Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Pickwick Papers chapters 3-5

This month I have read section II of The Pickwick Papers which consists of chapters 3-5.  The illustrations in this section were the last to be done by Robert Seymour before he shot himself on 20 April 1836.  After this, Dickens assumed more control for the content and illustrations of The Pickwick Papers.  The following illustrations come from David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page.


Chapter 3 consists of The Stroller's Tale which describes the sad demise of a pantomime actor - this is the Dickens I am more familiar with -  a very depressing story of death in Victorian times.

"I knew there was no hope for him: I was sitting by his death-bed.  I saw the wasted limbs, which a few hours before had been distorted for the amusement of a boisterous gallery, writing under the tortures of a burning fever - I heard the clown's shrill laugh, bending with the low murmurings of the dying man."

In chapter 4 we return to a more light-hearted atmosphere as we follow Mr Pickwick and his friends to a military show.  "The manoeuvres of half-a-dozen regiments were to be inspected by the eagle eye of the commander-in-chief; temporary fortifications had been erected, the citadel as to be attacked and taken, and a mine was to be sprung."  There is a funny episode when the Pickwickians end up between two opposing regiments who were about to fire their muskets.  Mr Pickwick tries to reassure his friends that they were in no danger as the soldiers were using blank cartridges.   No sooner had the firing ceased than the soldiers charged with their bayonets fixed.  "Mr Pickwick gazed through his spectacles for an instant on the advancing mass, and then fairly turned his back and - we will not say fled; firstly, because it is an ignoble term, and, secondly, because Mr Pickwick's figure was by no means adapted for that mode of retreat - he trotted away, at as quick a rate as his legs would convey him."  Having escaped from this danger, Mr Pickwick suffers some embarrassment when his hat blows off and he chases it.  The chapter ends when Mr Pickwick and his friends meet the Wardles - Mr Wardle, his two daughters and a spinster aunt.  The friends are invited to share the Wardles' picnic. Unfortunately the servant, a fat boy,  who is supposed to be serving the food keeps falling asleep.  However on hearing the word "eatables" the boy jumped up: "and the leaden eyes, which twinkled behind his mountainous cheeks, leered horribly upon the food as he unpacked it from the basket."

The last chapter of this section describes the difficulties faced by the Pickwickians as they set off to visit Mr Wardle at his manor house in the country.  Despite Mr Winkle considering himself a sportsman, he cannot control his horse.  The others are forced to abandon their chaise and walk to Manor Farm, arriving very tired and dishevelled.

I am not sure what I feel about this section - The Stroller's Tale was quite dark and seemed out of place.  The book is certainly easy to read and very comical in parts although I feel I am not getting to know the characters - perhaps this will change as the book progresses.

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