The Pickwick Papers
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (also known as The Pickwick Papers) is the first novel by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

. After the publication, the widow of the illustrator Robert Seymour
Robert Seymour (illustrator)
Robert Seymour was a British illustrator. Seymour is known for his illustrations of the works of Charles Dickens and for his caricatures.-Early years:...

 claimed that the idea for the novel was originally her husband's; however, in his preface to the 1867 edition, Dickens strenuously denied any specific input, writing that "Mr Seymour never originated or suggested an incident, a phrase, or a word, to be found in the book."

Dickens was asked to contribute to the project as an up and coming writer following the success of Sketches by Boz
Sketches by Boz
Sketches by "Boz," Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People is a collection of short pieces published by Charles Dickens in 1836 accompanied by illustrations by George Cruikshank. The 56 sketches concern London scenes and people and are divided into four sections: "Our Parish",...

, published in 1836 (most of Dickens' novels were issued in shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

 instalments before being published in the complete volume). Dickens (still writing under the pseudonym of Boz) increasingly took over the unsuccessful monthly publication after Seymour had committed suicide.

With the introduction of Sam Weller in chapter 10, 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
Serial (literature)
In literature, a serial is a publishing format by which a single large work, most often a work of narrative fiction, is presented in contiguous installments—also known as numbers, parts, or fascicles—either issued as separate publications or appearing in sequential issues of a single periodical...

, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely-related adventures. The action is given as occurring 1827–8, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms. The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire
Esquire is a term of West European origin . Depending on the country, the term has different meanings...

, 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 other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach
Coach (carriage)
A coach was originally a large, usually closed, four-wheeled carriage with two or more horses harnessed as a team, controlled by a coachman and/or one or more postilions. It had doors in the sides, with generally a front and a back seat inside and, for the driver, a small, usually elevated seat in...

 provide the chief theme of the novel. A distinctive and valuable feature of the work is the generally accurate descriptions of the old coaching inns of England.

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
Alfred Jingle
Alfred Jingle is a fictional character who appears in the novel The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Heis a strolling actor and an engaging charlatan and trickster noted for his bizarre anecdotes and distinctive mangling of English syntax....

, who joins the cast in chapter two, provides an aura of comic villainy. His devious tricks repeatedly land the Pickwickians in trouble. These include Jingle's nearly-successful attempted elopement with the spinster Rachael Wardle of Dingley Dell manor, misadventures with Dr Slammer, and others.

Further humour is provided when the comic cockney Sam Weller makes his advent in chapter 10 of the novel. First seen working at the White Hart Inn in The Borough, Weller is taken on by Mr Pickwick as a personal servant and companion on his travels and provides his own oblique ongoing narrative on the proceedings. The relationship between the idealistic and unworldly Pickwick and the astute cockney
The term Cockney has both geographical and linguistic associations. Geographically and culturally, it often refers to working class Londoners, particularly those in the East End...

 Weller has been likened to that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
Sancho Panza
Sancho Panza is a fictional character in the novel Don Quixote written by Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605. Sancho acts as squire to Don Quixote, and provides comments throughout the novel, known as sanchismos, that are a combination of broad humour, ironic Spanish proverbs,...


Other notable adventures include Mr Pickwick's attempts to defend a lawsuit brought by his landlady, Mrs Bardell, who (through an apparent misunderstanding on her part) is suing him for the breach of promise
Breach of promise
Breach of promise is a former common law tort.From at least medieval times until the early 20th century, a man's promise of engagement to marry a woman was considered, in many jurisdictions, a legally binding contract...

 to marry her. Another is Mr Pickwick's incarceration at Fleet prison
Fleet Prison
Fleet Prison was a notorious London prison by the side of the Fleet River in London. The prison was built in 1197 and was in use until 1844. It was demolished in 1846.- History :...

 for his stubborn refusal to pay the compensation to her because he doesn't want to give a penny to Mrs. Bardell's lawyers, the unscrupulous firm of Dodson and Fogg. The general humorous tone is here briefly replaced by biting social satire (including against the legal establishment) and foreshadows major themes in Dickens' later books.

Mr Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Weller Senior also appear in Dickens's serial, Master Humphrey's Clock
Master Humphrey's Clock
Master Humphrey's Clock was a weekly periodical edited and written entirely by Charles Dickens and published from April 4, 1840—December 4, 1841. It began with a frame story in which Master Humphrey tells about himself and his small circle of friends , and their penchant for telling stories...


Central characters

  • Samuel Pickwick – the main protagonist and founder of the Pickwick Club. Following his description in the text, Pickwick is usually portrayed by illustrators as a round-faced, clean-shaven, portly gentleman wearing spectacles.
  • Nathaniel Winkle – a young friend of Pickwick's and his travelling companion; he considers himself a sportsman, though he turns out to be dangerously inept when handling horses and guns.
  • Augustus Snodgrass – another young friend and companion; he considers himself a poet, though there is no mention of any of his own poetry in the novel.
  • Tracy Tupman – the third travelling companion, a fat and elderly man who nevertheless considers himself a romantic lover.
  • Sam Weller – Mr. Pickwick's valet, and a source of idiosyncratic proverbs and advice.
  • Alfred Jingle – a strolling actor and charlatan, noted for telling bizarre anecdotes in a distinctively extravagant, disjointed style.

Supporting characters

  • Joe – the "fat boy" who consumes great quantities of food and constantly falls asleep in any situation at any time of day; Joe's sleep problem is the origin of the medical term Pickwickian syndrome
    Pickwickian syndrome
    Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is a condition in which severely overweight people fail to breathe rapidly enough or deeply enough, resulting in low blood oxygen levels and high blood carbon dioxide levels...

     which ultimately led to the subsequent description of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome
    Sleep apnea
    Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Similarly, each abnormally low...

  • Job Trotter – Mr Jingle's wily servant, whose true slyness is only ever seen in the first few lines of a scene, before he adopts his usual pretence of meekness.
  • Mr Wardle – owner of a farm in Dingley Dell. Pickwick's friend. Joe is his servant.
  • Rachael Wardle – the spinster aunt who tries in vain to elope with the unscrupulous Jingle
  • Mr Perker – an attorney of Mr Pickwick
  • Mary – "a well-shaped female servant" and Sam Weller's "Valentine"
  • Mrs Bardell – Mr Pickwick's widowed landlady
  • Emily Wardle – one of Mr Wardle's daughters
  • Arabella Allen – a friend of Emily Wardle
  • Ben Allen – Arabella's brother, a dissipated medical student
  • Bob Sawyer – Ben Allen's friend and fellow student
  • Mr Serjeant Buzfuz – Mrs. Bardell's lawyer in legal dealings with Mr. Pickwick

Other adaptations

The novel has been filmed at least four times:
  • 1913 – a silent
    Silent Movie
    Silent Movie is a 1976 satirical comedy film co-written, directed by, and starring Mel Brooks, and released by 20th Century Fox on June 17, 1976...

     short starring John Bunny
    John Bunny
    John Bunny was an American actor and was one of the first comic stars of the motion picture era. Between 1910 and his death in 1915 Bunny was one of the top stars of early silent film, as well as an early example of celebrity...

     as Pickwick and H. P. Owen as Sam Weller
  • 1921 – The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick
    The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick
    The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick is a 1921 British silent comedy film directed by Thomas Bentley based on the novel The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens...

    , silent, starring Frederick Volpe and Hubert Woodward
  • 1936 - On November 13, 1936 (less than two weeks after the BBC began regularly scheduled television broadcasts) The British Music Drama Opera Company under the direction of Vladimir Rosing
    Vladimir Rosing
    Vladimir Sergeyevich Rosing , aka Val Rosing, was a Russian-born operatic tenor and stage director who spent most of his professional career in England and the United States...

     presented the world's first televised opera: Pickwick by Albert Coates
    Albert Coates (musician)
    Albert Coates was an English conductor and composer. Born in Saint Petersburg where his English father was a successful businessman, he studied in Russia, England and Germany, before beginning his career as a conductor in a series of German opera houses...

  • 1938 - 'The Pickwick Papers', Orson Welles' "Mercury Theater on the Air" (November 20, 1938)
  • 1952
    The Pickwick Papers (film)
    The Pickwick Papers is a 1952 British film from George Minter of the Charles Dickens classic. Both screenplay and direction were by Noel Langley. It was awarded a Golden Bear in Russia where the rights were sold for £10,000.-Cast:...

     – starring James Hayter, Nigel Patrick
    Nigel Patrick
    Nigel Patrick was an English actor and stage director born into a theatrical family.-Biography:...

    , Alexander Gauge
    Alexander Gauge
    Alexander Gauge was a British actor best known for playing Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1955 to 1960....

     and Harry Fowler
    Harry Fowler
    Harry James Fowler, MBE is an English actor in film and TV. He started in juvenile roles, most notably in the first recognised Ealing Comedy Hue and Cry, made in 1947...

     (the first sound version)

There have also been BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 and television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 adaptations. The first TV adaptation was by Constance Cox
Constance Cox
Constance Cox was a British script writer.She specialised in adaptations of books by Charles Dickens and other classic literature. She was born in Surrey, England, UK. She was one of the first writers to adapt for television. Pickwick Papers was adapted for television by her in 1977. She also was...

. In 1985 BBC released a 12-part 350-minute production
The Pickwick Papers (1985 television series)
The Pickwick Papers is a twelve-part BBC adaption of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, made in 1985. It starred Nigel Stock, Alan Parnaby, Clive Swift and Patrick Malahide, with narration spoken by Ray Brooks.- Central characters :...

 starring Nigel Stock, Alan Parnaby, Clive Swift
Clive Swift
Clive Walter Swift is an English character comedy actor and songwriter. He is best known for his role as character Richard Bucket in the British television series Keeping Up Appearances. He is less known for his role as character Roy in the British television series The Old Guys...

 and Patrick Malahide
Patrick Malahide
Patrick Malahide is a British actor, who has played many major film and television roles.-Personal life:Malahide, real name Patrick Gerald Duggan, was born in Reading, Berkshire, the son of Irish immigrants, a cook mother and a school secretary father...

There was also a London stage musical version entitled Pickwick
Pickwick (musical)
Pickwick is a musical with a book by Wolf Mankowitz, music by Cyril Ornadel, and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Based on The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, it is set in and around London and Rochester in 1828....

, by Cyril Ornadel
Cyril Ornadel
Cyril Ornadel was a British conductor, songwriter and composer chiefly in musical theatre.Cyril Ornadel was born in London. He studied at the Royal College of Music. During the 1950s he was famous for conducting the orchestra for the hit TV show The Sunday Night At The Palladium...

, Wolf Mankowitz
Wolf Mankowitz
Cyril Wolf Mankowitz was an English writer, playwright and screenwriter of Russian Jewish descent.-Early life:...

, and Leslie Bricusse
Leslie Bricusse
Leslie Bricusse is an English composer, lyricist, and playwright.Although best known for his partnership with Anthony Newley, Bricusse has worked with many other composers. He was educated at University College School in London and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge...

. It starred Harry Secombe
Harry Secombe
Sir Harry Donald Secombe CBE was a Welsh entertainer with a talent for comedy and a noted fine tenor singing voice. He is best known for playing Neddie Seagoon, the central character in the BBC radio comedy series The Goon Show...

, later to become more famous as Mr. Bumble in the film version of Oliver!
Oliver! (film)
Oliver! is a 1968 British musical film directed by Carol Reed. The film is based on the stage musical Oliver!, with book, music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart. The screenplay was written by Vernon Harris....

. But Pickwick
Pickwick (musical)
Pickwick is a musical with a book by Wolf Mankowitz, music by Cyril Ornadel, and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Based on The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, it is set in and around London and Rochester in 1828....

(the musical) was not a success in the United States when it opened there in 1965, and the show was never filmed. It did feature the song If I Ruled the World
If I Ruled the World
"If I Ruled the World" is a popular song, composed by Leslie Bricusse and Cyril Ornadel, which was originally from the 1963 West End musical Pickwick...

, which became a modest hit.

Part of the Pickwick Papers featured in Charles Dickens' Ghost Stories, a 60 minute animation made by Emerald City Films (1987). Including The Ghost in the Wardrobe, The Mail Coach Ghosts, and The Goblin and the Gravedigger.


The novel was published in 19 issues over 20 months; the last was double-length and cost two shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

s. In mourning for his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, Dickens missed a deadline and consequently there was no number issued in May 1837. Numbers were typically issued on the last day of its given month:
  • I – March 1836 (chapters 1–2);
  • II – April 1836 (chapters 3–5);
  • III – May 1836 (chapters 6–8);
  • IV – June 1836 (chapters 9-11);
  • V – July 1836 (chapters 12–14);
  • VI – August 1836 (chapters 15–17);
  • VII – September 1836 (chapters 18–20);
  • VIII – October 1836 (chapters 21–23);
  • IX – November 1836 (chapters 24–26);
  • X – December 1836 (chapters 27–28);
  • XI – January 1837 (chapters 29–31);
  • XII – February 1837 (chapters 32–33);
  • XIII – March 1837 (chapters 34–36);
  • XIV – April 1837 (chapters 37–39);
  • XV – June 1837 (chapters 40–42);
  • XVI – July 1837 (chapters 43–45);
  • XVII – August 1837 (chapters 46–48);
  • XVIII – September 1837 (chapters 49–51);
  • XIX-XX – October 1837 (chapters 52–57);

It is interesting to keep the number divisions and dates in mind while reading the novel, especially in the early parts. The Pickwick Papers, as Charles Dickens's first novel, is particularly chaotic: the first two numbers featured four illustrations by Robert Seymour and 24 pages of text. Seymour killed himself and was replaced by R.W. Buss for the third number; the format was changed to feature two illustrations and 32 pages of text per issue. Buss didn't work out as an illustrator and was replaced by H.K. "Phiz" Browne
Hablot Knight Browne
Hablot Knight Browne was an English artist, famous as Phiz, illustrator of books by Charles Dickens, Charles Lever and Harrison Ainsworth.-Biography:...

 for the fourth issue; Phiz continued to work for Dickens for 23 years (he last illustrated A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fictional literature....

in 1859).

As a testament to the book's popularity, many other artists, beyond the three official illustrators, created drawings without the approval of the author or publisher, sometimes for bootleg copies or hoping that "Extra Plates" for the original issue would be included in later issues. The artists included William Heath
William Heath (artist)
William Heath was a British artist. He was best known for his published engravings which included caricatures, political cartoons, and commentary on contemporary life....

, Alfred Henry Forrester
Alfred Henry Forrester
Alfred Henry Forrester was an author, illustrator and artist, who was also known under the pseudonym of Alfred Crowquill....

 ("Alfred Crowquill"), Thomas Onwhyn (who sometimes signed as "Sam Weller") and Thomas Sibson
Thomas Sibson
Thomas Sibson was an English artist.-Life:Thr son of Francis and Jane Sibson, and younger brother of Francis Sibson, he was born in the parish of Cross Canonby, Cumberland, in March 1817. He started work in the counting-house of an uncle in Manchester. Deciding to become an artist, he came to...

. In 1899 Joseph Grego
Joseph Grego
Joseph Grego. was an art collector and exhibitor, author and journalist, inventor and graphics expert.-Family origins and Company Directorships:...

 collected 350 Pickwick Paper illustrations, including portraits based on stage adaptations, with other notes and commentary in Pictorial Pickwickiania

The Pic-Nic Papers

In 1841 the three-volume anthology titled The Pic-Nic Papers was published composed of miscellaneous pieces by various authors. It was originated by Dickens to benefit the widow and children of 28-year old publisher John Macrone, who died suddenly in 1837. Dickens had begun soliciting submissions in 1838, and he eventually contributed the "Introduction" and one short story "The Lamplighter's Story". Other contributors included William Harrison Ainsworth
William Harrison Ainsworth
William Harrison Ainsworth was an English historical novelist born in Manchester. He trained as a lawyer, but the legal profession held no attraction for him. While completing his legal studies in London he met the publisher John Ebers, at that time manager of the King's Theatre, Haymarket...

, Thomas Moore
Thomas Moore
Thomas Moore was an Irish poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer, now best remembered for the lyrics of The Minstrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer. He was responsible, with John Murray, for burning Lord Byron's memoirs after his death...

, Leitch Ritchie
Leitch Ritchie
Leitch Ritchie was a Scottish novelist and journalist. He was born at Greenock and worked as a clerk in Glasgow, but about 1820 adopted literature as his profession....

 and Agnus Strickland. Macrone's widow eventually received 450 pounds from this charitable publication.


Mary Weller, Charles Dickens's nurse, recalling her famous charge's occupations as a child, said: "Little Charles was a terrible boy to read."

"In the young Charles Dickens's reading we have in some ways the very core of his novels...the young Charles came upon the great picaresque novels of the eighteenth century – Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. First published on 28 February 1749, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel...

, The Vicar of Wakefield
The Vicar of Wakefield
The Vicar of Wakefield is a novel by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith. It was written in 1761 and 1762, and published in 1766, and was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians...

, their French counterpart Gil Blas
Gil Blas
Gil Blas is a picaresque novel by Alain-René Lesage published between 1715 and 1735. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of the picaresque genre.-Plot summary:...

, and their great predecessor Don Quixote. Don Quixote's connection with Mr. Pickwick, as Dostoevsky saw, is basic. With Don Quixote, of course, goes Sancho Panza
Sancho Panza
Sancho Panza is a fictional character in the novel Don Quixote written by Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605. Sancho acts as squire to Don Quixote, and provides comments throughout the novel, known as sanchismos, that are a combination of broad humour, ironic Spanish proverbs,...

, who with the reinforcement of the faithful, shrewd, worldly servants of the young heroes Tom Jones, Peregrine Pickle, Roderick Random and the rest, goes to make up Sam Weller."

See also

  • Pickwickian syndrome
    Pickwickian syndrome
    Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is a condition in which severely overweight people fail to breathe rapidly enough or deeply enough, resulting in low blood oxygen levels and high blood carbon dioxide levels...

  • The Spaniards Inn
  • The Moosepath League
    The Moosepath League
    The Moosepath League is a series of books by Van Reid. The books are a loosely connected series of humorous adventures set in Maine in the late nineteenth century. The first book in the series was picked as a NY Times notable book of 1998....

     books of Van Reid are a tribute to the Pickwick Papers with thoroughly pickwickian characters. In chapter four of Cordelia Underwood, Cordelia finds a copy of the Pickwick Papers in her uncle's chest.

External links

Source editions online
  • The Pickwick Papers at Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

  • The Pickwick Papers at Google Books.
  • The Pickwick Papers, HTML version.
  • The Pickwick Papers, HTML version
  • The Pickwick Papers, audibook from LibriVox
    LibriVox is an online digital library of free public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers and is probably, since 2007, the world's most prolific audiobook publisher...

Other online books


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