I knew little about The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club when I signed up to join O’s read-along, mostly that they were favorites of the March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women—ah, the joys of following a path from one book to the next. For this read-along, I will be doing something a little different than I usually do: writing a little about each section, mostly plot summery. (Else, I’m afraid I’ll forget what I’ve read between sections.)
It would appear from the first two chapters, the March 1836/2016 portion, that we are in for a humorous book, perhaps a satire. I would have to know more of Victorian English life on this last to be certain. But certainly, if it carries on as it begins, it will be quite the diverting—if perhaps a bit lengthy—story.
Chapter 1 was admittedly a bit of a slow start. It appears that there is a conceit (thus the “Posthumous Papers”) that this story is compiled by an unidentified editor, presumably Mr. Dickens, from a collection of papers belonging to the Pickwick Club and its members. The stylized introduction of this conceit—in the form of meeting minutes—is not the gentlest introduction to what soon appears to be, based at this point solely on chapter 2, an episodic “adventure” story. Or at least as much adventure as a group of four English gentlemen who appear fonder of food and drink than action can get up to. Chapter 1 forms the introduction, recounting the meeting at which the formation of our company of four, Mr. Samuel Pickwick (founder of the society), Mr. Tracy Tupman (fond of the ladies), Mr. Augustus Snodgrass (poetic), and Mr. Nathaniel Winkle (sporting), is announced and of their determination to travel and report back to the larger Pickwick Club “…authenticated accounts of their journeys and investigations; of their observations of character and manners; and of the whole of their adventures, together with all tales and papers, to which local scenery or associations may give rise…”
Still he could not but feel that they had selected him for a service of great honor, and of some danger. Traveling was in a troubled state, and the minds of coachmen were unsettled. Let them look abroad, and contemplate the scenes which were enacting around them. Stage coaches were upsetting in all directions, horses were bolting, boats were overturning, and boilers were bursting.
The second chapter relates of the first episodes of their adventures. And if it is anything to go by, there will be quite a bit of trouble in store for the quartet. They haven’t even left London, when a cabbie, suspicious of Mr. Pickwick’s questions and notebook, accuses them of being “informers”and starts a fight. They are rescued by a stranger who offers no name, but who happens to be traveling the same way they are, and after sharing the carriage to Rochester with the talkative stranger, they invite him to dinner. A dinner with many tales and copious amounts of wine follows.
[Mr. Pickwick] had gradually passed through the various stages which precede the lethargy produced by dinner, and its consequences. He had under gone the ordinary transitions from the height of conviviality to the depths of misery, and from the depths of misery to the height of conviviality. Like a gas lamp in the street, with the wind in the pipe, he had exhibited for a moment an unnatural brilliancy; then sunk so low as to be scarcely discernible; after a short interval, he had burst out again, to enlighten for a moment, then flickered with an uncertain, staggering sort of light, and then gone out altogether.
The others asleep, Mr. Tupman and the stranger ascend to the ballroom for a charity event, their entries both paid for by Mr. Tupman, and a suit provided for the stranger by the sleeping, and unknowing, Mr. Winkle. All is well until the stranger offends a local Dr. Slammer by dancing with the wealthy widow the doctor is courting. While the stranger seems to laugh off the whole event, the next morning a messenger for the doctor arrives at the hotel. Believing Mr. Winkle to be the offending party, on account of his distinct coat, the messenger informs Mr. Winkle that if he will not offer a written apology, he must instead duel the doctor. As a matter of honor, Mr. Winkle agrees to the duel—despite not knowing what is it about. Mr. Snodgrass will serve as second. They head off that afternoon to the dueling site and just as it is ready to start, the doctor calls it off—Mr. Winkle is the wrong man! All part as friends, with an invitation to meet again late that evening. But we are left with the tantalizing hint that when the doctor meets Mr. Winkle’s friend Mr. Tupman—who was, it must be remembered, with the stranger at the ball—all may not be well. Thus ends the chapter.
I am, I must admit, more excited to read the next section than I thought I would be on starting the novel. The story is so over-the-top as to bring more than one smile of amusement, and I find that I am quite curious as to the result of Dr. Slammer’s formal introduction to Mr. Tupman!