Critical Essays Style in Pickwick Papers


From the full title of the novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, one might expect a collection of notes, letters, diaries, and minutes. Yet from the first the narrative takes a different form. The narrator, "Boz," is purportedly reworking the club papers into a coherent, unified story. However, before we are very far along, the machinery of the club and the note-taking by the Pickwickians are forgotten. And what emerges is an omniscient third-person narrator.

This narrator has special predilections. While he can enter the minds of his characters and read their thoughts, this mode is not really congenial to him. He prefers to show off his characters as if they were on stage, to present them dramatically through their appearance, their gestures and, above all, their speech. The characters talk themselves alive, so to speak. Dickens is a protean author, able to project himself through hundreds of distinct, lively roles. His delight in play-acting is evident everywhere. Even in making fun of theatrical pretenses he enjoys their exuberance.

Dickens' sense of theater gives the action of Pickwick Papers a sense of immediacy. We can visualize the scenes taking place before our eyes. Although Dickens uses the past tense, we imagine the action happening in the present. It is not enough to say that Dickens has a quick, brilliant eye and a reportorial ear. He also has the intense imagination needed to make his invented characters come alive.

The portrait of Dickens that this novel conveys is one of a witty, shrewd, observant, flexible, inventive, humane young man. The prose itself is ironic, colloquial, supple, fresh, and adaptable to many moods and situations. Most important, it is playful, open to experiment. We realize the youthfulness of the narrative voice, but we are also astonished frequently at its artistic maturity. It is by means of this voice that the reader participates in the ebullience of the novel. If this book celebrates freedom, plenty, innocence, open heartedness, and youth, it does so mainly through the spirited prose and mimicry.