Hard Times ★★★★½

hardtimes (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Hard Times
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 368
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Louisa and her younger brother Tom have been raised by their father to think only of “facts”. If it can’t be quantified and tabulated on a report, then in the School of Mr Gradgrind, it simply doesn’t exist. A circus girl, Cecilia, comes to their school and her father abandons her. Cecilia is taken on by Mr and Mrs Gradgrind, first as a student and then a servingmaid.

Louisa has turned all of her stunted feelings towards helping her brother, who has been employed by a friend of his father, a Josiah Bounderby. Bounderby is a self-made man who dragged himself up from the gutters after his mother abandoned him and has become one of the most successful businessmen in the town. He also is the kind of man who is always telling everyone how he dragged himself up by his bootstraps. He has watched Louisa grow up and likes the idea of a wife who is only concerned with facts. He proposes marriage and her father asks her. She realizes it will help her brother and so says “why not”.

We also meet a working man by the name of Stephen Blackpool. He married unwisely years ago and his wife has destroyed their life with her drinking. She now wanders the countryside prostituting herself out for money for more drink. Stephen asks Bounderby, who owns the company that he works for, if there is any way he could get a divorce, since he has heard of such things happening for rich folk. Bounderby replies in his usual bombastic tone and tells the man to get out of his sight. The men of the company are trying to unionize and Blackpool doesn’t agree with it. As such, he is kicked out of the social sphere and ostracized. Between that and the antipathy of his employer, he is forced to leave the town and seek work elsewhere. Right before he leaves though, he is accosted by Tom Gradgrind who asks him to hang around the bank where Tom works each evening, just in case Tom wants to send some messages. No messages are sent and Blackpool leaves the town.

Tom has been living beyond his means and gambling away what he has earned, as once he was released from his father’s school of thought he went in the exact opposite direction. He comes into contact with James Harthouse, a rich younger son who is “trying out” being a businessman. James meets Louisa and begins trying to seduce her, just for a lark and because he hates Bounderby. He also leads on Tom in his extravagant lifestyle. This leads Tom to robbing the bank he works for and that Bounderby runs. He implicates Stephen Blackpool who isn’t around to clear his name.

Eventually Harthouse asks Louisa to have an affair with him and meet him. She agrees but only to get rid of him, as her husband Bounderby pretty much leaves her to her own devices, and runs off to her father for protection. Mr Gradgrind is stunned by the news and by Louisa’s revelation that she wants love as much as “facts”.

On top of this news Stephen Blackpool is found dying in a pit and he reveals that Tom Gradgrind asked him to visit the bank before Stephen left town. Tom hoofs it with Cecilia’s help and takes cover at the circus she used to work for. Mr Gradgrind and Louisa meet Cecilia there and plan to smuggle Tom to the Continent (Africa) or South America so he can escape justice. He is found out but the circus people help out the Gradgrinds because they took Cecilia in.

Tom escapes, Louisa lives with her father and mother until her death, Bounderby is revealed as a fraud when his mother comes forth and shows she is the sweetest and most loving woman alive and only Cecilia lives happily ever after.

 

My Thoughts:

This was one of Dickens’ shorter books and as such his characters and situations weren’t quite as fleshed out as I’m used to but I still found this eminently enjoyable. The only downside was Stephen Blackpool when he talked. Dickens used some sort of “working man slang” that made it almost impossible to figure out what he was actually saying. That is the only bad thing I can say about this book.

It is very obvious that Dickens is writing a “message” book here, what with the over the top “Just the fact’s, ma’am” school by Mr Gradgrind and how it ruins Louisa’s life. In many ways it reminded me of those Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories, which are Christian morality stories at their most stark. By the by, Arthur Maxwell was a 7th Day Adventist. Fun fact for the day. Anyway. Thankfully, Dickens makes it clear where he falls on the “Just the Facts” debates but it never felt like he was preaching to me like a pigheaded Social Justice Warrior. That is because Dickens had class, talent, skill and he was willing to create something, not just tear something else down.

This is my 3rd time reading this and I really debated about giving it 5 stars. In many ways it deserves 5stars, as not only have I now read it 3 times but I already plan on re-reading it again in the future when I read all of Dicken’s stuff again. Not only has it stood the test of time, it has stood the test of Bookstooge. Dickens can rest easy, as there will be no grave desecration and “Unholy” water in his future. However, the dialect of Blackpool was a real stumbling block to me and I skipped almost all of his dying speech. So that is why I really like this book but can’t give it 5stars.

★★★★½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Advertisements

Oliver Twist ★★★★☆

olivertwist (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Oliver Twist
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 508
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Oliver Twist is born in a work house to a single mother who immediately expires. He grows up with other workhouse orphans and when he reaches the age of 8 or 9, is apprenticed out. The authority’s at the workhouse try to pawn him off onto a chimney cleaner, who has gone through several apprentices. Oliver is scared of the man and begs the civil magistrate to not make him go with him. This puts the workhouse Authorities in a bad light and they hold a grudge against Oliver for the rest of the book.

Eventually he is apprenticed to a coffin maker and funeral director. He is liked by the man and treated well, but the other apprentice and the wife both turn against Oliver and make his life miserable. The older apprentice makes some disparaging remarks about Oliver’s mother and Oliver attacks him. He is locked in a room and the workhouse Authorities sent for. The wife and apprentice spin a tale about Oliver trying to kill them and the coffin maker has no choice but to believe their story. Oliver is locked up for a week. This decides him on running away to London.

On his way to London he meets up with a boy named Jack Dawkins, or the Artful Dodger. Artful hooks Oliver up with food and shelter and introduces to him to Fagin, a jew of apparent ill-repute. It becomes apparent to Oliver that he has fallen in with thieves and during one caper is mistaken for a thief himself. This puts him in the way of Mr. Brownlow.

Mr Brownlow takes pity on Oliver and takes him into his house. He begins to educate him and bring him back to full health. Fagin, however, knows something about Oliver and won’t let him go. He sends his minions all over London searching for him and eventually a bullish brute named Sikes and his woman Nancy find Oliver. They kidnap him off the streets by pretending he is a runaway. Fagin begins working on corrupting Oliver so as to make him a common thief like his other kids.

Oliver is sent on a job with Bill Sikes and another man to rob a house filled with silver plate. Oliver intends to give the alarm once he is in the house but is shot by the butler instead. Sikes grabs him and all 3 make their getaway. Oliver is left to fend for himself in a ditch and returns to the house next morning seeking aid. He is presumed dead by Sikes.

Oliver tells his tale and Mrs Maylie and her adopted niece take pity on him. He has a long recovery time and once better they contact Mr Brownlow. Unfortunately, he has left for India and no one knows when he will be back.

During all of this Fagin has been in communication with a fellow named Monks and rages against Sikes losing Oliver. Lots of drama ensues and Sikes ends up killing his lover Nancy and goes on the run. Fagin and Monks are confronted by Mr Brownlow and it turns out that Monks is Oliver’s older half-brother and that Oliver is supposed to inherit everything. Oliver and Monks split the inheritance, Monks heads off to the new world and Fagin and his crew are all chased down. Sikes ends up hanging himself while attempting escape and Fagin is hung in Newgate, the Old Bailey, where ever it is that criminals are hung.

Mrs Maylie’s adopted niece turns out to be Oliver’s aunt and she marries Mrs Maylie’s only son. All the good people live happily ever after, the bad are killed and the in-between either reform or become very bad people and meet a just end.

 

My Thoughts:

This was a good Dickens book but by no means could I rank it as a favorite. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a starting place.

For whatever reason, the “serial”ness of this story really hit me. In the books I’ve read so far I’ve not noticed that even though they too were all written serially. I can’t point to anything that caused that notice but the more I read the more irritated (not really the right word, but that’s the best approximation I can think of right now) I became. But really, that’s about the only complaint I have about the book.

Well, I have to admit I didn’t understand why Bill Sikes was so freaked out, and everybody else, by his murdering Nancy. Didn’t murder go on all the time? So why would the populace be in such an uproar about it, especially for a whore? It would be nice to know murder statistics for London at that time as say opposed to now. I don’t care enough to go do “research” though. * shivers *

Whenever Dickens uses a child as a main character, they tend to be rather passive in the story. Everybody else around them is doing everything and makes the story. Oliver was no Little Nell (from The Old Curiosity Shop) but he was not kicking ass and taking names. Pretty much he just recovered from being starved, shot, kidnapped, being sick, etc. He was the center spoke about which the whole wheel of the story revolved.

In his introduction Dickens states that he set out to show that the criminal element were not the jolly swags portrayed in some stories. He was afraid of evil being shown as wonderful and nifty and enticing the young people into a life of sordid squalor and death. Huh, evil being portrayed as good, sounds familiar doesn’t it? Some things really don’t change. Dickens does a fantastic job of showing just how vile the life of crime is. Between the cringing of Fagin to the bombastically violent Sikes, you see that crime isn’t being Robin Hood and His Merry Band, not even close.

I also simply love Dickens’ writing. You can tell he is being paid by the word, as some of his sentences, when boiled down, say something like “And the sun was shining” but he’ll end up using several comma separated thoughts with an semi-colon to string things along. Normally that kind of padding bothers me and in other books I’ll excoriate the writer to within an inch of their life, but when it comes to Dickens I’m not just ok with it, but I LIKE it. Weird, isn’t it?

Man, this review has gone on way longer than I thought. So, I really enjoyed this book with a few caveats. Start somewhere else with Dickens and work your way towards this.

★★★★☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

The Old Curiosity Shop ★★★★☆

oldcuriosityshop (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Old Curiosity Shop
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 632
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Little Nell’s Grandfather runs a Curiosity Shop and everyone, including her older brother and a money lending dwarf, think he is rich as Croessus. Unfortunately, he’s also a secret gambler and ends up spending every penny they have on gaming, trying to win big so Nell can live in luxury for the rest of her life.

The help, a young man by the name of Kit, is dismissed, the brother plots to marry Nell to his friend because he is still convinced the Grandfather is rich (just miserly) and the dwarf causes trouble because of his evil nature.

Nell and Grandfather take to the road and meet various characters, some good, some bad and are saved from privation and death by working at a little church in some tiny town. The Grandfather’s younger brother returns from faraway parts, very well off and begins searching for his brother and Grand-niece.

The dwarf plots rot and ruin for everyone and Kit finds a kindly couple to work for and settles down pretty well. Everyone caroms off of each other and does the thing called life and at the end Nell dies, Kit marries happily, Nell’s brother is killed in France by bad company and the dwarf drowns and his poor wife finally marries happily.

 

My Thoughts:

This felt like Dickens used Nell as the white ball in a game of billiards. It is the focus of each player but what it does is defined by how it interacts with all the other billiards. Nobody cares about the white ball very much. In the same way Nell ‘s importance to this story was more how she drove interactions with the other characters.

I liked all the various stories. They were great Dickens’ stories but the ties that bound everything together felt a bit weak. I almost wished that there had been more of the Marchioness (another young girl who ends up marrying and helping reform another side character) and not so much Nell. Nell was not a strong person and as such didn’t have the personality to drive this story forward.

Don’t get me wrong, this was still a good, fun, interesting story. But it didn’t have quite that “pop” that I found in some of my other reads by Dickens. Could also be that coming after the Pickwick Papers didn’t do this any favors for me either.

Overall, I enjoyed this but didn’t find much to say about it and nothing made me sit up and go “Awesomesauce”. Definitely on the lower end of the Dickens Ladder.

★★★★☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

The Pickwick Papers ★★★★★★

pickwickpapers (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Pickwick Papers
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 6 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 943
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Samuel Pickwick, gentleman bachelor and amateur scientist, has formed a small group of like minded men and they all decide to go exploring the Countryside of England to expand their knowledge of their Great Country.

As such, the 4 Gentlemen, Mr Pickwick, Mr Snodgrass, Mr Tuddle and Mr Tuppman, set out to see what they can see. Along the way Mr Pickwick picks up a servant by the name of Sam Weller, the company meets an honorable countryman by the name of Mr Wardle, the 2 younger gentlemen of the group fall in love and marry the niece and daughter of Mr Wardle, Mr Tuppman is disappointed in love with Mr Wardle’s spinster sister Miss Rachel. Mr Pickwick becomes embroiled in breach of promise suit with his landlady due to the machinations of the dastardly duo Dodson & Fogg, attorneys at law and ends up spending 3 months in debtors’ prison for refusing to pay the fine, as it would all go to the lawyers instead of the landlady. Pickwick and Weller have multiple runins with their lowclass counterparts, Jingle and Trotter and are made fools of several times over. Sam Weller’s father comes into the story with his own adventures of his second wife, a widow who owns a tavern and is a strict adherent to the sect of Preacher Stiggleton, who preaches teetotally while cooling drinking pineapple rum punch by the hogshead.

These are but a part of the adventures the Pickwick Club has over the course of 2 years and at the end of the book everything turns out for the best. Marriages and children abound, bad characters reform, love and generosity overcome all hardships and obstacles and Mr Pickwick retires to a city house with Sam and his wife Mary to keep him in order.

 

My Thoughts:

First off, yes, I did give this 6 stars. I know circumstances played a part, ie, several dnf’s had my reading expectations abysmally low. But even without that, this was just a fantastic book.

It started a little rough and in a rather formal vein but that was for the first chapter only. Then it turned into Dickens’ more relatable style. I’m a Dickens’ fan through and through.

This was an interesting little plot-less book. I say little because even though the “official” page count is over 900 pages, when I used Calibre’s page count plugin, this was barely over 600 pages. I suspect the pictures and chapters each had their own breaks which artificially inflated the page count.

I think humor was the most prevalent of the emotions that Dickens was trying to call forth and my goodness, he did a grand job. Sam Weller, Pickwick’s man servant was a font of pugnacious, pugalistic one liners and retorts that had me in stitches. He was also a bit more knowledgeable about the world at large than his master and thus was able to guide him safely through some troubled waters.

Romance, pathos, politics, social justice’ing of the day (Dickens was dead set against the whole idea of Debtors Prison. But to be fair, he actually had solid reasons, not just vapid, idiotic, baseless, pointless and generally useless ideas like the sjw’s of today), hijinks and lots and lots of drinking.

Through it all, Pickwick navigates the adventures as best he can and we can cheer him on, groan with him, laugh with him (and Sam Weller) and generally love every second spent reading this book. I’m also giving this the Best Book of the Year tag.

★★★★★★

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Nicholas Nickleby ★★★★★

nicholasnickleby (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Nicholas Nickleby
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 1029
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Nicholas Nickleby dies of a broken heart after speculating all his families money and losing it. He dies and leaves behind a wife and his young son Nicholas and a younger daugher Kate. He leaves them to the tender mercies of his brother Ralph, a rich money lender.

Ralph sends Nicholas to a school master as an aide with the promise that Ralph will take care of Mrs Nickleby and Kate as long as Nicholas stays the course. Said schoolmaster, one Wackford Squeers, is in cahoots with Ralph on various usurous objectives that Ralph has in mind. Squeers uses and abuses his charges and also gets free labor from a simple minded orphan named Smikes. When Squeers begin to beat Smikes almost to death, Nicholas intervenes even though he knows it means his Uncle Ralph will kick his Mother and sister out onto the streets.

Nicholas and Smikes join an actors troupe to earn a living. Nicholas receives a letter from an employee of his Uncle begging him to come back to London.

During this time, Ralph had used his niece Kate as bate to entice a young lord to get money from him. Kate begs her Uncle to spare her the shame of such a thing but Ralph will not relent. Money is his god.

Nicholas returns to London, defies his Uncle, starts a new job with the Cheeryble brothers. He comes across a beautiful young woman and has to contend with his Uncle and Wackford Squeers trying to kidnap Smikes. Many schemes of Ralph all come together around Nicholas and with the help of various friends, Nicholas overcomes all and sees Ralph ruined.

Nicholas marries the beautiful young lady, Kate marries Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of the Cheeryble brothers and everything works out well for the good guys and the bad guys all get their just desserts, whether prison, murder or exile.

 

My Thoughts:

First, let’s deal with something here. Wackford Squeers. I have been saying that name in dulcet tones for the last 2 weeks. I mean, how PERFECT is that name for a villain? Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers. This could probably have been a 5star book just on the strength of that name alone. Thankfully, the rest of the book carries its weight as well.

The characters, all of them, are fantastic. From youthful, hotheaded and sometimes silly Nicholas to grasping, hate filled Uncle Ralph to poor, pathetic, heart breaking and sympathy inducing Smikes to cruel, petty and cowardly Wackford Squeers. Dickens doesn’t just write ABOUT these characters, he brings them to life, in all their glorious ups and downs. I know that Dickens is shamelessly manipulating me with how he describes poor Smikes but I don’t care because he does it so well. My heart broke for the poor wretch even while I KNEW that Dickens was doing this cold heartedly to bring about just such a reaction from me. And Wackford Squeers, my goodness, such a vile pot of avarice, cowardice and bulliness that I loved to hate him. Plus, singing his name to the tune of ♪Davey,♪ Davey Crockett,♪King of the Wild Frontier♪ fit perfectly and almost had me dancing with glee.

The trials and tribulations of Nicholas, Kate, various other side characters, all tie into a wondrous tapestry that simply enchanted me. Now, this being Dickens, and originally serialized, and Dickens being paid by the word, there were times that I was tempted to skim or let my mind wonder during some of the more descriptive pages or while Mrs Nickleby would wax eloquent about something that nobody cared about, but I overcame and read every word and I must say, I am richer for it. While Dickens isn’t by any means a sparse writer, neither is he a wasteful writer. His descriptions bring the people walking the street alive. His words make the characters as real as real can be. When I was tempted to simply skip anything involving Mrs Nickleby and her pointless reminisces and get annoyed by her, it was what Dickens was aiming for. He wanted a character just like that and he created her from thin air.

While I gave this 5stars back in ’07 and 5 stars again, I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone starting their exploration of Dickens with this or not. First off, it is over 1000pages for the entire novel. Even the broken up edition I read back in ’07 was almost 600 pages for each volume. However, thanks to the likes of Sanderson, Martin and Co, the Mega-Novel (trademark pending) is becoming main stream and the mere size of Dickens might not be quite the impediment it would have been even 20 years ago. The other thing would be this showcases the Victorian ideals to a T(ea) (haha!!!!) and that might be off putting those of modern culture. Nicholas not pursuing Madeline Bray because it wouldn’t be proper as he wasn’t of the same class anymore (she was monied while the Nickleby’s weren’t anymore) and Nicholas persuading his sister Kate to not accept Frank Cheeryble’s proposal (at first) because it wouldn’t look right since Nicholas worked for the Cheeryble Uncles. It is very much outside the egalitarian ideas we carry around today that I can see it turning people away. Now, that being said, anyone who IS turned off from Dickens because of something like that doesn’t deserve to read the Master anyway. So no great loss.

After arguing with myself in the above paragraph, I have realized this book not only gets my unadulterated acclamation, but my highest recommendation AND the first of the year Best Book of the Year tag. I wish I could praise this book more, I really do but this will have to do.

Sincerely,

Bookstooge

 

★★★★★

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

No Thoroughfare ★★★★☆

nothoroughfare (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: No Thoroughfare
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 256
Format: Digital Edition

 

The synopsis will have some real spoilers, so if you think you might ever read this book and don’t want it spoiled, just read the “My Thoughts” portion.

Synopsis: Spoilers

A baby boy is given to an Foundling and in his teen years is adopted by an older lady. She educates him and reveals that she is his birth mother. She sets him on the path of success in the Wine Business and promptly passes away.

Said young man, Walter Wilding, is in poor health and so takes on a partner to help with the business, one George Vendale. Walter also hires a new housekeeper and in the process it is revealed that she was a former nurse at the Foundling. It is also revealed that there were several “Walter Wilding”s and the lady got the wrong one. This distresses young Wilding to no end and he begins to seek out the rightful heir. It also places an incredible stress upon his already weak constitution and he soon passes away. He leaves it to his partner George to find the heir and if he can’t, to take Wilding’s share of the company.

At the same time, George is woo’ing Margeurite Obenreizer, a young swiss woman who is under the guardianship of her half-uncle. During this whole thing, it is revealed by an inquiry of George’s that someone in a high position of trust, has been stealing money from the company that Obenreizer works for.

George ends up taking a hike over the Alps to give his evidence and of course it is Obenreizer, who goes along to try to either steal the evidence or kill George. Margeurite senses something is wrong, follows with the help of faithful retainer of George’s and saves George only to apparently have him die in her arms.

Several months elapse and Obenreizer, now let go from his previous job, is working for a lawyer with the aim of stealing his secrets and using them for personal gain. He learns something about Vendale, who he thinks is dead. Then Margeurite and George spring forth, alive and whole and reveal the treachery of Obenreizer in full. Obenreizer, thinking he is getting revenge, reveals that George Vendale is actually adopted by the Vendales and that he was a foundling. Of course, it turns out that George Vendale was the heir that Walter Wilding was looking for the entire time.

The book ends with Obenreizer dying in an avalanche and George and Margeurite getting married.

 

My Thoughts:

I remembered a few things from my initial read in ’03, but in so many ways it was like reading it for the first time. I enjoyed this a lot.

This was drama of the finest vintage. Orphans and searches for lost heirs and love and evil villains and love triumphant and just desserts. This has it all in spades. And it is short, so anyone who might be intimidated by Dicken’s rather lengthy style won’t be put off. I don’t have anything else to say. I’m tired and worded out.

★★★★☆

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Martin Chuzzlewit ★★★★★

martinchuzzlewit (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Martin Chuzzlewit
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 954
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Martin Chuzzlewit, the Elder, has a falling out with his grandson, Martin Chuzzlewit, the younger. It all centers around the Elder’s ward, Mary Graham. Both men being cut from the same cloth, ie, stubborn, they go their separate ways. The Younger to seek his fortune so as to be able to provide for Mary and the Elder amongst his other relatives to see if any of them are worthy of being his heir.

We meet a veritable cornucopia of people along the way.

Mr Pecksniff, a relative of the Chuzzlewit’s. A more self-righteous, moralizing, hypocritical and thoroughly sleezy character you couldn’t ask for. The Elder goes to live with Pecksniff and his 2 daughters. The Elder allows Pecksniff complete control over him so as to see if there is even one drop of selflessness in him. Also living with Mr. Pecksniff is Tom Pinch, a humble character who believes the best of everyone and while talented, always believes that it is the genius in others that makes his doings so good.

We have another branch of the Chuzzlewit family introduced and the father there dies soon after and the son, Jonas, takes over. Jonas is a mean, grasping, simple, villianous fellow. He marries one of his cousins, Pecksniff’s younger daughter, for her dowry and then gets involved in a huge money scam. It is revealed that Jonas murdered his father so he could inherit and he, Jonas, then murders another fellow who knew of this and was the leader of the money scam. Jonas ends up penniless and commits suicide by poison on the way to jail to avoid the gallows.

The Younger meets up with Mark Tapley, a jolly fellow who believes it is his duty to serve under poor conditions so as to “bear up and be jolly”. Martin and Mark head to American, get boonswaggled into buying a swamp, almost die and then come back to Englad. Martin changes and realizes how selfish he has been and begins working on becoming a better man. Mark realizes that he’s going to be jolly no matter what circumstances he’s under, so he marries the widower of a local inn and decides to be a jolly taproom owner.

Tom Pinch, the assistant to Mr. Pecksniff, has always believed that Pecksniff walked on air. However, when he interrupts Pecksniff’s plans to marry Mary Graham so as to get an even greater grasp on the Elder and to hurt the Younger, Tom has his eyes opened. He is secretly in love with Mary himself but knows she loves the Younger and honors that love. He does what he can to protect Mary and is fired by Pecksniff. He makes his way to London to his sister’s and a friends and begins working as a clerk under mysterious circumstances. The friend, John Westlock, a rich young gentleman, falls in love with Ruth Pinch and by the end of the book they are married and Tom is living with them, bringing kindness and gentleness to all he comes into contact with.

Pecksniff is taken in by the money scam that Jonas is involved in and when the masterminds abscond to America with all the money, Pecksniff’s estates became collateral for all the other people involved. The Elder reveals that he knows of his villianous ways concerning Mary and cuts Pecksniff out of his life for good. Pecksniff ends up a drunken hobo.

The Elder and the Younger are reconciled when both realize what asses they have been. The Younger marries Mary with the Elder’s blessing and they live happily ever after.

 

My Thoughts:

It has been 10 years to the month since I last read Martin Chuzzlewit. So this re-read was definitely due. It was also a complete smashing success. Dickens give full reign to his verbosity but this time around, I was able to appreciate the wordsmithing that took place instead of being annoyed by the windy wordiness. Part of it was that Dickens is making his characters fully fleshed out with the long passages, the little, or not so little, passages of dialogue. He is building these characters from the ground up and much like a real person, they have quirks. Dickens gives us his characters, fully quirked!

While this is entitled Martin Chuzzlewit, I found that Tom Pinch was the real hero of this book. Dickens explores Selfishness through his characters, deliberate or otherwise and Tom Pinch is the antidote to that all. While others are sunk in schemes and plots, Mr Pinch is nothing but kindess and love. He seeks out ways to help anyone who comes across his path and takes upon his own back the rod meant for another. There were times where I wanted to just shout “You GO Tom Pinch!”

The rest of the side characters also made this book what it was. From Bailey the little rascal boy to Mrs. Gamp, to the survivors of Eden (the swamp Martin and Mark go to in America), to the politicians in America. Oh man, Martin’s time in America was great. Dickens doesn’t spare his cousins across the Pond one bit. Caricatured and lampooned, Dickens shows us a land that has not yet gone through the fire of its Civil War and it is not a pretty picture. Money, slander and violence were the watchwords then. Which goes to show that not much has really changed here in 175 years.

Now on to the two Martin’s. None of this story would have happened if either of them weren’t such pigheaded boneheads. Thankfully, Dickens doesn’t make them the main focus of the story even while using them as the skeleton upon which the whole book hangs. The various side characters give us flesh, blood, emotion, etc, making for a pleasant read. If it was just a book about the side characters it would have gone “sploosh!” in a bloody, fluidy mess and if it was just a book about the Martins, it would have been Skeleton War, and honestly, who wants THAT in a Charles Dickens book?

eviz3yi

yeah, yeah, I know. Putting in a gratuitous skeleton war picture in a Charles Dickens review. Shameless!

 

I found that I had to almost literally hold myself back from racing through this. Dickens was a wordsmith and I am finding that the goals in reading something from a wordsmith are different from the goals I have when reading something like Forgotten Realms. When I was in the right mind frame, I enjoyed the long, convoluted passages immensely. It was when I got impatient and tried to hurry things along that I ended up wishing that Dickens hadn’t been quite so verbose. I feel that my time reading this was well spent though and that my time was rewarded with some great storytelling and some really good writing. Reading good writing is one of the best ways to learn how to spot bad writing. I also gave this my coveted “Favorite” tag. Now you know I mean serious business!

To end, this first step along my Dickens re-read path was completely successful. I appreciate his skill even more and I find his stories even more universal in touching upon humanity in all its glories and in all its shame. Bravo Mr Dickens!

★★★★★

bookstooge