Summary and Analysis
One evening in January, Dodson and Fogg's clerk, Mr. Jackson, barges into Mr. Pickwick's hotel room, tells him the trial will be held on February 14, and serves Tupman, Snodgrass, Winkle, and Sam with subpoenas to appear as witnesses for Mrs. Bardell. Mr. Pickwick then goes to see his lawyer, Mr. Perker, and learns that his case is doubtful. Pickwick insists on seeing his courtroom attorney, Serjeant Snubbin, a disorderly, untidy man with a big reputation. Mr. Pickwick insists he is innocent of the charge but receives little reassurance from Perker, Snubbin, or Mr. Phunky, who is Snubbin's nervous, self-effacing assistant in the case.
Living in a dismal, impoverished neighborhood, Bob Sawyer is harangued by his vituperative landlady, Mrs. Raddle, because he cannot pay the rent. The Pickwickians arrive at his party, to which a number of medical students have been invited. One named Jack Hopkins relates some lugubrious anecdotes about medical curiosities. The party is a disaster. An angry dispute arises at cards. The dinner is a failure. Sawyer cannot obtain hot water to make drinks. A long, tedious story is told in which the point has been forgotten. Two men are ready to duel. There is no harmony to the singing. And Mrs. Raddle enters the room screaming, which puts an end to the party.
On February 13, Sam Weller writes a valentine to Mary the housemaid, which dismays his father, who thinks Sam should avoid women. Sam is deterred and signs the valentine, "Your love-sick Pickwick." Mr. Weller also thinks that Mr. Pickwick needs an alibi. Tony then invites Sam to a temperance meeting. After much tea is consumed, and after absurd testimonials to the harmfulness of liquor and an equally absurd song, Stiggins enters, drunk and belligerent. He starts fighting and throws the meeting into an uproar. The lights go out and Mr. Weller lands some punches on Stiggins. Sam has to grab his father and the pair make a quick getaway.
In these chapters several subjects are treated satirically: the legal and medical professions, aggressive middle-aged women, valentines, and temperance organizations.
Dickens' most serious attack is against the legal profession, which he knew a good deal about. He shows the squalor of its quarters and its practitioners, the callousness of Perker's clerk in shooing away a ragged man, the appreciation Perker has for questionable legal tricks, the extortion practiced by Serjeant Snubbin's well-dressed secretary, Snubbin's habit of obtaining a fee before he does anything, and the general attitude of the profession that law is a game which has nothing to do with morality. The law, in effect, is a machine for putting money into lawyers' pockets.
Dickens pokes fun at the medical profession by depicting the hard-living milieu of medical students, who have no interest in curing people. They respect surgeons like Dr. Slasher, who cuts off a boy's leg as a remedy for a stomachache. Doctors seem motivated by sadism and an interest in medical curiosities. Dickens may be wide of the mark in this, but the episode of Bob Sawyer's party is good fun.
Mrs. Raddle is another of the comic, formidable middle-aged women in this book, but she is more hysterical and more aggressive than the others — a real fighter. Her angry calls to her husband, trying to get him to assist her in throwing out the medical students, are a pretext for demeaning his masculinity. She needs no help and she knows it, but she enjoys the pretense of exasperated helplessness. It is her only connection to femininity.
Sam Weller reminds the reader that the date of Mr. Pickwick's trial is Valentine's Day, the irony being that the trial is for breach of promise. His own valentine to Mary is a comic masterpiece. The crowning touch is the signature, as if to embroil Mr. Pickwick in more difficulties. The scene in which Sam reads the letter to his father is remarkably charming.
The temperance meeting is broad farce with a satirical intent. Dickens hated sanctimonious Puritanism all his life and enjoyed making fun of it. The humor of the meeting rests in its incongruities. Sam and Tony Weller have had plenty to drink before they go. The audience drinks large amounts of tea, which acts as a stimulant. The speakers are pious frauds. The testimonials are of dubious value. The song is a mildly bawdy ditty that everyone misunderstands. Stiggins comes in drunk as a lord, and fat old Tony Weller dances around Stiggins while pummeling him. It seems as if valentines can lead to the bizarre marital difficulties of middle age, at least in Dickens' imagination. Perhaps Dickens uses a sugary tone in depicting young love to balance the souring comedy of marriage.