Setting Coaching Days
Pickwick Papers is set in southern England in the years of 1827 to 1831. Among other things this novel gave an enduring literary expression to the "coaching days" period of English life. As Dickens was writing his novel, that period was rapidly being destroyed by the new railroads. An air of nostalgia seems to hang about the coaches, coachmen, macadam roads, and wayside inns that fill the book. Dickens, in fact, played a large part in creating the romance of the coach through his treatment of it in this novel.
Coaches are an important part of the book. Several coach rides are described in detail, usually in a spirit of exhilaration, anticipation, and gaiety. Coaches transport the Pickwickians to almost every place they visit, forming a connecting link between the various adventures. However, coaches are also a source of adventure in themselves. Mr. Pickwick and his friends become acquainted with a number of fateful characters during coach rides, notably Jingle, Peter Magnus, and Captain Dowler. Further, one interpolated tale revolves around the adventure in a deserted mail coach. Coaches facilitate adventures because they throw strangers into one another's company for hours.
Coaches were a fast means of travel at that time, and one gets a sense of their speed along paved roads with relays of horses. Seldom does a journey take more than a day, and Mr. Pickwick can move across southern England, from London to Bath, in about a day. Dickens felt pride in the speed and regularity of coach trips, and he felt affection for colorful coachmen like Tony Weller.
A corollary to this world of travel is the inn or hotel where travelers stop to dine and sleep. There are more than two dozen such places mentioned in the novel, with names like "The White Hart Inn," "The Marquis of Granby," and "The Leathern Bottle." Quaint English inns abound in Mr. Pickwick's travels. Yet for all their quaintness they were attuned to the efficiency of coach travel, kept relays of horses for stopping coaches, and were clean and comfortable. Dickens delights in describing these inns, knowing them very well from his days as a traveling reporter. After hours in a coach they must have seemed especially cozy and inviting.