Original cover issued in 1836
|Author||Charles Dickens ("Boz")|
|Original title||The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members|
Robert William Buss
Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
|Subject||Travels in the English Countryside|
|Published||Serialised March 1836 - November 1837; book format 1837|
|Publisher||Chapman & Hall|
|Preceded by||Sketches by Boz|
|Followed by||Oliver Twist|
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (also known as The Pickwick Papers) was Charles Dickens's first novel. Because of his success with Sketches by Boz published in 1836 Dickens was asked by the publisher Chapman & Hall to supply descriptions to explain a series of comic "cockney sporting plates" by illustrator Robert Seymour, and to connect them into a novel. The book became Britain's first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise.
Seymour's widow claimed that the idea for the novel was originally her husband's, but Dickens strenuously denied any specific input in his preface to the 1867 edition: "Mr Seymour never originated or suggested an incident, a phrase, or a word, to be found in the book."
Dickens was working as a Parliamentary reporter and a roving journalist at age 24, and he had published a collection of sketches on London life as Sketches by Boz. Publisher Chapman & Hall was projecting a series of "cockney sporting plates" by illustrator Robert Seymour. There was to be a club, the members of which were to be sent on hunting and fishing expeditions into the country. Their guns were to go off by accident, and fishhooks were to get caught in their hats and trousers, and these and other misadventures were to be depicted in Seymour's comic plates. They asked Dickens to supply the description necessary to explain the plates and to connect them into a sort of picture novel that was fashionable at the time. He protested that he knew nothing of sport, but still accepted the commission.
Only in a few instances did Dickens adjust his narrative to plates that had been prepared for him. Typically, he led the way with an instalment of his story, and the artist was compelled to illustrate what Dickens had already written. The story thus became the prime source of interest and the illustrations merely of secondary importance. Seymour provided the illustrations for the first two instalments before his suicide. Robert William Buss illustrated the third instalment, but Dickens did not like his work, so the remaining instalments were illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) who illustrated most of Dickens's subsequent novels. The instalments were first published in book form in 1837.
The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely related adventures written for serialization in a periodical. The action is given as occurring 1827-28, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms. For example, Dickens satirized the case of George Norton suing Lord Melbourne in 1836.
The novel's main character Samuel Pickwick, Esquire is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. He suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief subject matter of the novel.
The novel has been adapted to film, television, and radio:
According to Retrospect Opera, there was an early attempt at a theatrical adaptation with songs by W.T. Moncrieff and entitled Samuel Weller, or, The Pickwickians, in 1837. This was followed in 1871 by John Hollingshead's stage play Bardell versus Pickwick. The first successful musical was Pickwick (sometimes Pickwick, A Dramatic Cantata) by Sir Francis Burnand and Edward Solomon and premiered at the Comedy Theatre on 7 February 1889.
Pickwick by Cyril Ornadel, Wolf Mankowitz, and Leslie Bricusse was a musical version which premiered in Manchester in 1963 before transferring to the West End. It originally starred Harry Secombe (later cast as "Mr Bumble" in the film version of Oliver!) in the title role and Roy Castle as "Sam Weller". Although it was a major success in London, running for 694 performances, Pickwick failed in the United States when it opened on Broadway in 1965. In 1969, the BBC filmed the musical as the TV movie Pickwick with Secombe and Castle reprising their stage roles. Both the stage and TV versions featured the song If I Ruled the World, which became a hit for Secombe and other singers such as Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr..
Part of The Pickwick Papers were featured in Charles Dickens' Ghost Stories, a 60-minute animation made by Emerald City Films (1987). These included The Ghost in the Wardrobe, The Mail Coach Ghosts, and The Goblin and the Gravedigger.
Stephen Jarvis's novel Death and Mr Pickwick (2014) is in part a literary thriller, examining in forensic detail the question of whether the idea, character and physiognomy of Samuel Pickwick originated with Dickens, or with the original illustrator and instigator of the project, Robert Seymour. The conclusion of the narrator is that the accepted version of events given by Dickens and the publisher Edward Chapman is untrue.
The novel was published in 19 issues over 20 months; the last was double-length and cost two shillings. In mourning for his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, Dickens missed a deadline and consequently, there was no number issued in May 1837. Numbers were typically issued on the last day of its given month:
Dickens drew on places that he knew from his childhood. He located the duel between Mr. Winkle and Dr. Slammer at Fort Pitt, Chatham, close to Ordnance Terrace where he had lived as a boy between 1817 and 1821.
The popularity of The Pickwick Papers spawned many imitations and sequels in print as well as actual clubs and societies inspired by the club in the novel. One example is the still in operation Pickwick Bicycle Club in London, which was established in 1870, the same year as Charles Dickens's death. Other clubs, groups, and societies operating under the name "The Pickwick Club" have existed since the original publication of the story.
In 1837, Charles Dickens wrote to William Howison about the Edinburgh Pickwick Club. Dickens approved of the use of the name and the celebration of the characters and spirit of the novel. He wrote:
Other known clubs include one meeting as early as December 1836 in the East of London and another meeting at the Sun Tavern in Long-acre in London. Dickens wrote to the secretary of the latter club in 1838 about attending a meeting:
In many Pickwick Clubs, members can take on the names of the characters in the novel. The website for the Pickwick Bicycle Club states "Our rules state that 'Each Member shall adopt the sobriquet allocated by the Management Committee, being the name of some male character in the Pickwick Papers, and be addressed as such at all meetings of the Club'." Imitations/plagiarisms published at the same time as Dickens's Pickwick Papers include G. W. M. Reynolds's Pickwick Abroad; or, The Tour in France.
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