The Pickwick Papers was one of the first books by Charles Dickens that I ever read, and it remains one of my all-time favorite novels. I absolutely love Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller, and all the wonderful characters that float through this light-hearted, feel-good novel. There's an energy and joie de vivre that permeates all 754 pages and leaves me with the feeling that life is good despite the rascals that inhabit the world along with the innocent, the honorable, and the loving.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, Mr. Samuel Pickwick is a retired man of business who spends two years traipsing about England in the company of three friends, Mr. Tracy Tupman, Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr. Nathaniel Winkle. They get into all manner of scrapes, usually through misguided good intentions, trusting in their fellow man too much, eating and drinking to excess, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Pickwick's man-servant, Sam Weller, invariably extricates them from their difficulties and is the voice of Cockney reason in the midst of their muddle.
We are treated to duels, hunting expeditions, skating parties, weddings, a stint in the Fleet debtor's prison, elopements, stagecoach rides, and balls. When Dickens needs a break from Pickwick and company, he sprinkles in a variety of ghost stories that are told by people that the Pickwickians encounter in their travels. These ghost stories are uniformly wonderful and make for delightful reading in and of themselves. My favorite is the last, which involves a man stumbling on an old broken down mail coach...as the moon rises, the mail coach is restored to its glory and the man embarks on an adventure in which he rescues a beautiful maiden from villains, only to lose her with the waning of the night. My kind of ghost story!
Although I listened to an audio version of the book, I did keep my Penguin Classics version close at hand so that I could enjoy the original illustrations.
For years now, I have wanted to reread this book in December so that I could revel in the Christmas chapters. This year I accomplished this wish and I cannot recommend this section of the book enough for Christmas reading. Here's my favorite scene when Mr. Pickwick engages in winter sports!
In thinking about what I wanted to write in this post, I thought a lot about how Samuel Pickwick and Sam Weller are two halves of a perfect man--together they are innocent and wise, thrifty and benevolent, practical and dreamy, young and old...but always good-tempered, honorable, and virtuous. In looking for image, I found this wonderful Royal Doulton liquor container that says it all:
Yes, it is now on my wish list!
One more note about Sam Weller--I think that J.R.R. Tolkien had this wonderful character in mind when he created Sam Gamgee (aka Samwise) in Lord of the Rings. It's been forever since I read LOTR but it seems to me that there is more than a passing resemblance between Samwise and Frodo and Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick. Furthermore, the Pickwickians are on a grand adventure, maybe not to Mordor, but I'll bet some graduate student somewhere has delineated the parallels between The Pickwick Papers and LOTR--maybe all those ghost stories inspired Tolkien to write those elfin poems!
I'm currently watching a Pickwick Papers BBC mini-series from 1985--it's okay, but the only alternatives were an animated version and a 1952 version, neither of which appealed to me. I've only watched episode one so far, so haven't yet met Sam, but I'm hoping that he livens it up a bit!