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Title: Martin Chuzzlewit
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
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.
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?
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!