Cambridge Dickens Fellowship Questions: “Martin Chuzzlewit”
Chapters 1 - 10
The Dickens Fellowship (Cambridge branch)
11 September 2017
Chapters 1-5, pp. 13-91.
(page refs are to Penguin Classics Edition 2004: Introduction by Patricia Ingham)
- Opening chapters in Dickens’ novels always alert us to the themes that he will explore throughout the text. What is the opening chapter of Martin Chuzzlewit alerting us to?
- And following on from above; according to John Forster Martin Chuzzlewit was designed to illustrate ‘more or less by every person introduced, the number and variety of humours and vices that have their root in selfishness.’ Let’s bear this in mind when we discuss the presentation of Seth Pecksniff and Tom Pinch.
- Simon Callow writes that ‘there is an angry misanthropy about these opening chapters that is impressive, but not invoking’, yet they are also filled with wonderful humour. In the end, is it the humour that wins out by chapter 5?
11 October 2017
- “Your homes the scenes, your selves the characters,” Dickens said about Martin Chuzzlewit, echoing the traditional aim of satire to hold a mirror up to the reader’s own faults and follies. Do we experience this kind of mirror when we read the novel? What would it take for us to connect Dickens’s characters’ faults and follies to our own? In other words, does the novel succeed as satire?
- Tom Pinch’s self-effacing character obviously functions as a touchstone to expose the nature of the characters around him (John Westlock, Pecksniff and his daughters, Martin Chuzzlewit, Mark Tapley, even Mary Graham). But does Pinch exist as a character in his own right? Is he anything more than a foil for the others?
- “[T]he annoying quality in you,” Anthony Chuzzlewit tells Pecksniff, “is, that you never have a confederate or partner in your juggling; you would deceive everybody, even those who practise the same art; and have a way with you, as if you […] really believed yourself” (p. 123). How accurate is this characterisation of Pecksniff, and does it distinguish him from the other self-promoting characters in the book? (Consider also in this context the fact that most of the characters in the book seem to operate in pairs: Pinch–Westlock; Pinch–Martin; Charity–Mercy; Tigg–Slyme; Anthony–Jonas; Old Martin–Mary; Old Martin–Pecksniff; Mrs Lupin–Mark.)