My Hero

My Hero

In which your humble Dickens reader discovers what Pickwickian means . . .

I’m beginning my Dickens of a Year with The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club because I like the idea of beginning where his serial readers began.  Sketches by Bozwas published in book form (two volumes) a month (Feb 1836) before the Pickwick serial began in March 1836, but Dickens only published Sketches as a serial in 1837.  So Pickwick was the first Dickens serial and it would have been the work in which most readers first discovered Dickens.

I’ve never read Pickwick in it’s entirety, but had picked it up a couple times (never finished) as well as read a few of the chapters in other contexts.  Like all of Dickens’ works, I’ve always been anxious to read it, especially after spending some time with the Philadelphia Pickwick Club at a couple of their rousing luncheons.  Actually I was invited to be a guest speaker at one Phila Pickwick luncheon and it was the most alcohol I’ve ever drunk (the drinks flow very freely) before speaking.  I was lucky to pull it off.  And so here are my first impressions of the novel:

I fell in love with Pickwick and the Pickwickian world from the get go.  This is a place I want to be.  I want to sit around their table and hear about Pickwick’s Tittlebatian Theory.  I want to sit atop the coach and travel with them to Rochester.  Right off the bat, I’m faced with one of the attributes most associated with Dickens: his ability to create worlds and characters that seem so real and appealing.  Reading Pickwick is an immersive experience.  Even the use of the name “Pickwick.”  The first chapter is entitled “The Pickwickians” and then Dickens uses Pickwick’s name twenty-three times in just the first three pages of my edition (which by the way is from the Oxford Illustrated Dickens set).  Dickens overwhelms us with Pickwick and I am overwhelmed by the character’s spirit.  And glad of it.

I fell in love with Pickwick and the Pickwickian world from the get go.  This is a place I want to be.  I want to sit around their table and hear about Pickwick’s Tittlebatian Theory.  I want to sit atop the coach and travel with them to Rochester.  Right off the bat, I’m faced with one of the attributes most associated with Dickens: his ability to create worlds and characters that seem so real and appealing.  Reading Pickwick is an immersive experience.  Even the use of the name “Pickwick.”  The first chapter is entitled “The Pickwickians” and then Dickens uses Pickwick’s name twenty-three times in just the first three pages of my edition (which by the way is from the Oxford Illustrated Dickens set).  Dickens overwhelms us with Pickwick and I am overwhelmed by the character’s spirit.  And glad of it.

My edition of Pickwick

My edition of Pickwick

The characters are so deluded by their own visions of themselves and the world around them (except for Pickwick’s manservant, Sam Weller and the confidence man/actor Alfred Jingle), but there is no cyncism from the narrator.  Pickwick’s benevolent and simple demeanor are admirable.  As the adventures progress, I am more firmly convinced he is the best of men.

The characters and scenes are funny, but this isn’t just a laugh-out-loud comic novel.  It’s more than just funny.  A sense of goodwill, of jollity, of joy pervades the scenes.  I’m not quite sure how Dickens has accomplished this, but I find myself constantly smiling as I read.  Pickwick Papers is the happiest book I’ve ever read.  So this is what is meant by Pickwickian.