Friday, 23 December 2016

Chapters XXVII - XXIX of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Here we are, the half-way point of The Pickwick Papers! This post is going to be a bit of a three-parter: firstly, this tenth instalment is a Christmas special so a good opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Next, a wee summary of Instalment X, and finally what's coming next year.

A Queen Victoria snow-woman of the 1890s.
But, before we get into Chapters 27 - 29, let it first be said that December of 1836 was particularly snowy, and the scenes in this tenth instalment coupled with his other works, particularly A Christmas Carol (1843) inspired by that winter and ones before it have greatly influenced our perception of an ideal Christmas - snow, frost, and roaring fires. In December 1836 the snow fell up to fifteen feet in some places and there were even snow drifts of up to fifty feet. On 27th December Britain saw its worst avalanche in Lewes in Sussex: a buildup of snow on the hills surrounding the village collapsed, and some eight people were killed that day. To commemorate this a pub was built and named the Snowdrop Inn, and it still is there today. This wintry weather was set only to get worse. 

In this episode of The Pickwick Papers the cold snowy days were an ideal backdrop for the Christmas celebrations. The tenth instalment begins with Sam Weller visiting his father and step-mother.

Chapter XXVII
Samuel Weller Makes a Pilgrimage to Dorking, and Beholds his Mother-in-Law

In this Sam leaves Mr. Pickwick planning the trip to Dingley Dell and goes to visit his father and step-mother in Dorking, Surrey. There he finds his father being ganged up on by his wife Susan and the awful Reverend Stiggins, who Dickens refers to as the "red-nosed man":
He was a prim-faced, red-nosed man, with a long, thin countenance, and a semi-rattlesnake sort of eye—rather sharp, but decidedly bad. He wore very short trousers, and black cotton stockings, which, like the rest of his apparel, were particularly rusty. His looks were starched, but his white neckerchief was not, and its long limp ends straggled over his closely-buttoned waistcoat in a very uncouth and unpicturesque fashion. A pair of old, worn, beaver gloves, a broad-brimmed hat, and a faded green umbrella, with plenty of whalebone sticking through the bottom, as if to counterbalance the want of a handle at the top, lay on a chair beside him; and, being disposed in a very tidy and careful manner, seemed to imply that the red-nosed man, whoever he was, had no intention of going away in a hurry.
To do the red-nosed man justice, he would have been very far from wise if he had entertained any such intention; for, to judge from all appearances, he must have been possessed of a most desirable circle of acquaintance, if he could have reasonably expected to be more comfortable anywhere else. The fire was blazing brightly under the influence of the bellows, and the kettle was singing gaily under the influence of both. A small tray of tea-things was arranged on the table; a plate of hot buttered toast was gently simmering before the fire; and the red-nosed man himself was busily engaged in converting a large slice of bread into the same agreeable edible, through the instrumentality of a long brass toasting-fork. Beside him stood a glass of reeking hot pine-apple rum-and-water, with a slice of lemon in it; and every time the red-nosed man stopped to bring the round of toast to his eye, with the view of ascertaining how it got on, he imbibed a drop or two of the hot pine-apple rum-and-water, and smiled upon the rather stout lady, as she blew the fire.
Sam and his father are united in their dislike of the Rev. Stiggins, but as Tony, Sam's father observes, he is stuck with the situation:
"Cause I’m a married man, Samivel, ‘cause I’m a married man. Ven you’re a married man, Samivel, you’ll understand a good many things as you don’t understand now; but vether it’s worth while goin’ through so much, to learn so little, as the charity-boy said ven he got to the end of the alphabet, is a matter o’ taste. I rayther think it isn’t."

Chapter XXVIII
A Good-Humoured Christmas Chapter, Containing an Account of a Wedding, and Some Other Sports Beside: Which Although in Their Way, Even as Good Customs as Marriage Itself, are Not Quite So Religiously Kept Up, in These Degenerate Times

This here is one of the loveliest Christmas chapters one could ever hope to find in a book. In this Charles Dickens' love of Christmas comes pouring out: the chapter itself is very simple: the Pickwickians travel to Dingley Dell where they are met by our sleepy old friend the fat boy and they are given a warm and festive welcome by the Wardles. Isabella Wardle is to be married to Mr. Trundle and they are visited by yet more friends, and Mr. Winkle takes a great interest in one lady whilst Mr. Snodgrass is happy to see Emily again. Isabella and Mr. Trundle are married, and the rest of the chapter describes their celebrations.

This part is absolutely full of beautiful Christmas quotes but I've picked my favourite: the opening two paragraphs of the chapter:
As brisk as bees, if not altogether as light as fairies, did the four Pickwickians assemble on the morning of the twenty-second day of December, in the year of grace in which these, their faithfully-recorded adventures, were undertaken and accomplished. Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away. Gay and merry was the time; and right gay and merry were at least four of the numerous hearts that were gladdened by its coming.
And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!
Chapter XXVIII ends with the promise of a Christmas tale:
‘Ah!’ said the old lady, ‘there was just such a wind, and just such a fall of snow, a good many years back, I recollect—just five years before your poor father died. It was a Christmas Eve, too; and I remember that on that very night he told us the story about the goblins that carried away old Gabriel Grub.’
‘The story about what?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Oh, nothing, nothing,’ replied Wardle. ‘About an old sexton, that the good people down here suppose to have been carried away by goblins.’
‘Suppose!’ ejaculated the old lady. ‘Is there anybody hardy enough to disbelieve it? Suppose! Haven’t you heard ever since you were a child, that he was carried away by the goblins, and don’t you know he was?’
‘Very well, mother, he was, if you like,’ said Wardle laughing. ‘He was carried away by goblins, Pickwick; and there’s an end of the matter.’
‘No, no,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘not an end of it, I assure you; for I must hear how, and why, and all about it.’
Wardle smiled, as every head was bent forward to hear, and filling out the wassail with no stinted hand, nodded a health to Mr. Pickwick, and began as follows—
But bless our editorial heart, what a long chapter we have been betrayed into! We had quite forgotten all such petty restrictions as chapters, we solemnly declare. So here goes, to give the goblin a fair start in a new one. A clear stage and no favour for the goblins, ladies and gentlemen, if you please. 

Chapter XXIX
The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton

Like most people I enjoy reading ghostly tales on Halloween, but for Christmas nothing beats a good Dickens ghost story. I suppose Christmas does have that element of ghosts - ghosts of the past, the ghost of a memory, who we spend day with and who is no longer with us. Another element of the Dickens ghost story is what we see in 'The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton' and also A Christmas Carol: the need for a change in one's ways. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, the Sexton the tale - Gabriel Grub - is a mean spirited man who we see digging a grave one Christmas Eve:
In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago—so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it—there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath. But notwithstanding these precedents to the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow—a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket—and who eyed each merry face, as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humour, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.
‘A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself towards the old churchyard; for he had got a grave to finish by next morning, and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once. As he went his way, up the ancient street, he saw the cheerful light of the blazing fires gleam through the old casements, and heard the loud laugh and the cheerful shouts of those who were assembled around them; he marked the bustling preparations for next day’s cheer, and smelled the numerous savoury odours consequent thereupon, as they steamed up from the kitchen windows in clouds. All this was gall and wormwood to the heart of Gabriel Grub; and when groups of children bounded out of the houses, tripped across the road, and were met, before they could knock at the opposite door, by half a dozen curly-headed little rascals who crowded round them as they flocked upstairs to spend the evening in their Christmas games, Gabriel smiled grimly, and clutched the handle of his spade with a firmer grasp, as he thought of measles, scarlet fever, thrush, whooping-cough, and a good many other sources of consolation besides.
As he rests from digging the grave he meets the King of the Goblins:
Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange, unearthly figure, whom Gabriel felt at once, was no being of this world. His long, fantastic legs which might have reached the ground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantastic fashion; his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on his knees. On his short, round body, he wore a close covering, ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled at his back; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served the goblin in lieu of ruff or neckerchief; and his shoes curled up at his toes into long points. On his head, he wore a broad-brimmed sugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather. The hat was covered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he had sat on the same tombstone very comfortably, for two or three hundred years. He was sitting perfectly still; his tongue was put out, as if in derision; and he was grinning at Gabriel Grub with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.
The Goblin accuses him kidnap him having said "we know the man with the sulky face and grim scowl, that came down the street to-night, throwing his evil looks at the children, and grasping his burying-spade the tighter. We know the man who struck the boy in the envious malice of his heart, because the boy could be merry, and he could not...". Gabriel is taken away and given a good kicking, and, happily, shown the error of his ways. He leaves "an altered man, and he could not bear the thought of returning to a place where his repentance would be scoffed at, and his reformation disbelieved. He hesitated for a few moments; and then turned away to wander where he might, and seek his bread elsewhere." The tenth instalment ends with the words,
... this story has at least one moral, if it teach no better one—and that is, that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time, he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better for it: let the spirits be never so good, or let them be even as many degrees beyond proof, as those which Gabriel Grub saw in the goblin’s cavern.’

Can you believe we're half-way through? I truly can't. This year has flown by and so has The Pickwick Papers. I said at the start of it this was my second read, I hated it the first time, and now I really am enjoying it very much and looking forward to more. Here then is 2017's schedule:
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)
Don't forget there's no instalment for May.

Until then, a hearty thank you to all you Pickwickians who joined me for this read-along! And a big well done to Joseph who has blogged along with me and not missed blogging about a single instalment!

Finally, let me again wish everyone a very Happy Christmas! I'll be offline now more or less until after Boxing Day, and I hope everyone has a lovely day :) I'll catch you all next week!

Santa Claus by Arthur Rackham.


  1. a very Merry Xmas, O, to you and yours. (including the girls...)

    1. Thank you! I hope you had a very lovely day :)

  2. I cannot believe we're at the halfway point .... it seems like we just started last week! Merry Christmas to you and your family! And all the very, very best for the new year! :-)

    1. I know, this year has flown by.... I'm amazed too!

      Happy new year to you too, hope you had a great Christmas! :D

  3. Seems like this installment, chapter 29 in particular, must have been inspiration for A Christmas Carol. Hope you had a blessed Christmas and will have a happy new year.

    1. Yes, most definitely.

      And thank you, a happy new year to you too! And thanks again for all your posts :)

  4. At long last I am enjoying this book! This was a great instalment.

    1. I'm glad you're into it - I think it takes a while to get used to it :)


Popular Posts of the Year