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November Week 3

Teen Reader

The Pickwick Papers


The Pickwick Papers (1837)

Text version of The Pickwick Papers

Audio version of The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (born February 7, 1812, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England—died June 9, 1870, Gad’s Hill, near Chatham, Kent) English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian era. His many volumes include such works as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend.

Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity during his lifetime than had any previous author. Much in his work could appeal to the simple and the sophisticated, to the poor and to the queen, and technological developments as well as the qualities of his work enabled his fame to spread worldwide very quickly. His long career saw fluctuations in the reception and sales of individual novels, but none of them was negligible or uncharacteristic or disregarded, and, though he is now admired for aspects and phases of his work that were given less weight by his contemporaries, his popularity has never ceased. The most abundantly comic of English authors, he was much more than a great entertainer. The range, compassion, and intelligence of his apprehension of his society and its shortcomings enriched his novels and made him both one of the great forces in 19th-century literature and an influential spokesman of the conscience of his age. (


The Pickwick Papers Analysis

The Pickwick Papers was Charles Dickens' first novel, which he published in 1836. Dickens is one of the most prolific writers to come out of the Victorian Era, the time in British history which spanned 1820-1914. The Victorian Era is named in relation to its influence from Queen Victoria (1837-1901) who brought a period of great industrial, educational, and social advances. Although this was a time of much growth for Britain, it came with high consequences, which Dickens commonly wrote about.

Dickens' Pickwick Papers is a picaresque novel, a genre which tells the adventures of a lower-class main character who, despite the corruption and cruelty of society, becomes a hero. The Pickwick Papers follows the Pickwickians on their adventure throughout Britain. These characters portray goodness in human nature and offer a striking contrast to the falsities they encounter.

The Pickwick Papers offers a view into Dickens' growth as an author. His future works become darker, oftentimes using innocent characters beat down by a corrupt society to portray the horrors of Victorian England. As his first novel, Pickwick Papers uses a friendlier narration and focuses more on the pleasurable, fun parts of life. Instead of focusing on the dismal parts of Victorian England, he contrasts these with the joyful aspects of life.


The Pickwick Papers Discussion Questions

The Pickwick Papers starts out as a series of unconnected travel stories relating to a social club involving Mr. Pickwick, Tracy Tupman, Nathaniel Winkle and Augustus Snodgrass. The plot doesn’t develop until Mr. Pickwick meets Sam Weller, and then revolves around a series of travels, romances and situations which involve Mr. Pickwick and his friends. Do you think the plot is sufficiently developed in the book, or does it seem to be a series of loosely-related incidents?

Sam Weller is often viewed as the hero of the story. Do you believe that Sam or Mr. Pickwick is the hero of the story? Please provide details from the text to support your position.

During the early nineteenth century, class distinctions were important in England. Dickens portrays various classes of people in the story, and mixes them up in the narrative. Do you get a sense of the class distinctions that were prevalent in England at the time from reading the Pickwick Paper? Is Dickens intentionally mixing in these characters to show that the prevailing class distinctions were irrelevant?

Throughout the narrative, Dickens uses a series of tales (“The Stroller’s Tale,” “The Convict’s Return,” “A Madman’s Manuscript,” etc.) as breaks from the plot. Are these tales merely breaks in the plot, or do they relate to other events in the narrative? Do the tales help or impede the flow of the main plot (if there is one) in the novel?

As a child, Dickens’s family was sent to the Marshalsea debtor’s prison, a circumstance which plagued Dickens for the remainder of his life. In the Pickwick Papers, Mr. Pickwick is sent to the Fleet Street Debtor’s Prison, where he attempts to relieve the suffering of the prisoners. Are Pickwick’s efforts at the prisoner believable? Does Pickwick, in some way, reflect Dickens’s life?

In the Preface to the Cheap First Edition, Dickens mentions that the debtor’s prisons were reformed, and the Fleet Street Prison closed. Was Pickwick in some way responsible for these reforms?

(Questions from


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