The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 18-19

Summary

Winkle, who has stayed on for a few days with the Potts, is confronted one morning with a raging Mr. Pott. A poem has appeared in the opposition paper that accuses Winkle of cuckolding Mr. Pott. Mrs. Pott throws a hysterical fit and pressures her husband into thrashing the editor, Mr. Slurk. Under the circumstances Winkle finds it expedient to leave, and he goes with Tupman and Snodgrass to meet Mr. Pickwick at Bury St. Edmunds. When they arrive, they find Mr. Wardle, who extends an invitation to the Pickwickians to visit him at Manor Farm over Christmas, when they will celebrate Trundle's wedding to Isabella Wardle.

Upon learning of Winkle's difficulty at the Potts', Mr. Pickwick delivers a lecture to Tupman and Winkle on the impropriety of causing romantic turmoil when one is a guest. The lecture is interrupted when Mr. Pickwick receives a letter informing him that Mrs. Bardell is suing him for breach of promise. His companions gleefully remind him of the time they found him holding her in his arms, and he is horrified. Mr. Pickwick determines to return to London soon to get legal assistance.

The following day, the Pickwickians, Wardle, and Trundle go hunting. Because Mr. Pickwick is still lame with rheumatism he has to be taken in a wheelbarrow. Both Winkle and Tupman are inexperienced and dangerous in handling a gun, for which they are reproved by Mr. Pickwick. However, Tupman shoots a partridge by accident, which gains him the reputation of being a marksman. At length they all have lunch, during which Mr. Pickwick drinks too much and falls asleep. The rest decide to leave him and come back for him later. A bit later the owner of the land, a fierce, belligerent man named Captain Boldwig, comes upon the sleeping Pickwick and has him carted to the animal pound. There a crowd gathers and starts throwing things at Mr. Pickwick, but he is rescued by Mr. Wardle and Sam Weller. His sense of humiliation is gradually overcome by his natural good humor.

Analysis

These chapters finish up the business at Eatanswill and Bury St. Edmunds. Caught between Pott's fury and Mrs. Pott's infatuation, Winkle is forced to leave Eatanswill. And Mr. Pickwick must leave Bury St. Edmunds because of Mrs. Bardell's lawsuit. Both exits are the result of romantic misunderstandings. However, as if to balance this woman trouble, Dickens depicts an all-male hunting party, where he shows the trouble that men can get into on their own.

Dickens' handling of the scene between the Potts and Winkle shows some interesting characterization. Mr. Pott simply cares about the damage to his public image, not about Mrs. Pott's fidelity. What galls him is that Winkle has unwittingly enabled the opposition paper to ridicule him. He makes no distinction between the public accusation and the private reality, since he is merely a public figure in his own eyes. This view of himself leaves him vulnerable to his wife, who can do just as she pleases with him. Hysterics, even when faked, can make him cringe. Throughout the scene Winkle is passive and somewhat astonished at the havoc his presence has caused. In his innocence he shows a gift for stepping into nasty situations.

Mr. Pickwick's lecture to his companions about causing romantic consternation involves two ironies. The first is obvious: he himself has misled Mrs. Bardell, albeit unintentionally. Everyone, including Sam Weller, appears to believe the worst of Mr. Pickwick, which is usually the case if one is innocent. The fact that Mrs. Bardell has started a lawsuit against him shows how serious his inadvertent deception was. With his circumlocutions Mr. Pickwick participated in the very dishonesty he is out to combat. The second irony is that while Mr. Pickwick is addressing his remarks to Winkle and Tupman, Snodgrass is having a clandestine romance with Emily Wardle.

The hunting trip seems like a gratuitous episode that interrupts two emerging plots (getting even with Jingle and Mrs. Bardell's lawsuit), but it is intended to show some of the difficulties men can get into without the help of women. Beyond this it lends a sense of amplitude to the novel.

One difficulty on the hunting trip is that of taking along a lame Pickwick in a wheelbarrow. This is a serious breach of decorum to the gamekeeper, as well as a heavy burden to Sam Weller, who has to push the barrow. The next difficulty lies in the hazardous manner in which Winkle and Tupman carry their guns. As a professed sportsman Winkle is very touchy about being corrected. Sam is forced to needle Winkle in a wryly funny way to make him follow Mr. Pickwick's orders. Then at lunch Mr. Pickwick takes too much punch and falls asleep, which leads to his being left unprotected. This puts him at the mercy of Captain Boldwig, a country squire who acts like a feudal lord and who has him hustled off to the animal pound, where he is pelted with vegetables. These troubles are all temporary, if they are humiliating and worrisome. The difference between romantic difficulties and the problems men create for themselves, Dickens seems to imply, is that romantic difficulties are more serious, more lasting, more dangerous. If Winkle had not left, Pott would have poisoned him. And the Bardell lawsuit will land Mr. Pickwick in prison.

There are other aspects of Chapter 19 that bear attention. Back in Chapter 7, Dickens also poked fun at Winkle's awkwardness with a gun, but there he did it through an ironic narration. Here he employs Sam Weller's gibes, and the effect is more personal and funnier. For example, Sam tells Winkle that if he doesn't stop pointing the gun at his head, Winkle will have a full game bag and something to spare. Sam's wit is based on a recognition of the grim facts of life; he gives a humorous twist to unpleasant observations. Sam has become the center of intelligence in the novel, just as Mr. Pickwick has become the center of kindliness.

Dickens creates Captain Boldwig swiftly through the man's orders to servants, his brusque speech rhythms and his prop — the big stick with the brass ferrule. Boldwig, like Wardle, is a hot-tempered country squire. But whereas Wardle is a generous, hospitable, unpretentious man, Boldwig is mean, inhospitable, completely absorbed in his pretentious role of the feudal lord.

Mr. Pickwick has no past for all practical purposes. At the hunting picnic he tries to remember a song from infancy, drinks himself into an infant-like sleep, and is wheeled to the animal pound in his wheel-barrow-perambulator. Dickens intends Mr. Pickwick's life to be coextensive with the course of the novel. He starts off as innocent as a very young boy and ends wise and mature: this is all we need to see of Mr. Pickwick's life. When an old man can recapture the spirit of infancy or boyhood or youth almost at will, his past becomes irrelevant. In a sense, Mr. Pickwick was born reading his paper about the Hampstead Ponds and tittlebats, just as Stephen Dedalus was born talking about a moocow in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

We learn that the dates of these two chapters are August 30-31, Tuesday and Wednesday, in 1830. This very specificity brings us up short because time has been rather vague up to this point. The Pickwickians have been invited to Wardle's for the Christmas holidays, and from there on time will become less elastic because of the proceedings in the Bardell lawsuit.

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