Kyle's Reviews > Martin Chuzzlewit

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
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Mar 16, 13

Read from February 14, 2012 to March 16, 2013

As with the lengthy reading time of American Notes, it will take a while for my thoughts to sink in with this book. One amusing thought occurred during my literary journey: Martin Chuzzlewit, one of Dickens' least regarded tale (even Dr. Who makes a wisecrack about the American section) and A Christmas Carol, the perennially popular Dickensian story, were composed at the same time. Whether the fifty-four chapters and the five "staves" tell exactly the same story of Want and Ignorance's effect on the world is a matter of textual analysis, how well each story expands upon the author's ideas is the focus of this write-up. I'd be playing the Devil's advocate, it seems, to suggest MC was as well-told as CC, just not something you'd want to read out-loud around the fireplace hung with stockings.

The biggest triumph of the novel is the wealth of human characters presented. Jonas and young Martin are as dissimilar as two peas from different cultivars, despite being from the same fabaceae family. How they relate to the Pecksniff clan is a bit confusing, but the architectual patriarch is definitely of the Mr. Big variety. His daughters, or rather off-shoots, take different paths to unhappy matrimony, just as Jonas is punished for being brought up exactly as his father intended for him. Martin and Mark are both cut off from their small world, and end up being the better for it, despite a few near-death experiences. The greatest puzzle was to understand the narrative function of Mrs. Gamp. It is only the suggestion in the book's appendix that she is a solipsistic drunkard whose world collapses upon itself does she seem somewhat appealing. Still have to wonder why, apart from delightful malapropism, she became a mainstay of Dickens' public readings.

One final comment, being a North American and reading the American parts of the book while in England was a conceptual inverse of what the author had intended. I was more fascinated by how London is depicted as a foggy labyrinth than how the historical cousins south of the border were seen by a visiting Englishman more than 170 years ago. Sadly, most things he wrote about still hold true for both continents, although at least the slavery issue has been resolved. Wonder if Dickens got to meet Lincoln on his first trip over the Atlantic?
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Reading Progress

02/18/2012 page 52
6.0% "Off to a good start, setting up highly moral characters as greedy hypocrites. Like how Dickens riffs on a familiar phrase from A Christmas Carol, how "the milk of human kindness" would have churned to butter in Mr. Pecksniff's mouth. (p. 47)"
02/20/2012 page 91
11.0% "Interesting switcheroo Dickens pulls off by presenting the eponymous Martin as an old man close to dying one month, and then revealing him as the young adventurer and grandson to the wealthily burdened Martin Sr. One would hope the youth is he who will win the favour, and fortune, of his grandfather, over the crowd of contentious competitors the reader has just met, but why isn't the namesake in grampa's good books?"
03/04/2012 page 131
16.0% "By the third month, a handful of characters and their motivation are beginning to become more clear: Tom Pinch is not such a fool as in earlier chapters - he detects Martin's obstinate love for Mary; Mark Tapley has his "uncommon jolly" circumstance; and finally Jonas Chuzzlewit & his menacing love of gain and over-reaching. The book's introduction hinted at the characters' arcs, but I enjoy wondering on each page."
03/08/2012 page 170
21.0% "Just when you think the book has started to make sense, you are whisked out to a foggy, indistinct London with Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters, there to meet a bunch of new characters who may (or not) have an impact on the rest of the story: Ruth Pinch? All of this done to show how Old Martin can be deceived by apparent piety, and disowns his younger namesake, without any further urging by the duplicitous architect."
03/11/2012 page 209
25.0% "Just as Jonas continues to become menacing in his pursuit of Charity, so much so that the otherwise silly sister Mercy seems clairvoyant in her contempt for him, Martin becomes less heroic with maintaining his personal relationships. He unwittingly alienates Tom by babbling on about Mary, and their happy future with Tom playing organ in some dark corner, it is more Martin's come-uppance when Pecksniff turns him out."
03/25/2012 page 249
30.0% "Mark Tapley comes into Martin's life like a breath of fresh air, considering the suffocating means the latter had been reduced to (and the smug airs the young lover retains, despite his situation). Mark's mannerism begin to remind me of chipper Eric Idle - what an episode of Monty Python that would have been to stage certain scenes from this novel! It is really his trip to the States, burdened with a snooty master."
03/28/2012 page 288
35.0% "With what relish Dickens must have had, packing as many cutting, satirical observations of the American people in these two chapters. It seemed like most of his American Notes were condensed into an attack on journalism and snobby republicism, as embodied by the Norris family. Mr. Bevan claims that there is no Juvenal nor Swift to upbraid the country for its faults, and Dickens throws his hat into this ring."
04/07/2012 page 327
39.0% "A return to England, where things are already turning and warping in the Pecksniff and Chuzzlewit families. A muddled warning about Jonas, a sudden death followed by an assembly of mercenary mourners, and an awkward proposal to the wrong woman for the sake of an extra thousand-pound dowry are just some of the events related in Dickens' off-handed way. Really curious to see how Mrs Gamp fits into remaining chapters."
04/15/2012 page 367
44.0% "More doings with Chuzzlewit & Co. in the Great U-nited States, with freedom coming out of the woodwork. Most telling how the standing up for Freedom is marred by loathing of the Emancipation Act are the Watertoast Sympathizers, who suddenly disband upon reading of Watertoast's true sympathies. Dickens then bogs down Martin, leaving Mark the "lion's" share of moral support for his former master and business partner."
12/28/2012 page 406
48.0% "After a longish gap between starting this number, with young Martin lost in the New World" 1 comment
01/06/2013 page 446
53.0% "The plot seems to have picked up, after a few chapters of colourful characters chatting about who-knows-what, and the fateful reunion of Jonas and Tigg will set the stage for more drama in the second half of the novel. The Anglo-Bengalee insurance company is exactly the kind of corporation Dickens could disclaim, no doubt a progenitor of Scrooge and Marley's firm. Even Shakespeare gets a less than auspicious mention."
01/10/2013 page 484
58.0% "The emptying of the architect's house first occurs with his sharper-than-a-serpant's-tooth daughter, and later by his hitherto faithful pupil Pinch. Both leave because of Pecksniff's designs on Mary, and in a moment much resembling act one of Richard III, he hoodwinks old Martin and threatens to ruin young Martin unless Mary agrees to be his wife. Another strange coupling happens by the end of chapter 32 at Todger's."
01/28/2013 page 511
61.0% "Martin and Mark's final days in Eden, as well as a wrap-up to their stint in the United States, was rushed and somewhat confused, similar to how most emigrants feel when they get to the point that they make plans to return home; never enough time to do what you want but plenty of time, it seems, for people like Pogram to expound upon a country you are determined to leave. Martin's new-found humility suits him better."
02/04/2013 page 564
68.0% "Tom Pinch pulls out of his post-Pecksniff funk with an amazing amount of humility and acumen; I could relate to his words spoken out in the defense of his sister Ruth, especially telling that brass-and-copper fat cat of 19th century London how bankrupt his rights really were. And it seems like Jonas now has a motive for his eventual murder, with Tigg Nadgetting his every waking moment, and profiting off Jonas' greed."
02/14/2013 page 604
72.0% "More from the domestic front with the Pinches, and some love blossoming between John and Ruth, as well as tips on how to make beef-steak pudding without suet. A strange circumstance at the docks brings Tom, Ruth, Tigg, Jonas and Gamp :-/ together – seriously, what is up with this woman, other than her loose grip on the English language? Romeo & Juliet gets alluded to, but another tragedy seems to be on Dickens' mind."
02/19/2013 page 644
77.0% "It is a race to the bottom between Jonas, Tigg and Pecksniff, and I cannot wait to see who loses the most from the Anglo-Bengalee flim-flam. Knowing that Tigg will soon be out of the running makes me keen to see how much worse it will get for his newly-acquired partners. If anyone deserves the worst, it would be the hypocrite for his disdainful treatment of Mark and Martin; even they seem to know how it will wrap up."
02/24/2013 page 684
82.0% "In Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair, the villain Acheron Hades kidnaps a minor character from Martin Chuzzlewit called Quaverley, who is killed and therefore never appears in Dickens' story. I wondered who this overlooked character might have been based upon, and the hen-pecked Moddle seems a close cousin to the extinguished Quaverley. Other characters like Tigg are done in, yet Gamp survives!"
03/04/2013 page 723
87.0% "So close to the end, and so much new soil gets turned over, even characters seem to be overturned. Young Martin a bitter suitor, Mark Tapley less than his jolly self, Mrs Gamp being useful (at last) but her attachment to Mrs Harris brought into question, and Old Martin a shrewd judge of character! All these twists, but why was Tom Pinch brought so low as to shed a tear upon his book? Let's see "when rogues fall out"!"
03/12/2013 page 782
94.0% "For the couple supposedly central to his eponymous tale, Martin and Mary are curiously absent from the four weddings and one major comeuppance that finishes off this wandering storyline. Even the now-childless neighbours from Eden make more of a narrative impact on Mark than any signs of the former emigrant reunited with his love. And Dickens leaves it up to Tom and his kindhearted sister to account for his concerns."

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