Summary and Analysis
On returning to Manor Farm, Mr. Pickwick learns that Tupman has left, intending to commit suicide in a fit of romantic despair. The Pickwickians take their leave of the Wardles and hurry after Tupman, whom they find in Cobham enjoying a hearty meal. Things are patched up, and Mr. Pickwick tells his friends that they will all go to Eatanswill in a few days to witness an election. At Cobham, meanwhile, Mr. Pick-wick finds a stone with a strange inscription, which he assumes to be ancient.
Unable to sleep that evening, Mr. Pickwick reads a manuscript that the old clergyman at Wardle's had given him. This story, told in the first person by a raving maniac, relates how the mad author married a woman who was in love with someone else. Her family had contrived the match because the madman was wealthy. He tries to murder his wife because she does not love him, but he is prevented. His wife, how-ever, is driven mad and dies. Her brother, who benefited from the evil marriage, visits the madman and they get into a violent fight, which is interrupted by a crowd of people. The madman, pursued by the crowd, is finally caught and locked in an asylum.
The Pickwickians return to London with the inscribed stone, which everyone makes much of but no one understands. Blotton, a club member, deciphers it accurately as "BILL STUMPS, HIS MARK." But he is expelled and no one pays him any heed.
At his London apartments Mr. Pickwick tells his widowed landlady, Mrs. Bardell, that he has something important to discuss with her. His way of broaching the subject leads her to assume that he is proposing, whereupon she flings her arms about his neck and faints with tearful joy. The three Pickwickians enter at that point, along with Mrs. Bardell's son, Tommy, who starts kicking and butting Mr. Pickwick for hurting his mother. Tupman, Snodgrass, and Winkle look abashed, each assuming that their leader has been up to something. Then Sam Weller enters, and Mr. Pickwick hires Sam, at two suits and 12 pounds a year, to attend on him as a personal servant. This was what Mr. Pickwick wanted to discuss with Mrs. Bardell — whether she could put up Sam Weller.
A look at the time scheme up to this point will be helpful. Chapter 1 takes place on May 12, 1827, and the adventures begin on May 13, 1827. By Dickens' own account Chapters 2 to 11 require no more than two weeks, but in Chapter 11 we learn that the trip to Cobham takes place in June. This loose construction of time continues through the novel. In the reading we have the swiftly moving sensation of day-to-day events, largely on Dickens' own clues, but some dates seem out of keeping with normal time logic. Time here is more attuned to dreams than to chronology, and at one point we wonder what happened with time in Chapter 2, where Jingle talks about the July Revolution in 1827 and Dickens says in a footnote that the revolution occurred in 1830. He is warning us not to take time too seriously, that it can be played with like any other element in fiction. This sort of playfulness was something that Sterne had made use of earlier.
After the excitement of the preceding action, Chapter 11 comes as a disappointment: in it, Dickens' imagination seems to falter. He reverts to the heavy-handed humor of Chapter 1 in telling of Mr. Pickwick's foolish antiquarian discovery. Blotton, in debunking the great find, is cast as the truth-telling, unpopular club member for the second time, for which he is expelled as a spoilsport. Happily, Dickens has gotten the idea of the Pickwick Club as a scientific club out of his system, so that the humor of the club as a society of friends can flow unimpeded.
The business about Tupman's melodramatic suicide note and his departure — only to be found eating a large meal — simply confirms what we already know of him: that he is a poseur. His romantic pose in the note covers up the fact that he is really running away from possible ridicule.
For all its sensational violence, the madman's tale is a concocted piece of paranoia. Family ties in this story are unscrupulous or murderous. Whereas Wardle has just undertaken a trip to save his sister from a loveless marriage and has paid handsomely to do so, the girl's family in the story is greedy enough to sell her to a lunatic. And her brother, with his false honor, is slightly less repulsive than the madman. It is peculiar that two of the most repugnant tales in the book were told by a benevolent old clergyman at Wardle's. He seems to be a cheerful man with an imagination like "Dismal Jemmy"'s.
In Chapter 12, Dickens recovers his customary verve in showing how Mr. Pickwick unwittingly leads Mrs. Bardell on. The whole chapter might have been lifted from the popular theater, from which Dickens drew a great deal of inspiration. Misunderstandings like this are part of an ancient stage tradition and are a prominent part of today's situation comedies. The old bachelor who talks in circumlocutions and the marriage-minded, self-deceiving widow are time-honored figures of farce. The further misunderstandings of Tommy Bardell and Mr. Pickwick's friends compound the original error. Moreover, the chapter title tells us that further complications will result.
But Dickens gives the situation an interesting twist. He does not let us know what Mr. Pickwick has in mind until Mrs. Bardell leaves, so that we, too, suspect he may be proposing to her. Thus we become participants in the misunderstanding.
Dickens then introduces a fresh element into the comedy with Sam Weller. When Mr. Pickwick begins beating about the bush with Sam — the same habit that misled Mrs. Bardell — Sam tells him to come to the point, and their transaction is quickly concluded. Sam will take over the function Blotton had — that of telling the truth; but he will be pleasant and witty about it, revealing the truth by means of apt, impromptu analogies and anecdotes.
Why should Dickens have Mr. Pickwick employ Sam at this point? For one thing, Sam has what Mr. Pickwick lacks: experience of the world. After learning that rascals can flourish, Mr. Pickwick, we assume, realizes that he needs some kind of protection against them. He needs a personal ally in the ensuing adventures, someone who can spot chicanery. Beyond this, Sam will provide a kind of measuring stick against which we can see Mr. Pickwick's personal growth. Sam in his capacity as a servant becomes, as it were, the practical extension of Mr. Pickwick's will. The relationship between the two becomes richer and more intimate as the novel progresses.
By the end of Chapter 12, the mechanics of the plot for the rest of the book have been set in motion.