So much has been written about this book, first published in 1837. It remains a favourite with Dickens readers and the 1959 Collins edition which I have just read has a succinct introduction which gives a reason for this popularity. Alec Waugh writes: “[‘The Pickwick Papers’] is the work of a very young man, a young man with a heaven sent gift of friendliness and laughter, who was saying, exactly as he wanted to say it, the thing that he was impelled to say. And he was never quite that again; he was never again wholly free from the influence of his popularity and success”. I am a great admirer of Dickens, and from a very early age, but I admit the truth of Waugh’s remarks. As he grew older (and so phenomenally successful) he began to ‘sermonise’ a lot and sprawl out his plots rather too much. He was a great editor who, himself needed an editor.
But that was later. This is his first, and it’s a great book. A real ‘pick-me-up’. So many parts still make me laugh, after so many readings: Mr Pickwick being discovered at night in the garden of the boarding school where he had been lured on a false errand; Then later ending up by mistake in an old lady’s bedroom; and Mr Winkle agreeing to go horse riding, even though he had no experience in the equestrian arts (‘What makes him go sideways?’ said Mr Snodgrass [in the carriage] to Mr Winkle in the saddle. ‘I can’t imagine,’ replied Mr Winkle. His horse was drifting up the street in most mysterious manner, side first…); and many more.
Mr Pickwick is of course the prototype of many subsequent portly, good humoured old gentlemen who come to the rescue of various characters in distress in his later novels. such as the Cheeryble brothers, in Nicholas Nickleby, and Oliver’s long lost grandfather in Oliver Twist. But none of these descendants are really so full of joviality, generosity and pure goodwill as is Pickwick. He’s a tonic.