At the center of Martin Chuzzlewit is Martin himself, very old, very rich, very much on his guard. What he suspects (with good reason) is that every one of his close and distant relations, now converging in droves on the country inn where they believe he is dying, will stop at nothing to become the inheritor of his great fortune. Having unjustly disinherited his grandson, young Martin, the old fellow now trusts no one but Mary Graham, the pretty girl hired as his companion. Though she has been made to understand she will not inherit a penny, she remains old Chuzzlewit's only ally. As the viperish relations and hangers-on close in on him, we meet some of Dickens's most marvelous characters - among them Mr. Pecksniff (whose name has entered the language as a synonym for ultimate hypocrisy and self-importance): the fabulously evil Jonas Chuzzlewit: the strutting reptile Tigg Montague: and the ridiculous, terrible, comical Sairey Gamp.
Yes, I'd had it with ole "Sairey" Gamp, who seemed to have no purpose in Dicken's universe, except to annoy the hell out of me with her quaint dialect stylings and her bottle on the mantelpiece when she was so "dispoged". Not to mention how she precipitated a debilitating series of Robin-Williams-in-Doubtfire-drag flashbacks.
And those Pecksniff hoes, Cherry and Merry? Like any time I want more of that action, there's a thousand starlet wannabe's on Youtube looking sideways at a web cam, mis-accenting their dialogue and raising their eyebrows like they all suffer from the same bizarre tic doloureux. Enuff a dat, thank you very much.
I did enjoy Martin Jr. and Mark Tapley, when - to hum a bit of Paul Simon - they "walked off to look for America." Dickens riff list of New York City newspapers was genius "The Sewer, The Stabber, The Family Spy, The Private Listener, The Peeper, The Plunderer, The Keyhole Reporter, and The Rowdy Journal." Indeed, what with wire photos, colored printing, the Internet , it's nice to see that a century of technological change hasn't really spoiled the industry, eh wot?
I found myself comparing Chuzzlewit to Our Mutual Friend. Both novels contained a universe of characters. In both, the ecology - the way they fed and fed on one another - was similarly complex. Both used major plot twists. But Our Mutual Friend has a much better flow (no pun about the Thames intended). And equivalent characters are much more interesting in Our Mutual Friend. Little Jenny Wren, for example, steals the show very much like Gamp does in Chuzzlewit, and has a role of equal proportion, but I think she's far more interesting and funny.
Bottom line - two things - first, if you're thinking of broadening your reading of Dickens, choose Our Mutual Friend over Martin Chuzzlewit; second, Chuzzlewit doesn't have much forward motion, so focus on enjoying the eccentricities of the characters rather than expecting much from the plot.
Usually the best 5 are the following group:
A Tale of Two Cities
A Christmas Carol
The Pickwick Papers.
I can see why some of those other books might be more famous. Until a wave of mini-series dramatizations gathered momentum in recent years, maybe the only way to see Dickens on the screen for many audiences (certainly the audience that I formed a part of) was to go to a movie theatre, or wait for a movie to be broadcast on television. All that has changed.
If I am not mistaken, this is one of the books that became a mini-series or a movie or both, I am not sure which.
But back to the point I started out with, I want to find out answers to the question, is this book of any lesser quality than any other Dickens books, especially the five mentioned above?
I know one man who would cycle through all the Dickens novels in a big loop. I do not know what order he did them in, or if it was a different order every time, or how long it took him each time to go through them. All I know is that he would read through every single book of Dickens before starting all over again. I think that really says something about the consistent quality of all the books, as well as the ability of Dickens to inspire intense loyalty for a lifetime in many of his readers.
The section about the journey to The United States in Martin Chuzzlewitt was quite surprising to me. Not that it should be. It is just that I mostly assume all journeys of characters across the Atlantic to be by those from Henry James novels, and going the other direction. Of course most trips, apart from emigration, are return trips, and so I will just say that the second half of Henry James novels would be in the opposite direction too.
But I guess I should go back and do a survey of how many European characters in Henry James novels go to America and then come back. The imbalance that I have guessed at may actually not exist.
So, I ask all other LibraryThing readers of Martin Chuzzlewitt; is it just as good as all of the other Dickens books; or an alternate question, what is the best Dickens book?
We'll dock a couple of points for the American sequences, which have a reasonable level of thematic resonance but are clearly filler, but this is a new, more "novelistic" side of Dickens that can't be ignored. I certainly think more people should be reading Martin Chuzzlewit when they feel like a taste of Dickens.
I think my favorite character was Mrs Gamp--widow, midwife, overnight nurse, and nurse to the elderly or injured--just an older woman trying to make her way in mid-19th-century London. Mark Tapley was a little TOO jolly for my taste, the Pecksniffs (all) just annoying (as intended, I believe), Martin the elder is perhaps meant to be the favorite--or maybe Martin the younger. Not Jonas, nor Anthony, nor Tigg/Montague--obviously.
I actually enjoyed the American interlude. No, it didn't really fit, but Dickens completely nailed many points of American history at that time (swindling, boomtowns and made-to-order "boom" towns, etc etc).
But, I am glad to be done.
This is my sixth Dickens novel and they all take forever to read, at this point I have probably spent more time reading Dickens than any other novelist. The more I read the more I respect and enjoy, there is not a page that doesn't have an amazing passage, very often I find myself reading it aloud, acting out the scene and characters (something Dickens himself sometimes did while writing). There is a sense of the unlimited, of imagination unbounded - it's the same feeling I had when younger playing D&D or reading Lord of the Rings, a rich tapestry world with no end of possibility. His descriptions and choice of words are truly unique. Even if the plot is circumstantial and old-fashioned, Dickens can be read for his aesthetic and artistic beauty alone. The more immersed in Dickens one becomes, the more impressed upon the 19th century mind-set, emotions, way of thinking - a sense of the emotional, feeling, that no history book could portray.
I can't agree with Mr. Chesterton that it's rife with melancholy. In fact, while I didn't expect another Dickens novel to rival The Pickwick Papers for humour, this one stands in the running albeit with a nastier streak. The sarcasm and satire dials are turned up to 11, especially where Mr. Pecksniff is concerned. This is also the infamous novel in which Dickens goes America-bashing, following upon his tour of that country, which holds its own kind of fascination. I was most taken up when reading about Pecksniff since the novel feels devoted to showcasing him. Some of the minor characters - Jonas, Gamp, etc. - I was less keen on having to spend chapters with, but eventually these pay a dividend. Martin Jr. has an arc to his character that eventually does make him likeable if you can wait for it.
I read each chapter in the spirit of sharing Dickens' having fun with his characters rather than worrying where his plot was going. Like the novels that preceded, it's not terribly focussed. He was becoming more sensitive to this critique, to judge from his introduction, and apparently with his next (Dombey and Son) he finally began to get a handle on it. This won't be my favourite of his but neither would I rate it his worst, and even Dickens at his worst is not a very bad thing.
The characters in the book were incredibly rich, but many of them were completely unlikeable. The entire Pecksniff family, father and daughters alike, were despicable. The duplicitous nature of Seth Pecksniff made me ill each time he entered the scene. His blatant hypocrisy and pandering in the hopes of increasing his wealth and social standing was nauseating. While the daughters may have received unfair treatment by other characters, the manner in which they treated Pinch more than warranted the karmic payback. Jonas Chuzzlewit, a swindler and wife beater, at least received his due in the end.
Sending a few of the characters off to America to try to make a fresh start was a bit confusing. It didn’t further the story and really only provided the author with a means at taking pot shots at the “U-nited States.” He made the entire country out to be a savage, disease infested wilderness run by a bunch of con-men. The characters’ survival of their time in Eden, however, did help forge their bonds through the remainder of the story.
One main theme in the story, found in much of Dicken’s writing, is a commentary on class distinction. While Pinch was a surveyor and civil engineer, trades that are considered to be respectable today, he was always treated as a second class citizen by the Pecksniffs; often to the point of appearing to be no more than a lap dog. However, his higher caliber of character raises him in the end.
The entire Pecksniff-Chuzzlewit clan could justify any means of advancing their standing. From their poor treatment of others, swindling through Ponzi schemes and even murder, nothing was beneath them and everything was rationalized to be morally acceptable. Their self righteous attitudes towards their foul deeds made them all the more corrupt.
In retrospect, I think my difficulties may have roots in the fact that I simply didn’t like the people about which I was reading. The story was secondary to the characters and their moral defects.
Maybe I'm just suffering from reading too much Dickens in a short stretch of time, having read Dombey and Son, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities (audiobook), A Christmas Carol, several other short stories and poems, in addition to this book, in the past 35 days.
The book was written after Dickens' first trip to the USA and he is humourously critical of much of the pretension he found there. He must have lost audience support in the US as a result, because the edition I read had a postscript, written around the time of his second visit 20 years later, stating how much the place has improved! Dickens' takes a progressive position on slavery and excoriates the practice in the US. He also paints an interesting picture of the gentleman, young Martin Chuzzlewit, learning how to live a better life from his servant, Mark Tapley - not a common position for an author to take in this era.
A long book, at 786 pages, but as usual, I found myself drawn in to a real page turner in the last third of the work. Read February 2012.
And the novel is everything that I have come to expect of Dickens. Plenty of memorable characters and scenes and a plot full of unexpectedly and unbelievable coincidences. You just have to suspend your modern cynicism and go with it - when you do, it’s incredibly satisfying. Every character, no matter how insignificant, gets their just desserts at the end.
This is also the novel where Dickens turns his satirical eye on the United States, since two of the characters immigrate in quest of their fortune, and are horribly disappointed. In the appendix, there is actually a postscript where Dickens attempts to make amends.
So heft a copy of this 800 page tome and give it a read - you won’t be disappointed.
I read some Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck and Hemingway with mixed success before reading Great Expectations. I liked it enough to read David Copperfield, and I was hooked. A Tale of Two Cities followed and then Oliver Twist (not my favorite), Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby before taking on this lengthy novel.
Martin Chuzzlewit takes its name not from one, but two characters in the novel, a very wealthy, old gentleman and his grandson. While there are numerous story threads involved in the work, the overarching theme involves the ultimate disposition of the elder Chuzzlewit’s substantial fortune, the characters maneuvering for a piece of it and those on the periphery.
As in almost all Dickens’s work, the beauty of the novel lies in the original and classic characters created therein. Heretofore, I had heard people referred to as “pecksniffs” without any understanding of the meaning (aside from context) or the source of the reference. Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters are central characters in this novel. The story was penned shortly after Dickens returned from a tour of the United States and that country does not show well in the younger Martin’s experiences there.
Having read several Dickens works prior to this one, I was aware that a period of acclimation is required before becoming comfortable with both the language and the cultural landscape, however the comfort that I eventually attained in the previous novels was more difficult to come by here. To be honest, some of the dialogue, especially that of the old nurse was virtually unintelligible.
Make no mistake, at nearly 900 pages this is a real door stop, with long periods of very slow advancement. Not my favorite of the several Dickens novels I have read, but not the worst.
I am glad to have read this book. I needed to read about Sarah Gamp. Being educated as a nurse with a background of having worked in hospitals, Ms Gamp has always been a stereotype that I’ve encountered but hadn’t read the book. Dickens mentions that she was not atypical of attendants at the time and many hospitals were poor institutes at best.
Dickens never disappoints. It takes awhile to get into the rhythm of his books but they are always good. I have to say, that Sean Barrett did such a wonderful job of reading the story. Every character had their own voices, women were women (some were manly women) and men voices were men's’ voices except for the whiny barber. If willing to read a pdf file, the one listed above is of excellent quality and contains Dickens comments about the American part of the story.
There are many other characters and strands to the story which Dickens ingeniously brings together at the end. For a while I wondered why the novel had the title it did and who Martin and Tom's mysterious benefactors were, but all was made clear in the denouement. The good ended happily and the bad unhappily, although I did feel a twinge for Charity. I can see why the scenes set in America caused a bit of a stir - they are very harsh - but the tone is pretty sarcastic throughout. A very satisfying conclusion.
Martin Chuzzlewit is Charles Dickens' comic masterpiece about which his biographer, Forster, noted that it marked a crucial phase in the author's development as he began to delve deeper into the 'springs of character'.Old Martin Chuzzlewit, tormented by the greed and selfishness of his family, effectively drives his grandson, young Martin, to undertake a voyage to America. It is a voyage which will have crucial consequences not only for young Martin, but also for his grandfather and his grandfather's servant, Mary Graham with whom young Martin is in love. The commercial swindle of the Anglo-Bengalee company and the fraudulent Eden Land Corporation have a topicality in our own time. This strong sub-plot shows evidence of Dickens' mastery of crime where characters such as the criminal Jonas Chuzzlewit, the old nurse Mrs Gamp, and the arch-hypocrite Seth Pecksniff are the equal to any in his other great novels.