Summary and Analysis
The vixenish Mrs. Raddle, her browbeaten husband, and Mrs. Cluppins arrive at Mrs. Bardell's to go for an outing. Mrs. Bardell and her son and her group of friends take the coach to Hampstead, where they take tea. And poor Mr. Raddle is badgered all the way. As they dine, Mr. Jackson of Dodson and Fogg's comes to take Mrs. Bardell back to the city. She, her son, and two friends accompany him back, each ignorant of Mr. Jackson's purpose. He intimates that it has to do with a cognovit that Mrs. Bardell signed after the trial. Much to Mrs. Bardell's humiliation, she is imprisoned in Fleet Prison, where Mr. Pickwick is taking his evening walk. On seeing the woman, Sam Weller has a bright idea and sends Job Trotter to fetch Mr. Perker, the lawyer.
Mr. Perker arrives at the Fleet the next morning and proceeds to argue with Mr. Pickwick about why he should pay. Prison is no place for a woman, and Mrs. Bardell has agreed to forgo damages if Mr. Pick-wick will pay her lawyers' fee. In addition, she has signed a paper saying that Dodson and Fogg egged her on. Besides this, Sam will remain in prison as long as Mr. Pickwick does. So if he chooses not to pay, public opinion will regard his obstinacy as reprehensible. Having set this forth, Mr. Perker is interrupted by Winkle and his new bride, Arabella. After congratulations, the pair ask Mr. Pickwick to break the news to her brother, Ben Allen, and his father, Mr. Winkle. The newlyweds think that Mr. Pickwick can reconcile these relatives to the marriage.
Mr. Pickwick relents and obtains his release and Mrs. Bardell's. He also agrees to see the Winkles' relatives. Sam then obtains his own release, and after a day of celebration Sam and Mr. Pickwick leave the Fleet the next morning.
Mrs. Raddle, who was Bob Sawyer's landlady, appears as Mrs. Bardell's friend in this section. While these two landladies are widely different in temperament, neither of them hesitates to take advantage of a man. Mrs. Raddle uses fainting, nagging, and hysterics to reduce her husband to a state of quaking submission, while Mrs. Bardell uses a lawsuit in the hope of bringing Mr. Pickwick around. We are reminded that Mr. Pickwick is in prison because of Mrs. Bardell.
Mrs. Raddle is the nastiest woman in the novel. Not only does she aggressively strip her husband of his manhood, she allows her friends to do it as well. The point of the visit to Hampstead is that an innocent, peripheral member of the party, Mr. Raddle, is really the center of attention. He is under attack by almost every woman present. It is as if the women are getting even with him because Mr. Pickwick refuses to pay the damages.
The reader gets some humorous satisfaction from the reversal to which Mr. Jackson submits Mrs. Bardell in the company of her friends. He delivers them to the Fleet with all the polite, oily delicacy of a man who wants to avoid a scene. Mrs. Bardell receives a triple measure of poetic justice here. She is sent to prison by the same shysters she used against Mr. Pickwick. She is sent to the very same place. And she must confront the man she has wronged as she enters. We tend to rejoice in her dismay. However, in the very next chapter we are made to feel sorry for her. As Mr. Perker points out, prison will degrade her. She has no way of getting out unless Mr. Pickwick pays her legal fees. Poetic justice comes up against the harsh reality of Fleet Prison and is instantly shown to be no justice at all, unless Mr. Pickwick is willing to show Mrs. Bardell mercy. The way Dickens manipulates this double perspective of poetic justice and the actuality of prison is masterly. The real justice of Mrs. Bardell's situation is that she is now placed at Mr. Pickwick's mercy.
Dickens also shows a double perspective in Mr. Perker's attitudes. From a professional point of view Perker admires the way Dodson and Fogg got Mrs. Bardell to sign a cognovit. But he quickly sees how her imprisonment can be used to get Mr. Pickwick and her out of the Fleet. The law may have corrupted his intellect but it has made no impression on his heart, which is ready to work for good. The law can be a road to perdition, but a decent man like Perker survives the temptations.
Mr. Perker presents the sound, negative reasons for paying Dodson and Fogg: because of the suffering and misunderstanding that refusing to pay will cause. However, Winkle and Arabella present a positive, romantic reason for paying: Mr. Pickwick is the only person they can trust to reconcile their relatives to the marriage. The reader fully expected that Winkle would elope with Arabella, but that this marriage should partly effect Mr. Pickwick's release is unexpected. As a result, the reader tends to delight in the marriage, just as Perker and the Pickwickians do. Dickens practically makes us feel like a member of the party.
Having learned forgiveness and charity toward the people who have wronged him, and having plumbed the depths of friendship, it is entirely appropriate that Mr. Pickwick should undertake a mission in the service of true love.
Mr. Pickwick spends as much time in prison as Dickens' father spent when Dickens was twelve — that is, about three months. Dickens, of course, has been reworking that childhood calamity in his novel. Sam Weller is Dickens as he would like to have been during that time: self-reliant, witty, cheerful, experienced, able to handle himself in any situation. And Mr. Pickwick is what Dickens wished his father could have been: protective, affluent, responsible, unselfish. Dickens idealized his relationship with his father in Pickwick Papers, but his mother reappears in many guises as the threatening middle-aged woman. Dickens never forgave his mother for wanting to send him back to the blacking factory after he had been taken out. While these psychological pressures are behind the novel, Dickens' writing ability alone transformed his fantasies into a towering art.