Two volumes. Tan calf spine with blue and red marbled paper boards. All edges and end papers marbled to match. Red title plate with gilt lettering, banding and decoration on the spine. Illustrated by Phiz.
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The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (commonly known as Martin Chuzzlewit) is a novel by Charles Dickens, considered the last of his picaresque novels. It was originally serialised between 1842 and 1844. While he was writing it Dickens told a friend that he thought it was his best work, but it was one of his least popular novels.
The late nineteenth century English novelist George Gissing read the novel in February 1888 “for refreshment” but felt that it showed “incomprehensible weakness of story”.
Like nearly all of Dickens’s novels, Martin Chuzzlewit was first published in monthly instalments. Early sales of the monthly parts were disappointing, compared to previous works, so Dickens changed the plot to send the title character to the United States. Dickens had visited America in 1842 in part as a failed attempt to get the US publishers to honour copyright laws. He satirized the country as a place filled with self-promoting hucksters, eager to sell land sight unseen. In later editions, and in his second visit 24 years later to a much-changed US, he made clear it was satire and not a balanced image of nation in a speech and then included that speech in all future editions.
The main theme of the novel, according to Dickens’s preface, is selfishness, portrayed in a satirical fashion using all the members of the Chuzzlewit family. The novel is also notable for two of Dickens’s great villains, Seth Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit. Dickens introduced the first private detective character in this novel. It is dedicated to Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, a friend of Dickens.
Martin Chuzzlewit has been raised by his grandfather and namesake. Years before Martin senior took the precaution of raising an orphaned girl, Mary Graham, to be his companion and nursemaid, with the understanding that she will receive income from him only as long as Martin senior lives. Old Martin considers that this gives her a motive to keep him alive, in contrast to his relatives, who want to inherit his money. His grandson Martin falls in love with Mary and wishes to marry her, conflicting with Old Martin’s plans. Martin and his grandfather argue, each too proud to yield to a resolution. Martin leaves home to live on his own and old Martin disinherits him.
Martin becomes an apprentice, at the late age of 21, to Seth Pecksniff, a relative and greedy architect. Instead of teaching his students he lives off their tuition fees and has them do draughting work that he passes off as his own. He has two spoiled daughters, Charity and Mercy, nicknamed Cherry and Merry. Pecksniff takes Martin on to establish closer ties with his wealthy grandfather.
Young Martin befriends Tom Pinch, a kind-hearted soul whose late grandmother gave Pecksniff all she had in the belief that Pecksniff would make an architect and a gentleman of him. Pinch is incapable of believing any of the bad things others tell him of Pecksniff, and always defends him vociferously. Pinch works for exploitatively low wages while believing that he is the unworthy recipient of Pecksniff’s charity, rather than a man of many talents.
Martin spends one week at the house of Pecksniff. Alone with Tom, as the family spends the week in London. Martin draws the designs for a school during that week. When Pecksniff returns, they argue and Martin leaves, once again to make his way alone. When Old Martin learns of his grandson’s new life, he asks that Pecksniff kicks young Martin out. Soon, old Martin and Mary arrive in the area. He seems to fall under Pecksniff’s control. During this time Pinch falls in love with Mary, who loves to hear him play the organ, but does not declare his feelings, both because of his shyness and because he knows she is attached to young Martin.
Old Martin’s brother, Anthony Chuzzlewit, is in business with his son, Jonas. Despite their considerable wealth, they are miserly and cruel. Jonas, eager for the old man to die so that he can inherit, constantly berates his father. Anthony dies abruptly and under suspicious circumstances, leaving his wealth to Jonas. Jonas then woos Cherry, while arguing constantly with Merry. He then abruptly declares to Pecksniff that he wants to marry Merry and jilts Cherry, not without demanding an additional £1,000 on top of the £4,000 that Pecksniff has promised him as Cherry’s dowry, with the argument that Cherry has better chances for matchmaking.
Jonas becomes entangled with the unscrupulous Montague Tigg, formerly a petty thief and hanger-on of a Chuzzlewit relative, Chevy Slyme, and joins in Tigg’s crooked insurance business. As Martin raises funds in London, Tigg cheats young Martin at the pawn shop of the full value of his valuable pocket watch. Tigg uses the funds to transform himself into a con man with a new personal appearance, calls himself “Tigg Montague” and rents a fine office. This new image convinces investors that he is an important businessman from whom they may greatly profit.
At this time, Pecksniff, in front of old Martin, orders Tom Pinch out of his house. Tom Pinch abruptly sees the true character of his employer and goes to London to seek new employment. He meets John Westlock in London, a good friend. Tom Pinch rescues his sister Ruth from mistreatment by the family that employs her as a governess, and the two rent rooms in Islington. Pinch quickly receives an ideal job from a mysterious employer with the help of an equally mysterious Mr Fips.
Young Martin, meanwhile, has encountered Mark Tapley, who is always cheerful (jolly, in his own words). Mark is happy at the inn where he works, which he decides does not reflect well on him because it shows no strength of character to be happy when one has good fortune. Mark leaves his employment and heads to London to find a situation to test his cheerfulness by maintaining it in worse circumstances. To this end he accompanies young Martin to the United States to seek their fortunes, with Mark calling Martin “sir” and doing Martin’s bidding, an easy relationship for Martin. Martin believes the words of men in New York selling land unseen, along a major American river, thinking that place will need an architect for new buildings, despite the views of Mr Bevan, whom they met in New York upon arrival. They travel by train and river boat first to purchase the land at the office in the city up the river. They proceed to Eden, a swampy, disease-filled settlement. They find it nearly empty of people or buildings as previous settlers mainly died. Mark aids a couple who watch their children die in Eden. Then Martin, soon followed by Mark, fall ill of malaria. Mark decides that being with Martin and being in Eden is a situation in which it can be considered a virtue to remain in good spirits. The grim experience of Eden, with Mark nursing Martin back to health, and then Martin nursing Mark from the illness, changes Martin’s selfish character. He understands when Mark suggests that he could get on better terms with his grandfather by apologizing. The men return to England, where Martin seeks reconciliation with his grandfather, who is still with Pecksniff. His grandfather hears him and agrees to repay Mr Bevan in New York for the fare of the journey back to England.
Martin reunites with Tom Pinch in London and meets John Westlock. Old Martin Chuzzlewit shows himself at Tom Pinch’s office, revealing himself as the mysterious employer. Old Martin has been pretending to be in thrall to Pecksniff, while keeping up with other, more important members of his extended family.
While Martin was in America, a witness came forward to John Westlock who believed Jonas had killed his own father, using drugs the witness gave him in trade for erasing a gambling debt. Chuffey, who survives his master Anthony Chuzzlewit, had seen the drugs and prevented Jonas from using them on his father, who died a natural death. The London police, including Chevy Slime, nephew of Old Martin, have discovered the body of Tigg Montague and have the benefit of the information gathered by Montague’s investigator Nadgett, to know the murderer. At the home shared by Jonas and his wife Merry, and Mr Chuffey, the police and old Chuzzlewit confront Jonas. Jonas is saved of the charge of murdering his father by Chuffey’s story. Jonas is taken for the murder of Montague, who had fooled him and taken his money. Montague’s one true partner escaped with the funds on hand out of England. Old Martin has taken Merry Pecksniff Chuzzlewit under his protection, as she was an abused wife, with none of her happy ways left.
Old Martin, with his grandson, Mary, and Tom Pinch, confront Pecksniff with their knowledge of his true character. Pecksniff is alone now, and without funds, as he was taken in by Montague. His daughters have both moved on.
Old Martin reveals that he was angry at his grandson for becoming engaged to Mary because he had planned to arrange that particular match himself and felt that his glory had been thwarted by their action. Martin and his grandfather are reconciled, and Martin and Mary are married, as are Ruth Pinch and John Westlock, another former student of Pecksniff. Tom Pinch remains in unrequited love with Mary for the rest of his life, never marrying, and always being a warm companion to Mary, Martin, Ruth, and John, who now knows his value and his skills.
The novel has been seen by some Americans as unfairly critical of the United States, although Dickens himself wrote it as satire similar in spirit to his “attacks” on certain people and particular institutions back home in England, in novels such as Oliver Twist. Dickens was serious about reforms in his home country and is credited with achieving changes, notably in the workhouse system and child labour. Such satirical depictions by him and other authors contributed to the call for legislative reform.
Fraud in selling land sight unseen is shown as a common event in the United States. Most Americans are satirically portrayed: they proclaim their equality and their love of freedom and egalitarianism at every opportunity. Those who have travelled to England claim to have been received only by aristocrats. One character, Mr Bevan, is the voice of reason and a useful friend to Martin and Mark. The United States is described as “so maimed and lame, so full of sores and ulcers, foul to the eye and almost hopeless to the sense, that her best friends turn from the loathsome creature with disgust”.
Dickens attacks the institution of slavery in the United States in the following words: “Thus the stars wink upon the bloody stripes; and Liberty pulls down her cap upon her eyes, and owns oppression in its vilest aspect for her sister. Britain outlawed the institution of slavery from the UK itself long before the US did and outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, so the sight of slaves and the still lively debates on keeping or abolishing the practice in the US were an easy stimulant for satire by an English writer.
George L. Rives wrote that “It is perhaps not too much to say that the publication of Martin Chuzzlewit did more than almost any other one thing to drive the United States and England in the direction of war” (over the Oregon boundary dispute, which was eventually resolved via diplomacy rather than war).
In 1868, Dickens returned to the US and at a banquet in his honour hosted by the press in New York City, delivered an after-dinner speech in which he acknowledged the positive transformation which the United States had undergone and apologized for his previous negative reaction on his visit decades before. Furthermore, he announced that he would have the speech appended to each future edition of American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit, and the volumes have been emended as such in all successive publications.
In 1844 the novel was adapted into a stage play at the Queen’s Theatre, featuring Thomas Manders in drag as Sarah Gamp. The first stage performance in the 20th century came in 1993 at the Royal Theatre Northampton. Adapted by Lyn Robertson Hay and directed by Michael Napier Brown, the production starred singer Aled Jones and featured Katharine Schlesinger and Colin Atkins.
A short film adaptation of the novel was released in 1912.
The novel has been adapted twice by the BBC, firstly as a 13-part serial in 1964 starring Gary Raymond and Richard Pearson, and then as a television miniseries of the same title in 1994, starring Paul Scofield and Pete Postlethwaite.
George F. Will has written of Pecksniffian Comstockery.
Charles John Huffam Dickens FRSA (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are widely read today.
Born in Portsmouth, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors’ prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education and other social reforms.
Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers, a publishing phenomenon—thanks largely to the introduction of the character Sam Weller in the fourth episode—that sparked Pickwick merchandise and spin-offs. Within a few years Dickens had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society. His novels, most of them published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication. Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback. For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features. His plots were carefully constructed and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives. Masses of the illiterate poor would individually pay a halfpenny to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.
His 1843 novella A Christmas Carol remains especially popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities (set in London and Paris) is his best-known work of historical fiction. The most famous celebrity of his era, he undertook, in response to public demand, a series of public reading tours in the later part of his career.
The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social or working conditions, or comically repulsive characters.
Dickens gave recitals of his work in FBA’s Bar Street’s neighbouring street in Scarborough.
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