The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club is a humorous and satirical novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a serial, The Pickwick Papers features a collection of adventures around England. A wealthy gentleman named Samuel Pickwick proposes to his Pickwick Club that the members travel away from London and return to tell of their travels. The adventures consist of humorous adventures, comedies of misunderstanding and satirical caricatures of the members and English country life.
Written for publication as a serial, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely related adventures. The action is given as occurring 1827–8, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms. It has been stated that Dickens satirized the case of George Norton suing Lord Melbourne in The Pickwick Papers. The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief theme of the novel. A distinctive and valuable feature of the work is the generally accurate description of the old coaching inns of England. (One of the main families running the Bristol to Bath coaches at the time was started by Eleazer Pickwick).
Its main literary value and appeal is formed by its numerous memorable characters. Each character in The Pickwick Papers , as in many other Dickens novels, is drawn comically, often with exaggerated personality traits. Alfred Jingle, who joins the cast in chapter two, provides an aura of comic villainy, with his devious tricks repeatedly landing the Pickwickians into trouble. These include a nearly successful attempted elopement with the spinster Rachael Wardle of Dingley Dell manor, misadventures with Dr Slammer, and others.
Further humour is provided when the comic cockney Sam Weller makes his advent in chapter 10 of the novel. First seen working at the White Hart Inn in The Borough, Weller is taken on by Mr Pickwick as a personal servant and companion on his travels and provides his own oblique ongoing narrative on the proceedings. The relationship between the idealistic and unworldly Pickwick and the astute cockney Weller has been likened to that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Through humor Dickens is able to capture quintessential aspects of English life in the mid-nineteenth century that a more sober approach would miss. Perhaps the popularity of this novel was due in part to the fact that the readers of the time were able to truly see themselves, and could accept themselves because of Dickens's skillful use of humor.
Other notable adventures include Mr Pickwick's attempts to defend a lawsuit brought by his landlady, Mrs Bardell, who (through an apparent misunderstanding on her part) is suing him for breach of promise. Another is Mr Pickwick's incarceration at Fleet Prison for his stubborn refusal to pay the compensation to her— because he doesn't want to give a penny to Mrs Bardell's lawyers, the unscrupulous firm of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg. The generally humorous tone is here briefly replaced by biting social satire (including satire of the legal establishment). This foreshadows major themes in Dickens's later books.
Mr Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Weller Senior also appear in Dickens's serial, Master Humphrey's Clock .