July 19th, 2016


Book Review: The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens

The comic misadventures of Samuel Pickwick, Esq., in Dickens' first novel.

The Pickwick Papers

Originally published in 1837 in serialized form; 801 pages

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (commonly known as The Pickwick Papers) is the first novel by Charles Dickens. The book became the first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books and other merchandise.

Written for publication as a serial, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely-related adventures. The novel's main character, Mr. Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr. Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to remote places from London and report on their findings to the members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside provide the chief theme of the novel.

Its main literary value and appeal is formed by its numerous memorable characters. Each character in The Pickwick Papers, as in many other Dickens novels, is drawn comically, often with exaggerated personalities. Alfred Jingle provides an aura of comic villainy. His misadventures repeatedly land the Pickwickians in trouble. These include Jingle's elopement with the spinster, Aunt Rachael of Dingley Dell manor, misadventures with Dr. Slammer, and others.

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Verdict: I have been a Dickens fan for years, and I have never not enjoyed one of his books, but The Pickwick Papers isn't my favorite. Being his first novel, it doesn't have as much of the brilliance of prose that characterize his later books, and being a big collection of serialized adventures, it goes on and on with only a few recurring storylines. Worth reading for Dickens fans, but I can only rate it 6/10, as it's a very thick book for a relatively small amount of substance.

Also by Charles Dickens: My reviews of A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations.

My complete list of book reviews.