We take a look at one of Charles Dickens’ most popular publications – and the one which has put Pickwick on the map forever…
More usually known simply as The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens’ famous novel published in 1837 was never originally a book. It was first published serially in one shilling installments from 1836 to 1837 under the pseudonym Boz. Dickens was an up-and-coming writer at that time following his 1836 success Sketches by Boz.
Dickens was asked to write a series of captions for a project featuring the work of caricaturist Robert Seymour. However, Dickens’ witty accounts of the kindly and the rather naive Samuel Pickwick and his friends in the Pickwick Club were an instant success in their own right.
By the publication of chapter 10 and the introduction of Sam Weller, the work became the first real publishing phenomenon making Dickens a literary sensation which also saw the rise of numerous bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise.
A sequence of loosely related adventures, The Pickwick Paperscentres around the life of a kind and wealthy old gentleman, Samuel Pickwick Esquire, who is also the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club.
Pickwick proposes to three other “Pickwickians” (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) that they extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life by journeying to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club.
Are you a Pickwickian?…or a Dickensian?
The Pickwick Papers is full of eccentric characters characterised in physiology, speech, temperament, and even name which define the term Dickensian. Foremost among these is Mr. Pickwick himself whose name has been given to an expression in English parlance, Pickwickian, to describe ironic deprecation fondly addressed to friends.
Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide a distinctive and valuable feature of the work with its descriptions of the old coaching inns of England.
One of the most successful stage-coach firms was established in Bath In 1779 by Eleazer Pickwick and was run in partnership with his nephew Moses Pickwick.
It is believed that Dickens borrowed the name of The Pickwick Papers from Eleazer’s grandfather, also Moses, who was a foundling discovered in Pickwick around 1748.
Moses lived in the Hare and Hounds Inn on the route between Bath and London.
The popularity of The Pickwick Papers has led to many imitations and sequels in print, film, television, and radio.
In addition many actual clubs and societies inspired by the club in the novel were established – and some are still in existence such as the Pickwick Bicycle Club in London.
In 1837, Charles Dickens wrote to William Howison about the Edinburgh Pickwick Club:
‘If a word of encouragement from me, can as you say endow you with double life, you will be the most lively club in all the Empire, from this time; for every hearty wish that I can muster for your long-continued welfare and prosperity, is freely yours. Mr Pickwick’s heart is among you always.’