The Pickwickians Save the Birds

This week, I stayed home for my dates with Dickens, but that’s okay because it was a busy week and I did not have a lot of time to give him. So it was good that we kept things casual. I still learned some interesting things about him, such as:

He likes to paint amusing characters. The Pickwick Papers has four main characters—Samuel Pickwick, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass, and Nathaniel Winkle. These four gentlemen are members of the Pickwick club, a club founded by Mr. Pickwick, and they have been tasked with traveling around England and making reports on their travels. A pretty nice gig, huh? Must be nice to be an English gentleman and be able to travel and write and not have to worry about getting a job…but I digress. These men are very respectable but perhaps not always honest with people about their capabilities. For instance, Mr. Winkle claims to be a sporting man, but he proves to be neither good at riding a horse (he ends up losing the horse) nor shooting at game (he shoots his friend Mr. Tupman instead). Mr. Dickens phrases it this way:

There was a scream as of an individual—not a rook—in corporal anguish. Mr. Tupman had saved the lives of innumerable unoffending birds by receiving a portion of the charge in his left arm. (56)

Of course, Mr. Tupman lives and (hopefully—I haven’t gotten that far yet) Mr. Winkle learns a lesson.

Here are a few more amusing quotations that I’ve come across:

Time and feeding had expanded that once romantic form; the black silk waistcoat had become more and more developed; inch by inch had the gold watch-chain beneath it disappeared from within the range of Tupman’s vision; and gradually had the capacious chin encroached upon the borders of the white cravat: but the soul of Tupman had known no change—admiration of the fair sex was still its ruling passion. (4)

Mr. Pickwick gazed through his spectacles for an instant on the advancing mass, and then fairly turned his back and—we will not say fled, firstly, because it is an ignoble term, and, secondly, because Mr. Pickwick’s figure was by no means adapted for that mode of retreat—he trotted away, at as quick a rate as his legs would convey him; so quickly, indeed, that he did not perceive the awkwardness of his situation, to the full extent, until too late. (33)

There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat. (33)

He likes to include seemingly casual remarks that actually have a deeper meaning. Two such quotations have stuck out at me so far, and I’m interested to see how they will relate to the rest of the novel. The first is something that Mr. Tupman says and I wonder if his character will think differently or the same later in the story.

Poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions, and what is there real in either to live or care for? (24)

The second quotation is said by the narrator, and it occurs right before Mr. Pickwick trots away from the advancing army, in the quotation that I included above.

Man is but mortal; and there is a point beyond which human courage cannot extend.

Perhaps Dickens meant this in jest, but perhaps he meant something more by it. I’m going to keep reading to find out.

I realize that I’ve only highlighted two things that I’ve learned from the novel, but I’m only about sixty pages in, so give me some time. However, I do want to share some general information about Charles Dickens that one already knows if one is dating him (that one being me and that information being what can be found in a Google search and then related to you, my reader). And since this week I started reading The Pickwick Papers, I want to share where Dickens was in life when this novel was first published.

Dickens had just had some of his articles published together as a book when he was approached by a firm to write a series to accompany illustrations by a well-known artist. He convinced them to allow the illustrations to follow his writings instead, and in March 1836, the first installment of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club appeared. These monthly installments of The Pickwick Papers soon became widely popular—popular enough that Dickens now felt secure in his career. He married Catherine Hogarth, whom he’d been engaged to for awhile, in April 1836, and they went on to have ten children together.

People don’t generally have ten children together anymore, but I kind of admire that. I like children, and it takes a lot to raise ten of them…but did he raise them well? You’ll just have to wait to find out…

(Because, you know, you’re too busy to do a Google search, and that’s my job anyways because I’m the one dating the guy.)

3 thoughts on “The Pickwickians Save the Birds

  1. Dot McCrory says:

    I am a Dickensophile (???) from way back.. I first read A Tale of Two Cities in ninth grade and 65 years later, I can still hear Mme. DeFarge’s knitting needles clicking, endlessly clicking. I have read all of his books and short pieces except Little Dorrit. I tried and just never got far. I am reliving Dickens through you. Thank you.


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