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).



Have a suggestion for where I should take Dickens on a date? Learn something new about Dickens? Have a different opinion about this book? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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