Pickwick Papers is one of Charles Dickens’ earliest works and so it’s hard not to read it looking for the seeds of everything to come later in his body of writing. Absurdity, humor, tragedy, chicanery, romance, fancy, lawsuits, debtors’ prison, and more are here in good measure to richly repay Dickens’ readers.
At times the interposition of tragic or comedic vignettes seem a bit forced, like short stories Dickens edited in to fill space. Pickwick and the others interact with these tales very little, simply hearing them and then moving on with their adventures without commentary. Some are unrelievedly tragic; others are crazily hilarious and fanciful, like the armchair coming to life and telling his story.
But it’s the characters that make this loosely connected string of stories so memorable. Samuel Weller is one of my favorite literary characters of all time. I think he must have inspired Tolkien’s Sam Gamgee at some level; both are utterly devoted to their masters and have a sturdy, rustic self possession that is highly distinctive. And I can’t think of Tony Weller without smiling. And of course, Mr. Pickwick himself. And Snodgrass, and Tupman, and Winkle, and Wardle, and Jingle, and Job, and all the rest of that merry bunch.
Quite simply, this is splendid fun.