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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.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
Though I always enjoy Dicken's novels, The Pickwick Papers was not an all-time favorite. For the first while I was confused and thought the tale was somewhat pointless. However, David Timson's marvelous narration made every minute of listening worth while. I don't believe I've ever heard a reader so adept at capturing a variety of Dickension characters and moods with precise accuracy and no overdone dramatics. Thanks to Timson, I was able to forgive the first hour or so of confusion and get on with really enjoying this collection of tales that comprise a somewhat plotless novel. Highly entertaining, laugh-out-loud humor, beautiful description, and profound insights that sill apply today.
11 of 12 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
I really loved this book and the narration was excellent. Dickens is one of my favourite authors and is certainly very enjoyable to hear read aloud. Such brilliant characters and so funny! Lots of laugh out loud moments, (which can cause strange looks when you are walking along outside listening on earphones!) This is even more brilliant when you consider it was a first novel by a very young Dickens in his 20s.
The narration is fantastic. It is obvious that David Timpson knows and enjoys the book, and maybe even loves it as much as I do.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful