The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers, also known as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, was the first novel of Charles Dickens.  The novel was initially published in monthly installments from March of 1836 until November 1837.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club

The Pickwick Papers – Dickens’s Life At The Time

  • The first installment of The Pickwick Papers is published on March 30, 1836
  • On April 2, 1836 Charles Dickens marries Catherine Hogarth
  • Their first child is born on January 6, 1837
  • Publication of Oliver Twist begins in Bentley’s on January 31, 1837.  Dickens writes Pickwick and Twist simultaneously until November of 1837 when Pickwick ends.

The First Novel of Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers

The publishing firm of Chapman and Hall faced a huge decision in April of 1836.   The firm had just started a series of amusing stories dealing with  “Cockney sporting scenes”.  The series was built around the illustrations of Robert Seymour.  Publication began on March 30th and on April 20th Seymour committed suicide.  Edward Chapman and William Hall had to decide if they were going to continue the series.

The author who wrote the text to accompany Seymour’s illustrations had an idea.  Why not increase the text and hire a less well-known artist?  The series could continue, but the focus would change from the illustrations to the story.

The author’s name was Charles Dickens and the series was The Pickwick Papers.

Chapman and Hall agreed with Dickens ideas and The Pickwick Papers became wildly popular.

The first installment of Pickwick sold about 500 copies while the last installment sold about 40,000 copies.   There were theatrical adaptations before the series was even completed.  Pickwick merchandise began to appear.  People could buy Pickwick cigars, song books and china figurines.

Charles Dickens’s first book was a hit.

Once in a Lifetime

In June of 1837 something happed that only occurred once in Dickens’s career.  He missed a deadline.  He was writing two serialized novels at once, but there was no Pickwick that month.  There was no Oliver Twist.  Instead there was a funeral.

In 1837 Mary Hogarth was seventeen, pretty and living with her sister Catherine and Catherine’s husband, Charles Dickens.  Mary was a favorite with the couple and had become like a little sister to Charles.

Mary Scott Hogarth, sister-in-law of Charles Dickens

Portrait of Mary Hogarth aged 16

On the evening of May 6th Mary went with the couple to the St. James Theatre.  The group returned late in the evening and Mary retired for the night.  Shortly after that Dickens heard a cry from Mary’s room.  She was ill.  Despite her doctor’s care Mary passed away in Dickens’s arms on May 7th.

Charles was devastated.  The June installments of Twist and Pickwick were not published due to “the sudden death of a very dear young relative to whom he was most affectionately attached and whose society had been for a long time the chief solace of his labours.”

Sleep Apnea and Joe

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS), a condition related to sleep apnea, was first called Pickwickian Syndrome. It’s named after Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers because the novel features a character who has all the classic symptoms of the condition.  Learn more

Themes of The Pickwick Papers

Dickens works a very serious subject into this comic novel, that of the injustice of the justice system.

Dickens had a first hand look at the legal system when he worked as a law clerk.   His outrage over the inequities and incompetence of the system show up in more than one of his novels.

In a very funny scene Pickwick tries to talk his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, about Sam Weller moving into the house.  She misunderstands and thinks he is proposing marriage.  Later she sues for breach of promise.

The novel is full of humorous quotes dealing with the legal system:

“Why, I don’t exactly know about perjury, my dear sir,” replied the little gentleman. “Harsh word, my dear sir, very harsh word indeed. It’s a legal fiction, my dear sir, nothing more.”

“Battledore and shuttlecock’s a wery good game, vhen you ain’t the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin’ to be pleasant.”

“Vell,” said Mr. Weller, “Now I s’pose he’ll want to call some witnesses to speak to his character, or p’raps to prove a alleybi. I’ve been a turnin’ the bis’ness over in my mind, and he may make his-self easy, Sammy. I’ve got some friends as’ll do either for him, but my adwice ‘ud be this here–never mind the character, and stick to the alleybi. Nothing like a alleybi, Sammy, nothing.”

The Pickwick Papers Information