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This book morphed a couple times in my brain. It started off a bit uneven, filled with vignettes and sketches that seemed to anticipate the later genius of Dickens and even presented several shadows of future books and stories. After 100 pages I figured I would have another 700 pages of various Pickwick club digressions. There would be interesting characters (Sam Weller, Alfred Jingle, etc).
The narrative started to bog down, however, during the next couple hundred pages. The book had little velocity and the digressions seemed to have stalled, but then something happened. Dickens absolutely found his genius. It is interesting to behold a great author find his voice. I'm not just talking about any author or any voice. It is amazing to see Dickens find that genius balance between characters, plot, social commentary/satire, and humor. It was like watching a bird hatch, a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. More than the story, which ended very well, the book is worth the effort for what it shows about Dickens. This isn't the first Dickens I'd read, but after you've read a bunch of Dickens, I'd definitely read this just to soak in Dickens growth and his views on friendship, marriage, lawyers, and debt.
24 of 27 people found this review helpful
The entertaining central conceit of Charles Dickens first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836), is that that "immortal gentleman," Mr. Pickwick, an "extraordinary," "colossally minded," "truly great" "man of genius," is in fact a chubby, balding, bespectacled, pleasure-loving, middle-aged man whose good nature and naivete land him in a series of comical scrapes from which not even his streetwise and philosophic servant Sam Weller is always able to extract him unharmed. As a wealthy retired businessman, Mr. Pickwick's only occupation is traveling around England eating and drinking and investigating human nature with his three absurd friends and followers (the ersatz sportsman Mr. Winkle, the so-called poet Mr. Snodgrass, and the aged, rotund wannabe ladies man Mr. Tupman), ostensibly reporting their doings to the Pickwick Club in London, of which Mr. Pickwick is founder and president.
As Mr. Pickwick indulges in his hobby of studying the drama of life in different (at first ideally comfortable) settings and guises, as he falls into embarrassing fixes, and as he hears stories from the people with whom he converses, Dickens satirizes sports, reform religion, the legal system, political parties, stock brokers, dismal debtor's prisons, contentious husbands and wives, pretentious literary circles, foolish scholarly associations, and grotesque social pretensions. He also celebrates liberal, big-hearted, good-natured people like Pickwick and his countryside gentleman friend Mr. Wardle, romantic marriages, rustic and hospitable coach inns and simple and solid coachmen, and pleasurable festivals like Christmas. He even at one point includes a Christmas story featuring a Scrooge-like sexton in need of a good supernatural scare.
The novel is a picaresque series of set pieces tied together by a few recurring strands, like the ways in which the paths of the adventurer-"stroller"-actor-con-man Mr. Jingle and his servant/friend Job Trotter and of Pickwick and co. repeatedly cross each other, in which the legal suit of Bardell vs. Pickwick increasingly plagues the affable man, and in which Pickwick's disciples inconveniently fall in love. The novel is not a bildungsroman, for the fully mature Mr. Pickwick passes through his experiences largely unchanged. Instead, he acts as a catalyst for other people's changes, and as the novel progresses, especially in the last third, Mr. Pickwick's aspect as (as his servant Sam Weller puts it) an angel in tights and gaiters and spectacles comes to the fore.
Sam Weller is a great character: cockney, loyal, brave, strong, wise, and possessed of funny mannerisms: pronunciation of w as v and v as w, comical nicknames for people ("Vere does the mince-pies go, young opium eater?") and hilarious comparisons of present situations to exaggeratedly apt and usually violent prior cases (Wellerisms), as when he says, "Business first, pleasure afterwards, as King Richard the Third said wen he stabbed t'other king in the Tower, afore he smothered the babbies." Or 'Vich I call addin' insult to injury, as the parrot said ven they not only took him from his native land, but made him talk the English langwidge arterwards.' Or "Wery sorry to 'casion any personal inconwenience, ma'am, as the house-breaker said to the old lady when he put her on the fire."
David Timson gives an inspired reading of the novel, particularly with supporting characters like Sam Weller, his father, and the sleepy "fat boy" servant Joe. Every word he reads sounds just as Dickens must have intended it to be read. Although he greatly increases the pleasure of the novel, I did think (especially in the early going) that he lays on Dickens' comical cheek a bit thickly as the third person narrator.
In The Pickwick Papers appear many flashes of Dickens' particular genius that he fully develops in his later books: inventive, vivid, and rich descriptions; great lines worthy of re-reading and savoring; singular characters marked by human foibles, funny mannerisms, and strange names; imaginative set-pieces that linger in the mind; self-reflexive statements about novel writing; tear-jerking sentimentality; angry social conscience; open-minded view of class and culture; keen vision of human folly, villainy, and kindness; and so on. But often I found myself wandering during Dickens' extended riffs or interpolated tales (some of which don't absolutely need to be in the novel), and the overall story is not as compelling as those in his future books. Thus, fans of Charles Dickens should surely read/listen to The Pickwick Papers, but people new to his work should probably start with more classic books like David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
This is an excellent reading. I was not familiar with the story but now it is one of my firm Dickens favourites. However (and isn't there always an however?) as good as David Timson is at reading it and bringing the characters beautifully to life, the accents of the characters in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich is the usual "mummerset". Please, when narrators are preparing to read, can they not at least listen to a genuine accent?
East Anglians speak with flat vowels and no rolled Rs.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
The Pickwick Papers have some of the richest prose and most tangential narratives of any of Dickens' work. As a consequence the stories have been neglected by Film makers who seek the simpler character and story arcs of 'Great Expectations' and the like. This audiobook is an excellent evocation of the novel in it's full charming complexity. Even more than his other novels this book was designed for serialization and so the audio is great for dipping in and out of.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful