Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Dickens Detour - The Pickwick Papers


There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fictional articles. He gave lectures, was a prolific letter writer and edited a weekly journal for 20 years. Because of his personal experiences in early life he was a dedicated campaigner for children’s rights, education, and social reforms including his stance as an outspoken proponent for copyright law and protection of intellectual property.  But he was most celebrated for his pioneering of the narrative serial novel.
Lawyers hold that there are two kinds of particularly bad witnesses--a reluctant witness, and a too-willing witness. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Born Charles John Huffam Dickens at No. 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsmouth, England in February of 1812 and the 2nd of 8 children, Dickens was forced to begin work at 12 years old at Warren’s Blacking Factory after his father’s poor head for finances led to his imprisonment for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. These early formative years became a taboo topic for discussion with Charles Dickens but found wonderfully creative expression in each of his literary works.
Many eyes, that have long since been closed in the grave, have looked round upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the gate of the old Marshalsea Prison for the first time: for despair seldom comes with the first severe shock of misfortune. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

At twenty-four years of age Dickens soared to fame both in Britain and internationally with his Pickwick Papers, published in 1836.  Throughout his career it was said that his creativity was rivaled only by Shakespeare.  People from all levels of society could relate to his characters - especially the underprivileged and desperate. Installments of his novels were so eagerly awaited that devoted readers in New York would crowd the docks awaiting ships arriving from England to get their hands on the next release.
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club - or The Pickwick Papers - was published in 19 monthly episodes at the end of the month from March of 1836 until November of 1837.  The first installment became available several days before Dickens married Catherine Hogarth.
A silent look of affection and regard when all other eyes are turned coldly away--the consciousness that we possess the sympathy and affection of one being when all others have deserted us--is a hold, a stay, a comfort, in the deepest affliction, which no wealth could purchase, or power bestow. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Originally Dickens was to provide text to the featured illustrations created by Robert Seymour for the comic adventures of the members of a sporting club, but Dickens redefined the work to be the Pickwick Club, named after founder and president Samuel Pickwick. The Pickwicks set out to explore life and did so on humorous and eventful journeys during which they met many quaint and bizarre characters along the way.
The Pickwick Papers became wildly popular with readers avidly waiting for each installment and Dickens’ fame became assured. There were plagiarized theatrical adaptations that appeared before the series was even completed along with merchandise that included Pickwick cigars, songbooks and china figurines. The first installment sold about 500 copies and sales for the double last installment soared to almost 40,000 copies.
Amidst the success however there were tragedies that beset both Dickens himself and the publications.  Artist Robert Seymour provided illustrations for the first 2 issues but then committed suicide.  It was believed that he was despondent over losing the importance of his first involvement with the project combined with some other setbacks in his life. He was replaced by RW Buss and then Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz).  Dickens’ relationship with Phiz would last for over 23 years.
The second tragedy occurred in May 1937 when Dickens’ beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died suddenly. Mary was 17 years old, lived with Charles and Catherine and was a favorite in their household. The family was devastated and Dickens missed the June installment of Pickwick Papers along with the installment for the second serial novel that he had begun in January of 1837 - Oliver Twist.
"There lives at least one being who can never change--one being who would be content to devote his whole existence to your happiness--who lives but in your eyes--who breathes but in your smiles--who bears the heavy burden of life itself only for you." 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Various themes were dealt with in the Pickwick Papers both serious and comical.  A condition closely related to sleep apnea - Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS) - was originally called Pickwickian Syndrome after a character in the novel with classic symptoms of the condition.  Dickens’ concern for social injustices and inequalities present in his day and time provided many instances in the Pickwick Papers revealing characters commenting on lawyers and the corruption of the legal system.

"Battledore and shuttlecock's a wery good game, vhen you ain't the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin' to be pleasant." 
~ The Pickwick Papers

The characters that Dickens featured in his Pickwick Papers have long remained memorable and beloved.  At its heart The Pickwick Papers is serious in intent but presented with intensively creative comedy.  It is a serious celebration of love and the joy and pleasure of living.
That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens is the first read in our new Dickens Detour reading plan. This is a fairly long read so you might pick up a copy and get started. We will be discussing this great book during our Spring Book Lunch to take place on Saturday, April 22nd, 2017.

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” 
~ Charles Dickens


April 2017
The Pickwick Papers 
Published as a Monthly serial
April 1836 to November 1837

July 2017
The Adventures of Oliver Twist
Published as a Monthly serial 
in Bentley’s Miscellany
February 1837 to April 1839

October 2017
The Old Curiosity Shop
Published as a Weekly serial 
in Master Humphrey’s Clock
April 1840 to November 1841

January 2018
Little Dorrit
Published as a Monthly serial

December 1855 to June 1857