Cover, first serial edition seventh instalment, July 1843
|Original title||The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit|
|Illustrator||Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)|
|Series||Monthly: January 1843 – July 1844|
|Publisher||Chapman & Hall|
|Media type||Print (Serial, Hardback, and Paperback)|
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (commonly known as Martin Chuzzlewit) is a novel by Charles Dickens, considered the last of his picaresque novels. It was originally serialised in 1843 and 1844. Dickens thought it to be his best work, but it was one of his least popular novels. Like nearly all of Dickens' novels, Martin Chuzzlewit was released to the public in monthly instalments. Early sales of the monthly parts were disappointing, compared to previous works, so Dickens changed the plot to send the title character to America. This allowed the author to portray the United States (which he had visited in 1842) satirically as a near wilderness with pockets of civilisation filled with deceptive and self-promoting hucksters.
The main theme of the novel, according to a preface by Dickens, is selfishness, portrayed in a satirical fashion using all the members of the Chuzzlewit family. The novel is also notable for two of Dickens' great villains, Seth Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit. It is dedicated to Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, a friend of Dickens.
Martin Chuzzlewit has been raised by his grandfather and namesake. Years before, Martin senior took the precaution of raising an orphaned girl, Mary. She is to be his nursemaid, with the understanding that she will be well cared for only as long as Martin senior lives. She thus has strong motivation to promote his well-being, in contrast to his relatives, who only want to inherit his money. However, his grandson Martin falls in love with Mary and wishes to marry her, ruining Martin senior's plans. When Martin refuses to give up the engagement, his grandfather disinherits him.
Martin becomes an apprentice to Seth Pecksniff, a greedy architect. Instead of teaching his students, he lives off their tuition fees and has them do draughting work that he passes off as his own. He has two spoiled daughters, Merry and Cherry. Unbeknown to Martin, Pecksniff has actually taken him on to establish closer ties with the wealthy grandfather, thinking that this will gain Pecksniff a prominent place in the will.
Young Martin befriends Tom Pinch, a kind-hearted soul whose late grandmother had given Pecksniff all she had, believing Pecksniff would make an architect and gentleman of him. Pinch is incapable of believing any of the bad things others tell him of Pecksniff, and always defends him vociferously. Pinch works for exploitatively low wages, while believing he is the unworthy recipient of Pecksniff's charity.
When Martin senior hears of his grandson's new life, he demands that Pecksniff kick young Martin out. Then, Martin senior moves in and falls under Pecksniff's control. During this time, Pinch falls in love with Mary, but does not declare it, knowing of her attachment to young Martin.
One of Martin senior's greedy relatives is his brother, Anthony Chuzzlewit, who is in business with his son, Jonas. Despite considerable wealth, they live miserly, cruel lives, with Jonas constantly berating his father, eager for the old man to die so he can inherit. Anthony dies abruptly and under suspicious circumstances, leaving his wealth to Jonas. Jonas then woos Cherry, whilst arguing constantly with Merry. He then abruptly declares to Pecksniff that he wants to marry Merry, and jilts Cherry - not without demanding an additional 1,000 pounds on top of the 4,000 that Pecksniff had promised him as Cherry's dowry, with the argument that Cherry has better chances for matchmaking.
Jonas, meanwhile, becomes entangled with the unscrupulous Montague Tigg and joins in his pyramid scheme-like insurance scam. At the beginning of the book he is a petty thief and hanger-on of a Chuzzlewit relative, Chevy Slyme. Tigg cheats young Martin out of a valuable pocket watch and uses the funds to transform himself into a seemingly fine man. This façade convinces investors that he must be an important businessman from whom they may greatly profit. Jonas eventually ends up murdering Tigg, who has acquired some kind of information on him.
At this time, Tom Pinch finally sees his employer's true character. Pinch goes to London to seek employment, and rescues his governess sister Ruth, whom he discovers has been mistreated by the family employing her. Pinch quickly receives an ideal job from a mysterious employer, with the help of an equally mysterious Mr. Fips.
Young Martin, meanwhile, has fallen in with Mark Tapley. Mark is always cheerful, which he decides does not reflect well on him because he is always in happy circumstances and it shows no strength of character to be happy when one has good fortune. He decides he must test his cheerfulness by seeing if he can maintain it in the worst circumstances possible. To this end, he accompanies young Martin to the United States to seek his fortune. The men attempt to start new lives in a swampy, disease-filled settlement named "Eden", but both nearly die of malaria. Mark finally finds himself in a situation in which it can be considered a virtue to remain in good spirits. The grim experience, and Mark's care nursing Martin back to health, change Martin's selfish and proud character, and the men return to England, where Martin returns penitently to his grandfather. But his grandfather is now under Pecksniff's control and rejects him.
At this point, Martin is reunited with Tom Pinch, who now discovers that his mysterious benefactor is old Martin Chuzzlewit. The older Martin had only been pretending to be in thrall to Pecksniff. Together, the group confront Pecksniff with their knowledge of his true character. They also discover that Jonas murdered Tigg to prevent him from revealing that he had planned to murder Anthony.
Senior Martin now reveals that he was angry at his grandson for becoming engaged to Mary because he had planned to arrange that particular match himself, and felt his glory had been thwarted by them deciding on the plan themselves. He realises the folly of that opinion, and Martin and his grandfather are reconciled. Martin and Mary are married, as are Ruth Pinch and John Westlock, another former student of Pecksniff's. Tom Pinch remains in unrequited love with Mary for the rest of his life, never marrying, and always being a warm companion to Mary and Martin and to Ruth and John.
The Chuzzlewit extended family
The main characters of the story are the members of the extended Chuzzlewit family.
The first to be introduced is Seth Pecksniff, a widower with two daughters, who is a self-styled teacher of architecture. He believes that he is a highly moral individual who loves his fellow man, but mistreats his students and passes off their designs as his own for profit. He seems to be a cousin of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. Mr. Pecksniff's rise and fall follows the novel's plot arc.
Next we meet his two daughters, Charity and Mercy Pecksniff. They are also affectionately known as Cherry and Merry, or as the two Miss Pecksniffs. Charity is portrayed throughout the book as having none of that virtue after which she is named, while Mercy, the younger sister, is at first silly and girlish in a manner that's probably inconsistent with her numerical age. Later events in the story drastically change her personality.
Old Martin Chuzzlewit, the wealthy patriarch of the Chuzzlewit family, lives in constant suspicion of the financial designs of his extended family. At the beginning of the novel he has aligned himself with Mary, an orphan, to have a caretaker who is not eyeing his estate. Later in the story he makes an apparent alliance with Mr. Pecksniff, who, he believes, is at least consistent in character. His true character is revealed by the end of the story.
Young Martin Chuzzlewit is the grandson of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. He is the closest relative of Old Martin and has inherited much of the stubbornness and selfishness of the old man. Young Martin is the protagonist of the story. His engagement to Mary is the cause of estrangement between himself and his grandfather. By the end of the story he becomes a reformed character, realising and repenting of the selfishness of his previous actions.
Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit is the brother of Old Martin. He and his son, Jonas, run a business together called Chuzzlewit and Son. They are both self-serving, hardened individuals who view the accumulation of money as the most important thing in life.
Jonas Chuzzlewit is the mean-spirited, sinisterly jovial son of Anthony Chuzzlewit. He views his father with contempt and wishes for his death so that he can have the business and the money for himself. It is suggested that he may have actually hastened the old man's death. He is a suitor of the two Miss Pecksniffs, wins one, then is driven to commit murder by his unscrupulous business associations.
Mr. and Mrs. Spottletoe are the nephew-in-law and niece of Old Martin Chuzzlewit, Mrs. Spottletoe being the daughter of Old Martin's brother. She was also once the favourite of Old Martin though they have since fallen out.
George Chuzzlewit is the bachelor cousin of Old Martin.
Thomas (Tom) Pinch is a former student of Mr. Pecksniff's who has become his personal assistant. He is kind, simple, and honest in everything he does, serving as a foil to Mr. Pecksniff. He carries in his heart an undying loyalty and admiration for Mr. Pecksniff. Eventually, he discovers Pecksniff's true nature through his treatment of Mary, whom Pinch has come to love. Because Tom Pinch plays such a large role in the story, he is sometimes considered the novel's true protagonist.
Ruth Pinch is Tom Pinch's sister. She is sweet and good, like her brother. At first she works as a governess to a wealthy family with several nasty brats. Later in the novel she and Tom set up housekeeping together. She falls in love with, and marries, Tom's friend John Westlock.
Mark Tapley, the good-humoured employee of the Blue Dragon Inn and suitor of Mrs. Lupin (the Dragon's owner), leaves that establishment to find work that's more of a credit to his character: that is, work sufficiently miserable that his cheerfulness will be more of a credit to him. He eventually joins Young Martin Chuzzlewit on his trip to America, where he finds at last a situation that requires the full extent of his innate cheerfulness of disposition. Martin buys a piece of land in a settlement called "Eden"—which, if not actually underwater, is at least in the midst of a malarial swamp. Mark nurses him through his illness, and they eventually return to England.
Montague Tigg / Tigg Montague is a down-on-his-luck rogue at the beginning of the story, and a hanger-on to distant Chuzzlewit kin Chevy Slyme. Later, he starts a thriving, sleazy insurance business with no money at all and lures Jonas into the business. (The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company is in essence a classic Ponzi scheme—founded before Charles Ponzi was born—which paid off early policyholders' claims with premiums from more recent policyholders.)
John Westlock begins as a disgruntled student falling out with Pecksniff. After Tom Pinch's flight to London, John serves as a mentor and companion to both Tom and his sister; he falls in love with and eventually marries Ruth Pinch.
Mr. Nadgett is a soft-spoken, mysterious individual who is Tom Pinch's landlord and serves as Montague's private investigator.
Sarah Gamp (also known as Sairey or Mrs. Gamp) is an alcoholic who works as a midwife, monthly nurse, and layer-out of the dead. Even in a house of mourning, Mrs. Gamp manages to enjoy all the hospitality a house can afford, with little regard for the person to whom she is there to minister; and she is often much the worse for drink. In her nursing activities, she constantly refers to a Mrs Harris, who is in fact "a phantom of Mrs Gamp's brain ... created for the express purpose of holding visionary dialogues with her on all manner of subjects, and invariably winding up with a compliment to the excellence of her nature." She habitually carries with her a battered black umbrella: so popular with the Victorian public was the character that Gamp became a slang word for an umbrella in general.
Mary Graham is the caretaker of old Martin Chuzzlewit, who has told her she will receive nothing from him in his will. The older Martin expects that this will give Mary a strong interest in keeping him alive and well. Mary and Old Mr. Chuzzlewit's grandson fall in love, thus giving her an interest in the elder Chuzzlewit's death. The two lovers are separated by the events of the book, but are eventually reunited.
Mr. Chuffey is an old man who works for Anthony Chuzzlewit and later Jonas Chuzzlewit.
Martin Chuzzlewit was published in 19 monthly instalments, each comprising 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Hablot K. "Phiz" Browne and costing one shilling. The last part was double-length.
- I – January 1843 (chapters 1–3)
- II – February 1843 (chapters 4–5)
- III – March 1843 (chapters 6–8)
- IV – April 1843 (chapters 9–10)
- V – May 1843 (chapters 11–12)
- VI – June 1843 (chapters 13–15)
- VII – July 1843 (chapters 16–17)
- VIII – August 1843 (chapters 18–20)
- IX – September 1843 (chapters 21–23)
- X – October 1843 (chapters 24–26)
- XI – November 1843 (chapters 27–29)
- XII – December 1843 (chapters 30–32)
- XIII – January 1844 (chapters 33–35)
- XIV – February 1844 (chapters 36–38)
- XV – March 1844 (chapters 39–41)
- XVI – April 1844 (chapters 42–44)
- XVII – May 1844 (chapters 45–47)
- XVIII – June 1844 (chapters 48–50)
- XIX-XX – July 1844 (chapters 51–54)
The early monthly numbers were not as successful as Dickens' previous work and only sold about twenty thousand copies each (compared to forty to fifty thousand for the monthly numbers of the Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby and sixty to seventy thousand for the weekly issues of Barnaby Rudge and The Old Curiosity Shop) causing a break between Dickens and his publishers Chapman and Hall when they invoked a penalty clause in his contract requiring him to pay back money they had lent him to cover their costs. Also, Dickens' scathing satire of American modes and manners in the novel won him no friends on the other side of the Atlantic, where the instalments containing the offending chapters were greeted with a 'frenzy of wrath'. As a consequence, Dickens received much abusive mail and many newspaper clippings from the States (Pearson 1949: 132–33).
The novel was seen by some to contain attacks on America, although Dickens himself saw it as satire, similar in spirit to his "attacks" on the people and institutions of England in novels such as Oliver Twist. And, while fraud is shown as a common feature in America, the insurance scheme practiced in this novel in England is equally fraudulent. Americans are satirically portrayed: they proclaim their equality at every opportunity but, when they have travelled to England, they claim to have been received only by aristocrats. The Republic is described as "so maimed and lame, so full of sores and ulcers, foul to the eye and almost hopeless to the sense, that her best friends turn from the loathsome creature with disgust". Dickens also attacks the institution of slavery in the United States in the following words: :"Thus the stars wink upon the bloody stripes; and Liberty pulls down her cap upon her eyes, and owns oppression in its vilest aspect for her sister."
In popular culture
The novel was adapted into a television mini series of the same name in 1994. Examples of references in other television productions include one in The Simpsons episode "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?": Lisa Simpson lists it as one of the books she would receive from the Greater Books of the Western Civilization. In the Doctor Who episode "The Unquiet Dead", after expressing his admiration for Dickens' other works, The Doctor criticises the work saying, "Mind you, for God's sake, the American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what's that about? Was that just padding? Or what? I mean, it's rubbish, that bit."
In cinema, the CGI movie Barbie in a Christmas Carol features a snotty cat named Chuzzlewit, who is the pet of Barbie's character, Eden Starling. John Travolta's character quotes from the novel in A Love Song for Bobby Long.
- "Dickens on Screen: Martin Chuzzlewit". British Film Institute. Retrieved 19 January 2012. "Dickens is said to have proclaimed Martin Chuzzlewit his best work. When early public sales of its first monthly instalments proved disappointing, Dickens changed the plot to send Martin to America, drawing on his visit there in 1842."
- Hardwick, Michael and Mary Hardwick. The Charles Dickens Encyclopedia. New York: Scribner, 1973.[page needed]
- Pearson 1949: 129–29
- Bowen, John. Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Jordan, John O. The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Pearson, Hesketh. Dickens. Methuen: London, 1949.
- Purchase, Sean. "'Speaking of Them as a Body': Dickens, Slavery and Martin Chuzzlewit." Critical Survey 18.1 (2006): 1–16.
- Sulfridge, Cynthia. "Martin Chuzzlewit: Dickens's Prodigal and the Myth of the Wandering Son." Studies in the Novel 11.3 (1979): 318–325.
- Tambling, Jeremy. Lost in the American city: Dickens, James, and Kafka. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
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- Online editions
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