Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Martin Chuzzlewit”
Westmount Public Library
October 3, 2017 1:00-3:00
Chapters 1 - 10
- Readers often find Dickens’s novels hard to “get into” because of their wordiness. In Chapter 1 of “Martin Chuzzlewit”, Dickens uses lengthy passages of “tongue in cheek” humor in describing the Chuzzlewit family’s foolhardy claims to illustriousness and nobility. Does this humor grab you and make you want to read more? Are you hooked? Why? Why not?
- Dickens opens this novel by poking fun at society’s preoccupation with pedigree. He claims that all families are “ancient” by reason of their descent from Adam and that the historical possession of land did not originate in honor, but in war, greed and corruption. Dickens’s father, John Dickens, was the son of the housekeeper of a great estate belonging to the Crewe family. Being raised side by side with Lord Crewe’s children, he must have developed and passed down to his son, strong opinions about entitlement and aristocracy. Comment.
- Dickens’s descriptions of his characters’ physical traits, clothing and mannerisms usually strongly reflect their personalities. Discuss this literary device using Mr. Pecksniff as an example.
- Dickens chooses his words very carefully. His vocabulary is emotionally evocative, replete with adverbs and adjectives, which are very revealing. For example, Mr. Pecksniff is described as highly moral and upstanding, but his description is filled with such terms as, “ensnaring”, “pocketing”, “designing”, “castles in the air”, “inmate”. Discuss.
- Old Martin Chuzzlewit is so worried and bitter about being robbed and cheated by everyone around him that he is forgetful of the good that money can do for the needy. While Dickens was obsessed with earning money so as to never be in debt and often resented irresponsible family members for constantly borrowing from him, he always was a philanthropist and was very generous to a great variety of causes with his time, energy and physical wealth. Comment.
- Greed and family bickering over money are unfortunately universal among all social classes. Dickens choosing to lampoon this, all too common, human frailty, would have endeared him to readers of all levels of society. Discuss.
- How closely does the Chuzzlewit family, with its greedy suspicions of outsiders and petty jealousies, resemble dysfunctional families of today?
- Comment on Dickens’s clever comparison between Mr. Pecksniff and his home in terms of the pretense of all show and no action.
- Dickens wit is very sarcastic. He always seems very gentlemanly and proper even when describing very unfavorable character traits. His style mimics the hypocritical insincerity he is trying to portray. Discuss.
- Why does the narrator’s speech change to a more old fashioned and religious form when speaking about Tom Pinch?
- What do you think of Mark Tapley’s philosophy about being jolly?
- Do you think young Martin inherited the Chuzzlewit family traits of obstinacy and selfishness? How is this portrayed in his interactions with Tom Pinch, Mary Graham and Mr. Pecksniff?
- Compare and contrast the characters of Montague Tigg and Chevy Slyme.
- Are you surprised that the Pecksniffs are staying at a place like Mrs. Todger’s boarding house? Comment on Dickens’s excellent power of description.
- Do you think Ruth Pinch is “taken in” by the Pecksniff’s. Is she as gullible as her brother?
- Descriptions of food and drink play a prominent role in all of Dickens’s novels. The dinner at Todgers boarding house is a good example of this. Use this dinner to discuss how Dickens appeals to all our senses.
- What do you think made old Martin Chuzzlewit change his mind about Mr. Pecksniff? Do you believe he is sincere? He practically tells Pecksniff that he will be using him to go after the other parasitic relatives because his falling out with his “selfish” grandson has pushed him over the edge into vengeance on others. Do you think he is so trusting to Mr. Pecksniff’s falseness, greed and corruption that he can “milk” him to do his bidding? Why does Pecksniff go along with old Martin’s plan? Does he really believe in this change of heart?