“Martin Chuzzlewit”- The Dark Horse of Dickens?

swirl-divider4Described by Dickens as “in a hundred points immeasurably the best of my stories”, we come to the 7th of his novels, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” Unfortunately, the general public didn’t seem to agree about it being the best, so it has always remained low profile.

You can argue it’s  natural and typical-an author’s pride, joy and dear baby never seems to be appreciated by others quite as much as they themselves do. So we can feel for Dickens.

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Mr Pecksniff and old Mr Chuzzlewit

1) The themes explored in the novel include murder, satire, deception, selfishness, selfishness and more selfishness. (some are not very nice people).

2) The protagonist Martin travels to America to a colony situated in a swamp, he becomes very ill,  is at the brink of death and sinks into a period of ruin and despair. Despite his hardships, he becomes much improved by the time he returns to Britain, with the aid of his very optimistic and jolly friend Mark Tapley.

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3) It illustrates Dickens’s turning point towards the darker threads of human nature and refinement of his writing style, comparing the satire and humour of “Nicholas Nickleby” against his later novels such as “Tale of Two Cities”, “Our Mutual Friend”, “Great Expectations” and “Bleak House”. 

4) Dickens portrays America in a poor light; “deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag, pollute it star by star, and cut our stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier.” Offensive to many of his American readers? It seems the novel and its characters are quite biased in regards to Dickens’s first visit to the country. He must have had a really bad experience….

Our Mentionable Characters:

  • Mr Pecksniff and his hypocrisy. He is a character you are itching to strangle. Even the online dictionary has an entry in his honour. Pecksniffery/Pecksniffian: adj- affecting benevolence or high moral principles.
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Martin, Mr Pecksniff with his two daughters and Tom Pinch

  • The admirable Tom Pinch who puts others needs before his, humble and loyal. Everyone’s friend. You want to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him safe. But without the juxtaposition of other villains and the unfair trials Tom must bear, his positive qualities cannot shine through.
  •  Martin is not the focus. He is weak minded, sometimes fickle and lacks a commanding personality despite his improvement later in the novel. An interesting question is how he is comparable to Dickens’s other protagonists?? Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, even Nicholas. (yes it has come to a point where I am on a first name basis with him)
  • Mrs Gamp. Described as a “drunken and verbose” nurse, she provides much comedic relief to the story. Honestly, the things she says hardly makes sense, but she is reliable and does her job well. That’s all we need to know.
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Mrs Gamp immortalised on a stamp

5) Perhaps you need to be a die-hard fan to be motivated to finish this novel. It is quite wordy and so dedicated reading is a must, to pick up from where you left off. Maybe one day I will give it another chance from the beginning! Though it took me a lot longer to complete, nevertheless- I did enjoy it and will be sad when my collection of Dickens is finished! I console myself that there is yet “A Tale of Two Cities” to go…

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