‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ by Charles Dickens

I think that to read Dickens for pleasure in this day and age requires a certain mind set- and a good amount of time. Even though I now have plenty of time, I do not always afford reading Dickens the attention it needs. I do admit that sometimes having seen a dramatisation helps.

I jumped into Martin Chuzzlewit without much thought and have generally greatly enjoyed it. I have recently found that it helps to have a guide to the characters in Dickens, as in Trollope and Tolstoy (never him again). I drew my own character map as I read, a method I thoroughly recommend. Miss Oblique the Eldest suggested I publicise this, so I have. Please notice it only includes the main characters in England: there are American interludes. I apologise for any errors.


Notwithstanding this complication, there were times when I read this like an “easy” read. I wanted to know what happened. I wanted Mr Pecksniff to get his comeuppance and I wanted Tom Pinch to get the girl. I wanted marriages and happy endings, romcom fan that I am. I will leave you to discover if I got what I wanted.

This book has classic, rolling Dickensian sentences (occasionally opaque), lists and grand (sometimes grotesque) characters. I don’t think it’s his best.

Specifically, I find parts of Martin Chuzzlewit over-sentimental and overdone. Mr Dickens does at times signal what will happen so strongly that it is no surprise.

I was interested to look at the very good biography of Dickens by Claire Tomalin and to find she has a similar view. She considers it “long, confused and uneven” with “sickly sentimentality”, but points out that it has “scatterings of brilliance”. Dickens was apparently proud of it.

martin_chuzzlewit_illus2It’s worth noting that the novel is stunningly critical of the U.S.A. It finds very, very little positive. Despite this, the Americans still loved him and I think his opinion softened. Oddly enough, the illustration with this paragraph, of Mr Pecksniff and his daughters, is by Solomon Eytinge Jr., “from the 1867 U.S. edition published by Ticknor and Fields”. (It is public domain.)

This is not what I would recommend for a first Dickens novel, or even a second, but if you do get round to it I’d be delighted to hear if the chart was of any use.

Note: I read it on a Kindle. Useful for keeping track of characters, and free, but maybe I’ll read my next Dickens in a ‘real’ book; much easier flipping back a page or two- and there’s more to each page.


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