Pickwick Papers: ‘Vidth and Visdom’

  • Juliet McMaster
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Victorian Literature book series (MSVL)


‘Old Pickwick is the Quixote of commonplace life, and as with the Don, we begin by laughing at him and end by loving him’, Washington Irving wrote warmly to Dickens in 1841.1 The familiar comparison of Pickwick with Don Quixote began with the earliest reviews,2 and hasn’t stopped yet. Pickwick and the Don are both middle-aged innocents, idealists who go forth to encounter the stubborn stuff of the fallen world, accompanied by their faithful realist servants. There are differences between them, but of course the major one, and that which gives the necessary spice to all the analogies, is that where the Don is memorably and forever thin, Pickwick is fat.3


Prussic Acid Female Heart Habeas Corpus Mickey Mouse Explosive Pressure 
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  1. 2.
    For instance, see the review of number IX in the Metropolitan Magazine for January 1837: The renowned Mr. Pickwick is, himself, the legitimate successor to Don Quixote; indeed, he is the cockney Quixote of the nineteenth century, and instead of armour of iron, he is encased in a good coating of aldermanic fur, and instead of spear and sword, has his own powers of declamation with which to go forth to do fearful battle upon the Swindler, the wrong-doer, and the oppresser of the innocent. See Dickens: The Critical Heritage, ed. Philip Collins (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971) p. 31; English Literary History, 34 (1967) 360.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Edgar Johnson: ‘Mr. Pickwick is a Knight of the Joyful Countenance, as rotund as Cervantes’ Knight of the Rueful Countenance is lean’ — Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952) I, 173–4.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Dingley Dell and the Fleet’, in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1962) p. 408.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens (London: Methuen, 1906) pp. 90, 95.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Steven Marcus, ‘Language into Structure: Pickwick Revisited’, Daedalus, 101 (1972) 188.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    When Mickey Mouse acquired a voice, Disney himself usually supplied it, ‘for sentiment’s sake’ — Robert D. Feild, The Art of Walt Disney (London: Collins, 1947) p. 74.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Barbara Hardy calls the Fat Boy ‘a kind of parody of Pickwick himself’ — The Moral Art of Dickens (London: Athlone Press, 1970) p. 91.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Joseph Burke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955) pp. 146ff. ‘The general idea of an action, as well as of an attitude, may be given with a pencil in a very few lines. It is easy to conceive that the attitude of a person upon the cross, may be fully signified by the two straight lines of a cross; so the extended manner of St. Andrew’s crucifixion is wholly understood by the X-like cross.’Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    For an account of this controversy, see Robert Patten’s appendix to the Penguin Edition of Pickwick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972) pp. 919–22.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    In subsequent revisions of this illustration, Browne excised the dog and cat. See Michael Steig, Dickens and Phiz (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978) p. 38.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Edmund Wilson, ‘Dickens: The Two Scrooges’, in The Wound and the Bow (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton, Mifflin, 1941) pp. 1–104;Google Scholar
  12. Julian Moynahan, ‘The Hero’s Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations’, Essays in Criticism, 10 (1960) 60–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 15.
    Christopher Herbert, in ‘Converging Worlds in Pickwick Papers’, Nineteenth Century Fiction, 27 (1972) 11–12, has noted the significance of Jingle’s wearing Winkle’s coat to commit his nefarious doings at the Rochester ball as a parallel to later such instances in Dickens’s novels: Mlle. Hortense and Bradley Headstone both commit crimes in borrowed clothes.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 18.
    J. Hillis Miller, Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958) p. 21. Miller also enlarges on Dickens’s ‘exploding world’ in Pickwick Papers (p. 15).Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Robert Patten, ‘Boz, Phiz and Pickwick in the Pound’, English Literary History, 36 (1969) 575–91. Patten has also explored the many images of enclosure in the Introduction to his Penguin edition of Pickwick Papers, pp. 27ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Juliet McMaster 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AlbertaCanada

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