Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.

I started reading The Pickwick Papers way back in March 2016, and just finished it in November 2017, but this long read is NOT because I am a slow reader. I read The Pickwick Papers as part of a 20 month read along, hosted by On Bookes, to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the first publication; it was published serially beginning in March 1836, 2-3 chapters a month, with no installment in May 2017. It was Dickens’ first novel, published under the pseudonym “Boz”.

First, thanks to On Bookes for hosting this unusual and fun read along. I am happy I stuck with it to the end. On Bookes researched and posted bits of trivia regarding what was going on in London as each installment came out – creating the feeling that we were reading it like the original readers. My understanding, that around chapter 10, and the introduction of Mr. Pickwick’s valet Sam Weller, The Pickwick Papers became perhaps the first great publishing phenomenon ever.

The Pickwick Papers is a farcical romp, definitely the most comic of any work by Dickens I’ve read. In short, it is the story of Samuel Pickwick, founder of The Pickwick Club, London 1827. Pickwick is a man with a “gigantic brain” and a passion for science, philosophy, art, and adventure, who according to his own description is “an observer of human nature”.

The Pickwick club, commissions Pickwick and three companions to set out upon a quest of sorts, to pursue adventure and discovery and to record said adventures for posterity. Pickwick’s three companions, Mr. Tracy Tupman, Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr. Nathaniel Winkle are each known for one particular passion which is their unique distinction: Tupman for an admiration for the fair sex, Snodgrass as a poet, and Winkle as a sportsman. These four receive hearty approval and commission from their fellow Pickwickians and set out in pursuit of the greater glory of The Pickwick Club.

The Pickwickians are all very decent chaps at heart, but all are a bit bombastic and Dickens delights in bringing them down a notch or two by ironic twists of fate and the clumsy do-goodery of the troop. I’ve alluded to one other principal character, Mr. Sam Weller, Pickwick’s valet. Sam is worldly wise and fiercely loyal to Pickwick and as you might imagine, more than once saves Pickwick and/or colleagues from embarrassing situation.

Of course, all comes right in the end. As Mr. Pickwick settles into a leisurely retirement, Dickens writes:

Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them.

Although I enjoyed the read along format, this is not my favorite Dickens, though I have only read, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and The Cricket on the Hearth. Not my favorite, but I can see how the serialization, and the resulting cliff-hangers would have created excitement and anticipation. There were a few months, when after finishing the allotted installment, I was tempted to read ahead. I never did though…Honest!

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

Trivia – near the beginning of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the March girls are acting out scenes from The Pickwick Papers.

This book was not part of my 100 Greatest Novels Quest.

Monthly reviews from the read along 


  1. I have never read any Victorian novel in that way, though I have been tempted. I know that other blogs/vlogs have done similarly with Middlemarch, Our Mutual Friend, etc.

    If you were itching to read ahead occasionally, just think how the reader in 1837 may have felt!

    I love Dickens and what I think I liked best about this book is how it showed the reader "future" Dickens in that there are bits and pieces in Pickwick that are further expounded upon in later novels.

    1. Yes, I'm sure, and I've read, the readers were clamoring for the next edition. One thing that stood out to me as very Dickenesque was when the narrator (Dickens of course) would offer some commentary just dripping with sarcasm.

  2. Of all the Dickens I have not read, this is the one I am most looking forward to. Partly because it's in Little Women and partly because it sounds funny. And partly because so many people tell me I would like it. I will get to it eventually!

  3. I envy you for reading Pickwick Papers strictly to the publication date! I have joined the challenge last year, but something happened that I needed to read something funny and witty (and I just could not put this book down). So... I have read it but not as planned. But this is the kind of books that I'd love to reread someday, maybe then I'd do the challenge myself. :)
    Good job for you, Joseph, congrats!

  4. I am ashamed to admit that I have yet to read Dickens. I wanted to start with Bleak House, but how fun this must have been to participate in this readalong, and as you mentioned, similar to how the original readers would have engaged in it. I have missed out!


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