Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Pickwick Papers chapters 30 - 32

We have now read half of The Pickwick Papers so here is the reading schedule for the remainder of the book. More information about this Read-Along can be found on the Behold the Stars Blog.

XI – January 2017 (chapters 30–32)
XII – February 2017 (chapters 33–34)
XIII – March 2017 (chapters 35–37)
XIV – April 2017 (chapters 38–40)
XV – June 2017 (chapters 41–43)
XVI – July 2017 (chapters 44–46)
XVII – August 2017 (chapters 47-49)
XVIII – September 2017 (chapters 50–52)
XIX – October 2017 (chapters 53–55)
XX - November 2017 (chapters 56–57)

N.B. There's no Pickwick Papers for May 2017: in May 1837 Charles Dickens missed a deadline as he was in mourning for his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth.

Chapter 30 opens on Christmas morning with Sam informing Mr Pickwick that there are a couple of Sawbones downstairs.  Mr Pickwick was not quite certain whether a "sawbone" was a live animal or something to eat.  Sam enlightens him by explaining that these are surgeons whom Mr Pickwick is introduced to at breakfast.  Mr Benjamin Allen and Mr Bob Sawyer are actually medical students who proceed to discuss medical procedures over breakfast. 

After lunch the party decide to go skating as the weather continues to be fine and frosty.  Mr Winkle is persuaded to put on a pair of skates but needs Sam's help to get going as he can't skate.  Mr Pickwick calls to Sam that he wants him so "with a violent effort, Mr Weller disengaged himself from the grasp of the agonised Pickwickian, and in so doing, administered a considerable impetus to the unhappy Mr Winkle.  With an accuracy which no degree of dexterity or practice could have insured, that unfortunate gentleman bore swiftly down into the centre of the reel, at the very moment when Mr Bob Sawyer was performing a flourish of unparalleled beauty.  Mr Winkle struck wildly against him, and with a loud crash they both fell heavily down."  Mr Pickwick instructed to take Mr Winkle's skates off, calling him "a humbug."

The comedy continues as Mr Pickwick joins the others in going down a slide. "The sport was at its height, the sliding was at the quickest, the laughter was at the loudest, when a sharp smart crack was heard.  There was a quick rush towards the bank, a wild scream from the ladies, and a shout from Mr Tupman.  A large mass of ice disappeared; the water bubbled up over it; Mr Pickwick's hat, gloves, and handkerchief were floating on the surface; and this was all of Mr Pickwick that anyone could see."  Fortunately, the water is not too deep, so Mr Pickwick is able to get back onto dry land. 
The party broke up the next day with Mr Sawyer issuing an invitation to Mr Pickwick and his friends to visit him at his lodgings in London.

Chapter 31"is all about the law".  In this chapter Mr Pickwick's friends are given subpoenas by Mr Jackson from Dodson and Fogg.  Mr Pickwick asks Jackson is "it is the intention of your employers to seek to criminate me upon the testimony of my own friends."  Jackson does not reply.  Sam too is served with a subpoena but not before asking what that is in English.
The next day Mr Pickwick and Sam set off for Gray's Inn Square.  Sam points out that the 14th
of February, the day set for the court case, is a "reg'lar good day for a breach o' promise trial" as it is Valentine's Day.  Mr Pickwick does not think this is funny! Mr Pickwick tries to assure his lawyer, Mr Perker, of his innocence but Perker asks "who is to prove this?"  It becomes clear that Sam has been called to prove that Mr Pickwick was trying to make some offer to Mrs Bardell.  However Mr Perker does not think that "many counsel could get a great deal out of Sam."  Mr Pickwick is horrified to find out that if the action goes against him he will have to pay damages.  He says, "I beg to announce to you, my unalterable determination to pay no damages whatever."  The chapter ends with Mr Pickwick demanding to see Serjeant Snubbin who is going to defend him in court. The Serjeant does not seem particularly interested in Mr Pickwick's case, dismissing him "and was once more deeply immersed in the case before him: which arose out of an interminable lawsuit, originating in the act of an individual, deceased a century or so ago, who had stopped up a pathway leading from some place which nobody every came from, to some other place which nobody every went to."
Chapter 32 describes "a Bachelor's Party, given by Mr Bob Sawyer at his Lodgings".  These lodgings are in Lant Street which Dickens describes as follows: "the chief features of the still life of this street are green shutters, lodging-bills, brass door-plates, and bell-handles; the principal specimens of animated nature, the pot-boy, the muffin youth, and the baked-potato man.  The population is migratory, usually disappearing on the verge of quarter-day, and generally by night.  His Majesty's revenues are seldom collected in the happy valley; the rents are dubious; and the water communication is very frequently cut off."

As has already been hinted at, many people living in this street are in debt and often do not pay their debts.  Mr Sawyer is in debt to his landlady, Mrs Raddle who becomes upset when his friend calls her "an unreasonable woman" when she asks for the rent.  At this point Mr Pickwick and his friends arrive, followed by some other visitors.  There is drinking and card playing and the company become more and more boisterous as the evening progresses until the landlady tells Mr Sawyer to "turn them wretches out".  On seeing Mr Pickwick, she informs him that he was old enough to be his grand-father and was worse than any of them.    
Although this is a funny chapter, it also highlights the common practice in Victorian times of living "on tick" with no regard to how this affected the tradespeople who also had bills to pay.  This instalment introduces two themes which were to feature frequently in Dickens' later writing - the law, especially the time many cases took to be resolved, and the problem of debt.

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