That I have not written any book reviews in a LONG ASS TIME. Perhaps that should be remedied.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

(Hey remember when I was going to do some big, complicated review of this story? Yeah, that didn't happen.)

I remember venturing on a friend of a friend's LJ and seeing someone quote someone else (got that?) saying, something along the lines of "Dickens and Dumas both were paid by the word, but only Dumas seemed to enjoy themselves."

To which I say, 1.) God damn it, no they WEREN'T and 2.) The person who said that has never read The Pickwick Papers.

Ah, what to say about this book. I don't think anybody besides Dickens fans reads this these days, but at the time, it was, as they say now, EPIC. In the sense that it was a great cultural event and not in the sense that it was actually an epic story. This isn't the type of book meant to have complex analysis written about it. This is the type of book you're supposed to quote to your friends to make them laugh and squee over certain characters and just HAVE FUN with. This book had a fucking FANDOM at the time, or what passed for a fandom, with bootleg souvenirs and theater adaptations. People loved it.

I mean, in one of the first chapters, a guy who speaks in disconnected phrases gets a guy stuck in a duel because said guy's friend was wearing the guy's suit. And then at one point one of Mr. Pickwick's friends shoots their other friend in the arm and Mr. Pickwick gives him the PICKWICK SHUN. And then some other crazy shit happens. At one point the guy who speaks in phrases runs off with one of Pickwick's posses old ladies and they have a high speed chase. And then Sam Weller shows up and the book gets MORE awesome.

The thing about this book is that Dickens wrote it with pretty much no freakin' plans. It actually feels more like a TV show than a novel. It's like a sitcom that starts out with one concept (old dude Samuel Pickwick rules a club with Augustus Snodgrass the sucky poet, Nathaniel Winkle the crappy sportsman and Tracy Tupman the lover who never ends up with anyone bomb around the countryside) and then Fonzie/Urkel/whoever comes along and changes the whole thing (old dude Samuel Pickwick and his servant Sam Weller bomb around the countryside). This can make things a bit frustrating to read as a narrative. (What the hell DID happen to Richie Cunningham's older brother?) It's fun, though. It's lots, of lots, of lots of fun.

Except when it's not. While Charles Dickens didn't get super into the pathos and social commentary that makes up most of his novels, (He saved a lot of that for Oliver Twist, which came up next and was for a large part written concurrently with The Pickwick Papers.) he did sneak a bit of it in there. In the beginning of the novel, every couple of chapters he throws in short, self-contained horror stories that a character just happens to read or hear. Some of them are good, like this story of a Sexton beset by goblins and about a man who chronicles his descent into madness that ends with him killing his wife (the latter was totally the kind of thing I could see a teenaged H.P. Lovecraft having fangasms over. No, really.). Others, like the story of a man who is encouraged to steal another man's girl because a chair came to life and told him to do it are ... well ... yeah. These stories are more hit than miss, though, even if a lot of times I just wanted to get back to the lolz. I also have to admit to being a bit depressed when Pickwick was thrown in debtors' prison. Not because I thought he might not get out. (No way.) But I was like, "Awwww ... happy crack book isn't so happy anymore."

The book also has some annoying "products of its time/Dickens 'product of his time' opinions." I really wanted to like Sam Weller's dad, but he occasionally says some sexist/racist stuff that put a damper on any potential love. The book's female characters also leave much to be desired. A few "grotesques" of old/middle-age ladies and a lot of sweet, passive princesses who don't even match up to Charles Dickens' "It's-Totally-Not-My-Dead-Sister-In-Law" characters like Rose Maylie. They're mostly ignorable, though. (And if you wish, you can pretend you're Mary in the love scenes with Sam Weller ... kidding, kidding!)

If you have a lot of patience (the book is 800 pages), this book is extremely rewarding and it really is a good showcase of how funny Charles Dickens can be. Also, Mr. Jingle and Sam Weller MAKE THE BOOK.

It's hard for me to tell you something's funny, so I'll just end on this video instead. Simon Callow performing bits.



Oh, by the way, whoever wrote the wikipedia page has a hard-on for saying that Robert Seymour (the illustrator) is the real genius behind this book. Honestly, I read a lot about it and ... I don't buy it. Seymour did come up with the basic idea and may have dictated some of the scenes, but Dickens really seemed to have taken over the project (actually more like strong-armed the project ... he was a real wanker to do business with ... I don't know if that's why Robert Seymour killed himself during the process, though). So ... I'm guessing that most of the project is his. Anything that's really fucking fun about it is his, anyway.


I'll write little bits about Inventing the Abbots and Other Stories, The Secret Life of Bees, Rapture Ready and The Lunatic Cafe later.
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