and when, and where, and how long, and how often, I have though of that sweet face which came upon me in my bitterest distress like a glimpse of some better world—did you, Newman—did you?”

Poor [Newman] Noggs literally gasped for breath as this flood of questions rushed upon him, and moved spasmodically in his chair at every fresh inquiry, staring at Nicholas meanwhile with a most ludicrous expression of perplexity.

“No,” said Newman, “I didn’t tell her that.”

“Didn’t tell her which?” asked Nicholas.

“About the glimpse of the better world,” said Newman. “I didn’t tell her who you were, either, or where you’d seen her. I said you loved her to distraction.” (pg. 332)

Nicholas is our hero of the story—and the namesake of the title. A man of about twenty, his father has recently died, leaving him to care for his mother and sister, Kate. They move to London from the country side to seek guidance and assistance from the brother of the deceased—Ralph Nickleby. Nicholas and Kate have never met their uncle before, and the two men immediately butt heads, owing to their differing personalities. Nicholas is young and naïve, but he’s also caring, hardworking, honest, and honorable. Ralph only cares about one thing—money. He never cared for his brother for squandering all that he earned, so when they were young, Ralph distanced himself from his brother so that he’d never have to give him money.

Ralph agrees to look out for Mrs. Nickleby and Kate if Nicholas takes a position as assistant to Mr. Squeers, who runs the school Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire. Nicholas soon hates his job, as he discovers that Squeers is a cruel master who treats the young boys with nothing but contempt, barely giving them enough food and clothing to survive. However, he meets Smike there, who is an orphan that the Squeers “take care of”—meaning they treat Smike like a slave. The poor boy has no education and isn’t quite mentally well due to the harsh treatment he has received.

Nicholas ends up rescuing Smike from the home, and the two journey on together to make their way in the world. Newman Noggs, as the assistant to Ralph Nickleby, is another important character. He fantasizes about beating up his employer, and, unbeknownst to Ralph, goes to great lengths to assist Nicholas and Smike and, later, Kate and Mrs. Nickleby. He and Smike are the two most interesting characters, as they are covered in mystery. Noggs assists Nicholas because his father helped him once, and he, at first, wants to help pay that debt. Smike has no recollection of life before the Squeers, but I’m pretty sure that the events that led him to that house and his family history will become clear by the end of the novel.

Today is Halloween, and as such, I was wondering what good ol’ Charlie would think of the holiday. He didn’t shy away from ghosts, as he uses them in the short stories A Christmas Carol and The Signalman. But what would he think of children dressing up in costumes and going door-to-door asking for candy? He says the idea is quite silly. Children should earn the candy they eat, if they eat candy at all.

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world. (pg. 97)

Please, sir, I want some more.

^The actual line that Oliver says when asking for more gruel to eat.

*Spoilers ahead!

Young Oliver never really has much control over his life, but with the little control he does have, he tries to live the best life he can. For example, when he is forced at gun point to participate in a house robbery, he complies—until the moment when he steps away to perform his role in the house robbery and determines to wake the house instead. Unfortunately, he is shot in the arm before he can make his move and is then left for dead in a field by his captors.

He never really had an ideal childhood.

While I still find it hard to connect with the character of Oliver, I do appreciate how the other characters are all connected because of him—and the “good” characters rally around him to love, support, and protect him. It’s heartwarming, but I do think that the character development in this novel takes a back seat to the plot. Dickens is very good at convincing you to keep reading because he surrounds Oliver’s history with mystery and intrigue. He’s constantly switching between story lines, too—moving from the events happening to Oliver to what the beadle Mr. Bumble is involved in to the adventures of Fagin and the thieves—which drags the suspense out even longer.

Throughout all this suspense and mystery, though, the characters are pretty much set in their ways. Oliver never gives in to the evil he is tempted with and is always grateful and loving to those who treat him well and respectful and earnest to those who don’t. Fagin and Sikes are both selfish scoundrels who only really care about money. Rose Maylie is humble, honest, and beautiful and someone who everyone loves to please (especially Oliver). If a character changes an opinion about something, it’s only because events changed his mind—such as Mr. Brownlow’s opinion of Oliver.

The only character who really changes is Nancy. I’d read this novel once before, and all I remembered when I began it this time was that things do not end well for Nancy. As I near the end of the novel now, I’ve realized that she is the most complex character in the story. She hasn’t had an easy life and perhaps had one that began similarly to Oliver’s. All we really know is that Fagin turned her into a thief and a prostitute as a young child, and, when we first meet her, she lives with Sikes and does small things to help the group of thieves.

She feels sorry for Oliver and helps him in little ways—but when she overhears a plot to corrupt and ruin Oliver’s life forever, she risks her life and all she’s ever known to help him. She could have had a happier end—Rose Maylie begs her to leave Sikes—but she loves Sikes, and she cannot make herself leave the only life she has ever known. It reminded me of the recent discussion on Twitter of why women stay in abusive relationships (#WhyIStayed). We want to be mad at Dickens for making Nancy stay with Sikes, but Dickens was portraying reality—a sad truth. Nancy says:

“You can do nothing to help me. I am past all hope, indeed…I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannot leave it. I must have gone too far to turn back—and yet I don’t know, for if you had spoken to me so, some time ago, I should have laughed it off. But, I must go home…to such a home as I have raised for myself with the work of my whole life” (Chapter 47).

She admits that she has changed, but still—no person can release her from the chains of her life. I believe that only God could cut those chains. Earlier, when she first met Rose, she told her about Sikes:

“‘I cannot leave him now! I could not be his death.’

‘Why should you be?’ asked Rose.

‘Nothing could save him,’ cried the girl. ‘If I told others what I have told you, and led to their being taken, he would be sure to die. He is the boldest, and has been so cruel!’

‘Is it possible,’ cried Rose, ‘that for such a man as this, you can resign every future hope, and the certainty of immediate rescue? It is madness.’

‘I don’t know what it is,’ answered the girl; ‘I only know that it is so, and not with me alone, but with hundreds of others as bad and wretched as myself. I must go back. Whether it is God’s wrath for the wrong I have done, I do not know; but I am drawn back to him through every suffering and ill usage; and I should be, I believe, if I knew that I was to die by his hand at last’ (Chapter 40).”

Prophetic words from a heartbreaking character. I also think that Charlie’s decision to have Nancy die could have something to do with the fact that his wife’s sister, Mary, died while he was writing Oliver Twist. Mary was only seventeen and lived with the Dickens at the time of her death. She obviously meant a lot to them as they named their first daughter after her. Nancy’s age is never given in the book, but I imagine her to be around the same age as Mary was. So perhaps a bit of Charlie’s heartache leaked into this otherwise heartwarming story.

I only have a few more chapters of Oliver Twist, but I should be finishing it tonight. And then on to my third novel!

A Boy Named Oliver

This past week, Dickens accompanied me to my local Jiffy Lube because the oil needed to be changed in my car, and I wondered what Dickens thought of cars in general. I came across this post, which claims that Dickens would drive a Gurney One-Horse Steam Carriage, and I have to admit, the writer makes some good points. Charlie was amused that I couldn’t take care of the maintenance on my car myself, but then I didn’t see him jumping at the chance to do it for me. So the Jiffy Lube was helpful.

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist is pretty much the exact opposite of The Pickwick Papers, or at least seems to be at the beginning. Instead of a wealthy, old man, our hero is a poor, young orphan. Instead of a lighthearted, amusing story made up of short adventures, we have one continuous adventure filled with serious moments and a critique on society. Oliver Twist also reads a lot faster than The Pickwick Papers and is considerably shorter.

However, similar to The Pickwick PapersOliver Twist was serialized. The first monthly installment appeared in February 1837 in a magazine that Dickens was editing, called Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens wrote this novel in response to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which allowed the poor to be given charity only through workhouses, though the power there was much abused. Oliver Twist was well-received, though not quite with the fervor of The Pickwick Papers. Dickens was also criticized for including criminals and prostitutes in his novel. He had no shame though, and, in a preface to an edition published in 1858, he wrote, “I saw no reason, when I wrote this book, why the very dregs of life, so long as their speech did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral, at least as well as its froth and cream.”*

Oliver Twist is probably the most well-known Dickens novel, perhaps due to the roughly 30 different film versions of the story that have been made since 1906. Multiple stage adaptations appeared in London before the serialization of the novel had even been completed. Dickens was a master of this rags-to-riches tale and one of the first to make it a popular story-line.

Oliver Twist

The latest adaptation of this famous novel

In the story, you can’t help but like Oliver and feel sorry for his pitiable lot in life. He is never treated fairly; yet when he is finally treated somewhat kindly by a group of thieves, he still refuses to think well of thievery and asks to be thrown out in the streets again before made into a thief. Little Oliver, at times, is an unbelievable character because he seems to never do wrong, though others are always believing that he does do wrong. For instance, whenever anyone treats him with goodness, he says things like this:

“Dear lady, if I could but work for you; if I could only give you pleasure by watering your flowers, or watching your birds, or running up and down the whole day long, to make you happy; what would I give to do it!” (Chapter 32)

I guess Oliver just never seems to act like any young boy that I’ve ever known, but then I’ve never known an orphan boy who grew up on his own, always hungry and never loved. I’m not sure if he’s realistic or not.

But perhaps he’ll become more so with more reading!


The Completion of the First Novel—On To the Next!

I have finished reading The Pickwick Papers. Yay! And what a satisfying ending to a satisfying novel it was. Mr. Dickens wrapped everything up so well—I almost thought there was a neat little red ribbon tying my book together when I finished. But I bet what you’re wondering is what happened to Mr. Pickwick. Did he stay in jail? you’re asking. Well, have no fear, I will give you spoilers:

Mr. Pickwick, and Sam Weller with him, stays in prison for about three months, during which time he realizes that not everyone has a happy life and that some people actually bring more misery on themselves. But not even this convinces him to give up prison life and his pride. Two things happen first: Ms. Bardell’s attorneys, because they were not paid by Mr. Pickwick and Ms. Bardell has no money to pay them, have Ms. Bardell thrown into the debtor’s prison in lieu of the charges. Ms. Bardell agrees to write a statement saying that the whole court case was fabricated by her attorneys and that Mr. Pickwick was innocent, in the hopes that he will pay the fines and they can both leave the prison. Mr. Pickwick still hesitates, but then Mr. Winkle shows up to visit, bringing with him his new wife. They married without the approval of her only guardian, her brother, and without Mr. Winkle’s father’s approval. They beg Mr. Pickwick to leave the prison and intercede for them. As he sees that they are truly in love with each other, he agrees and finally leaves the prison.

Thank goodness! I was happy when Mr. Pickwick left the prison because, frankly, I think he was stubborn and prideful and stupid to remain there. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right? I actually think he’s more likable because he does have flaws—including the flaw of getting himself into impossibly awkward situations (for more of those, read the novel).

Everyone in the story got a happy ending, except, I would say, Mr. Tupman, who I think got the short end of the straw. I kept expecting his first love interest, Miss Rachel Wardle, to reappear and for them to get their happy ending, but, alas, it was not to be, I suppose. Mr. Tupman, who was first described as the romantic one, is the only main character, saving Mr. Pickwick himself, who does not end up with a bride. Oh, Mr. Dickens, you ironic writer you.

Sam Weller was my favorite character, and it appears that I am not alone in that sentiment. Upon Mr. Weller’s first introduction into the world, he became so popular that figurines and other popular items were created based on him. He even inspired the term “wellerism” (which has its own Wikipedia page, so it’s a real thing), which is a phrase that makes fun of clichés and proverbs by proving them wrong.


Sam Weller looking sly

After I finished reading this entertaining novel, I decided to watch the 1985 British dramatization of the novel. There are twelve episodes of about thirty minutes each, but if you have time, I would definitely recommend it. Not only is it entertaining and hilarious, but it is pretty darn accurate to the novel. I was surprised by how young the characters were (except Mr. Pickwick) because for some reason, I’d imagined them all to be around Mr. Pickwick’s age. I’m guessing it was because Dickens hardly ever addresses the characters by their first names, so I just assumed they were older.

Pickwick Papers

Mr. Pickwick in a nightcap! How scandalous!

And what of Charlie, you ask? Well, Charlie and I have been getting on just fine, thank you. He actually accompanied me this morning to get the oil changed in my car, but, as I was reading my next novel, Oliver Twist, I will tell you about that date in my next post.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with one last Pickwick quotation, this one coming from the narrator near the very end of the novel:

It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world, and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides (507).

Authors are to be pitied more than anyone for the friends that they lose.

Trials and Fines and Jails, Oh My!

Charlie and I did not go anywhere new for dates this week. Instead, we stayed in for dinner a couple of times, and I made him go back to the beach with me yesterday. However, I still got to know him a bit better through these dates.

His rocky childhood continued into his teenage years. He returned to school for a little while, but in 1827, at fifteen years of age, he was forced to go back to work to help his family. He worked as an office boy and began freelance reporting at the law courts of London at the same time. With that freelancing, his writing career had begun.*

NPG P301(19),Charles Dickens,by (George) Herbert Watkins

Charles Dickens the writer

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what has been happening in The Pickwick Papers. The main concern of the novel right now has been the trial between Mr. Pickwick and Ms. Bardell, which happens to occur on Valentine’s Day. Mr. Winkle, Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Sam Weller are all issued a subpoena to testify in the trial against Mr. Pickwick—to which they are all horrified but can do nothing about. Except perhaps Sam, who does not understand all of the legal terms—he asks to be told what a “subpoena” is in English and continues to call a “habeas corpus” a “have-his-carcase.”

(I will be giving more spoilers on the plot than usual, so if you have not read The Pickwick Papers and do not wish to be spoiled, please read no further!)

Due to cunning lawyers and emotional women, Mr. Pickwick loses the trial and is given two months to pay 1500 pounds to Ms. Bardell (and her lawyers). An example of the hilarious absurdity of the case can be seen by the following quotation, give by Ms. Bardell’s attorney to the jury to show evidence that Mr. Pickwick had professed his intent to marry Ms. Bardell in a letter:

They are covert, sly, underhanded communications, but, fortunately, far more conclusive than if couched in the most glowing language and the most poetic imagery—letters that must be viewed with a cautious and suspicious eye—letters that were evidently intended at the time, by Pickwick, to mislead and delude any third parties into whose hands they might fall. Let me read the first: “Garraways, twelve o’clock. Dear Mrs. B—Chops and tomato sauce. Yours, PICKWICK.” Gentlemen, what does this mean? Chops and tomato sauce. Yours, Pickwick! Chops! Gracious heavens! and tomato sauce! Gentlemen, is the happiness of a sensitive and confiding female to be trifled away, by such shallow artifices as these? (301)

Let all men be warned. Chops and tomato sauce indeed!

Mr. Pickwick, in order to defend his innocence and act on principle, refuses to pay the money and, after a two-months vacation in Bath, is arrested and put in the debtors’ prison. Sam goes with him at first, but Mr. Pickwick refuses to allow Sam to remain with him at the debtors’ prison. So Sam, being a gentleman and very good friend, convinces his father (in a hilarious conversation, I might add) to loan him some money and, upon his refusal to pay it back, to have him thrown into the prison. Mr. Pickwick is astounded and deeply touched, rightfully so.

What I’m anxious to discover next is if Mr. Pickwick will maintain his stubborn refusal to pay the money and remain in the prison for the rest of his days, on principle. Yes, he was wrongfully accused by Ms. Bardell. Yes, the unfair trial was manipulated quite well by her attorneys. Yes, he should not have to pay her the money. But is that a good enough reason to spend the rest of your days in a prison? It’s not a shabby prison, being the kind where you can buy a nicer bed and a nicer pillow and the comfort of a bedroom to yourself, but still. Mr. Pickwick has no family (that has been mentioned), but his three close friends seem very upset by his imprisonment, and then there’s Sam, whose loyalty to his master is unparalleled.

Mr. Pickwick is naturally a generous person, but his main issue with paying the money seems to be that most of it will probably go to Ms. Bardell’s lawyers, and he does not want to give them that satisfaction. That is understandable, but what good is Mr. Pickwick in a debtor’s prison? I guess I’ll just have to keep reading to resolve this issue.

I’ll leave you with a quotation from the amusing Sam Weller, when he was on the stand at the trial, and the prosecuting attorney asked him if he had a pair of eyes (a sarcastic question):

“Yes, I have a pair of eyes,” replied Sam, “and that’s just it. If they were a pair o’ patent double million magnifyin’ gas microscopes of extra power, perhaps I might be able to see through a flight o’ stairs and a deal door; but bein’ only eyes, you see, my vision’s limited” (308).



Beachin’ with Charlie

This week, Charlie and I went to the beach, and we both got sand all over ourselves, which is bound to happen when one finds oneself at the beach. Charlie didn’t really like the beach—he said it was because there were too many people and too many opportunities for pickpockets to steal things, but I think it’s because he just doesn’t like all the sand and the waves. He’s more of a lake-guy. However, this could be a problem in our relationship, because I absolutely love the beach. Don’t get me wrong—lakes are nice too, but there’s something about laying in the sand and listening to the waves and watching the sky that is just so peaceful and beautiful. I’m sure I can make him come around to my point of view, though.

As far as The Pickwick Papers goes, I am now halfway through the book, and I should probably pick up my pace a bit as I’ve been reading it for two and a half weeks. However, it has been enlightening and amusing.

The Pickwickians are true gentlemen. They do not hesitate to apologize when they are in the wrong, and they always act with the upmost politeness, treating others with respect and dignity. Even so, they somehow end up in slightly awkward situations. As Mr. Pickwick declares:

Is it not a wonderful circumstance that we seem destined to enter no man’s house without involving him in some degree of trouble? (156)

The most pressing situation they are in right now is with a widow, Ms. Bardell. She was under the impression that Mr. Pickwick was going to propose to her (an impression that he definitely did not see), and when he failed to propose, she decided to sue him. I’ve yet to see what the outcome will be, but do not fear—Mr. Pickwick has enlisted his own legal help in the matter.

The Pickwickians also know the difference between justice and revenge. They discover that their trusted ex-friend—who betrayed Mr. Tupman and ran away with the woman Mr. Tupman loved—is at his money-making schemes again and has his sights set on a wealthy young girl in town. Mr. Pickwick immediately informs the family of the true nature of that man, but he doesn’t try to destroy him. The family ends their relationship with the false man, and the Pickwickians are satisfied.

At one point, Mr. Pickwick decides to hire a man-servant, a Mr. Sam Weller. He provides many moments of entertainment, but none so entertaining as his father, who gives his son some sage advice:

“I’ve only this here one little bit of advice to give you. If ever you gets upwards of fifty, and feel disposed to go a-marrying anybody—no matter who—just you shut yourself up in your own room, if you’ve got one, and poison yourself off hand. Hanging’s vulgar, so don’t you have nothing to say to that. Poison yourself, Samuel, my boy, poison yourself, and you’ll be glad on it afterwards.” With these affecting words, Mr. Weller looked steadfastly on his son, and turning slowly upon his heel, disappeared from his sight. (201)*

He needs to get his priorities straight!

Facts About Charlie

Dickens was born into a poor family in a southern coastal town of England. His father was a naval clerk and his mother was a teacher. Dickens was the second oldest of eight children. When Dickens was ten, he and his family moved to a poor neighborhood in London. His father was sent to prison for debt two years later, and Charlie had to leave school and go work at a factory by the river, labeling pots that were filled with a substance used to clean fireplaces. He earned six shillings a week to support his family. Charlie references this moment in his life as the time he lost his childhood innocence and was forced to grow up and be a man. He never really forgave the world for taking away his innocence.**

I’ll leave you with a thought to ponder—a quotation from The Pickwick Papers, in which a servant shares his definition of philosophy:

If my mother-in-law blows him up, he whistles. She flies in a passion, and breaks his pipe; he steps out, and gets another. Then she screams very loud, and falls into hysterics; and he smokes very comfortably till she comes to again. That’s philosophy, Sir, ain’t it? (135)

*Sam Weller and his father both speak with heavy accents that are sometimes difficult to read. I’ve written Mr. Weller’s words in proper English, rather than the written dialect, to make the passage easier to read.