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The Pickwick Papers > The Pickwick Papers. Final General Discussion

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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Hello Curiosities

Tristram and I alternate weeks to open our threads on Dickens so here is our opportunity to discuss The Pickwick Papers in general.

We have discussed much during our time with Pickwick. Some of our discussion focussed on exactly what type of novel Pickwick is, how the tales within some of the chapters function and whether they are an intricate part of the larger narrative, and the change in tone from one of innocent rambles about the countryside to something much darker as the novel progressed.

What interested you in the novel? What did you want to comment on but did not get around to for some reason? Who were your favourite characters?

This week will give us the opportunity to look back on a novel just finished and to look forward to meeting Oliver Twist in the near future.


message 2: by John (last edited May 20, 2018 09:48AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments I came into Pickwick completely cold, as the saying might go. I had never read a word of it and was only remotely familiar with two ideas about it: sporting and travel.

Having said that, I made two assumptions about the book, which were essentially proven wrong to myself.

One: I had assumed this would be an easy read. I guess the idea of it being his first novel made me think that. I didn't find it easy by any measure, though sometimes I am unsure if that is my own difficulty with long fiction, or in fact, it is a challenging read.

I also assumed that the installments would be shorter than they were. I guess the serialization aspect made me think of a few pages for each one, and maybe 120 installments/chapters rather than 57.

Thus my two immediate takeaways from finishing this work.


message 3: by Peter (last edited May 20, 2018 02:40PM) (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Hi John

For me, The Pickwick Papers was a novel that I had not read since my first year of university. My only semi-clear memory of it was the story of Gabriel Grub, and that only because I wrote an essay on it. Pickwick and Sam rested in my memory as well, but only as shadows.

What struck me most about the novel this time around was the shift in tone that occurred in the latter part of the novel. During Pickwick and Sam’s time in the Fleet it seemed to me that much of the innocence of the book disappeared and never really got a foothold again. Later in the novel the Bob Sawyer parts were great fun, Sam, his father and his mother-in-law had great energy and other bits kept me smiling, but overall I felt the novel deflated from one of innocence into a world of experience, pain and maturity.

I think this was planned on Dickens’s part. While we are still a few weeks from beginning Oliver Twist I do not think it a spoiler to comment that we enter a far different world with that book. Considering that Dickens was both finishing off The Pickwick Papers and beginning Oliver Twist at the same time it is difficult to believe that both books were written by the same author while he was in his 20’s. Wow!


message 4: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments Peter,

After reading your post, I pulled out my copy of Genius by Harold Bloom. It covers 100 great authors of genius and I was reminded of two things Bloom wrote about Pickwick.

He said, first, that G.K. Chesterton's favorite Dickens was Pickwick because it had the light and dark. And Bloom himself wrote that Pickwick was probably his own favorite because Dickens showed signs of "the stage fire burning" that would mark all his novels to come.


message 5: by Julie (last edited May 22, 2018 10:05AM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1342 comments I read the book about twenty years ago for grad school, and it's odd but I don't think I remembered a word of it. I would have thought maybe I hadn't read it after all (grad school is a blur now), except there were crumbling yellow post-it notes in my copy with my handwriting on them. Although now that I think about it, all the notes did was identify the serialization dates, so maybe I was just dipping in and out to see what else Dickens was doing while he wrote Oliver Twist. That would explain why I have no memory of, for instance, the lady in the yellow curl-papers, who I would otherwise say was unforgettable.

If I read it before, I read it in about a week. I very much enjoyed easing into it on this read every weekend a little bit at a time. It was like picking up a familiar rhythm again.

I have to confess, though: this read confirms to me that I am a plot girl. There was something that made me laugh in every installment, and there were many characters I took an interest in, but I could have done without the stories within the story, and ultimately I liked the book best when there was a hanging question to be resolved.


message 6: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6383 comments Mod
Now that nothing I can say or do will be a spoiler, here are the two sites that I got many of my illustrations from, all those "extra" ones. It is really just one book, but published in two volumes, titled "Pictorial Pickwickiana - Charles Dickens and his illustrators". It was published in 1899 from what I remember. The first volume is lots and lots of illustrations and information on the illustrators, the second has all that and more, Sam Weller song books, poems, early stage productions of Pickwick, all those people who felt the need to write their own Pickwick, things like that. We even have Pickwick re-appearing in Master Humphrey's Clock written by Dickens himself in 1840. Enjoy.

https://archive.org/details/pictorial...

https://archive.org/stream/pictorialp...


message 7: by John (last edited May 22, 2018 06:34PM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments One of the books I read recently was entitled On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

One of the books she examined and devoted considerable length in the book was Pickwick.

She had read it years ago, didn't particularly like it, and decided to go back and reread and discover what she could about it and why she may not have liked it.

Her rereading of Pickwick was something she enjoyed and she found she liked the book more than she did when she first read it years ago. She believed that she appreciated later in life what Dickens had created, and found more connection to the characters and the story itself.


message 8: by John (last edited May 23, 2018 02:25AM) (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments A question I have. And I don't recall if I ever read the reason why or if I did read it and have forgotten.

Why did Dickens use a pen-name?


message 9: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Hi John

Most sources seem to agree that Dickens used the name Boz to mask who he really was. As a political reporter Dickens wanted to be taken seriously in that profession. Dickens also used the name Timothy Sparks as a pseudonym when “Sunday Under Three Heads” was published.

When Dickens felt his feet were firmly planted as a novelist he reverted to his own name. He did not keep the name Boz as a secret from his later readership.


message 10: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
My favourite characters, apart from Mr. Pickwick, were Mr. Peter Magnus, who hates originality and is such a convincing sample of someone suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that he is a good example of how skilful even the early Dickens was at characterization. I also like Mr. Weller senior (much more so than his son) because he proves that width and wisdom go together (and thereby comforts me). Then there are the two young doctors, whose chapters I often enjoyed a lot, and last, not least, let's not forget about the Fat Boy, who teaches us the important lesson never to underestimate anybody.

Pickwick Papers has always had a special place in my heart (a little bit because Mr. Pickwick somehow reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who was all kindness but who also was a stubborn as they come in some questions). Unlike Julie, I do not care a lot for plots, and so I had no problem with the episodic structure of the book, and in fact, I really liked the interpolation of stories. If I ever wrote a book, there would be stories within the stories even, and why not have the main story, the frame, be picked up by one of the characters in one of the inserted stories?

All those different events, and the scores of characters make PP a novel teeming with life and creativity, and yes! a promise of more to come, a promise that Dickens kept with a vengeance.

The fact that light and dark occur side by side in PP is another of its great qualities, marking the novel as a writing laboratory where Dickens could try his hand at different tones and styles. Somehow, however, I had the impression that the Fleet scenes are so dominant that the novel afterwards never again reaches its former lightheartedness and that some of the humourous events described after the prison scenes seem rather insipid. All in all, maybe Dickens is at his best when he looks at the darker side of life? I don't really know.


message 11: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1342 comments Tristram wrote: "All in all, maybe Dickens is at his best when he looks at the darker side of life? I don't really know."

He also does cozy very well. And good eating!


message 12: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Tristram wrote: "All in all, maybe Dickens is at his best when he looks at the darker side of life? I don't really know."

He also does cozy very well. And good eating!"


Yes, definitely! Good eating is a feature you will find in most Dickens books or stories, and we have found out that Pickwick Papers is especially interested in splendours of the pantry and the wine cellar. Most vivid are the scenes when Dickens character sit down for dinner, or the occasional snack.

And, Dickens is also good at Christmas!


message 13: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2520 comments Julie wrote: "this read confirms to me that I am a plot girl. There was something that made me laugh in every installment, and there were many characters I took an interest in, but I could have done without the stories within the story, and ultimately I liked the book best when there was a hanging question to be resolved ..."

I certainly agree with you, Julie, about the extraneous stories. I think I enjoyed Pickwick much more on this second reading because I realized the extra tales didn't move the plot along, so I could skim through them (or divide my attention, while listening) without worrying that I would miss something critical to the plot, such as it was.

What didn't change for me with the subsequent reading was the lack of character development for the other Pickwickians. I feel as if we know Sam and Tony Weller, and even Joe, the fat boy, better than we ever really get to know Tupman and Snodgrass, and even Winkle to some degree. Even after two readings, they're somewhat interchangeable in my mind. As I'm drawn to characters and humor, that's a shortcoming for me.

Despite that, I found myself smiling regularly while reading Pickwick, and laughed out loud more times than I can count. Any author who can do joy equally as well as pathos, especially in a first novel written at so young an age, is brilliant in my book.


message 14: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2520 comments I've been thinking a lot about the question to which we keep returning, namely what is the main plot or theme of this book? Having finally finished, I'd have to say it's simply about life's vicissitudes. I'm struck that at such a young age, Dickens already had a good grasp on all the endings one must face throughout life. When we get a new job, we realize that most of the friends we had at the old one were situational -- perfectly nice to work with, but once the proximity is gone, they often fade away. Same thing with friends from high school when we move on to college, and college friends when we graduate and start a career. When we marry, our relationships with our single friends change, and when we have children we move into yet another group. It's just the nature of things, isn't it? And I think, when all the travels and adventures are over, that is what Pickwick leaves us with. Things change, and people move on. We must make each day a feast and enjoy the punch for as long as it lasts, doing our best to be fair and kind along the way, trying not the let the Dodsons and Foggs in our lives get us down. Not a bad message from Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Dickens.


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "I've been thinking a lot about the question to which we keep returning, namely what is the main plot or theme of this book? Having finally finished, I'd have to say it's simply about life's vicissi..."

Mary Lou

Welcome back. I hope the trip to England was delightful, the sights exciting and the beer at least a bit chilled.

Your comments are a wonderful summary of our time with Mr Pickwick.

With a bit of unpacking, a bit of laundry, and a trip to the grocery store you will be ready for Oliver Twist.

Please share with us any especially exciting events while in England.


message 16: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2520 comments Peter wrote: "Please share with us any especially exciting events while in England...."

Not especially exciting, but I've just given a quick review of our trip over at the White Hart. Come by for some bangers and mash with mushy peas and a pint.


message 17: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Yes, Mary Lou, Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Tupman fade out of the story in the course of events, and even Mr. Winkle remains more of a cardboard character throughout the course of the novel. I think this is because they were part and parcel of the original idea suggested by Seymour, of having a bunch of cronies go through different sporting adventures. Maybe, Dickens was at a loss as to how to integrate them more fully into the novel, or maybe it was just that the Pickwick-Bardell situation took over after a while.

I like your thoughts about how different situations in life throw us in with different people, older sets of friends, colleagues and acquaintances fading away. Marriage and children surely make a person take a different outlook on life. You inevitably move into a different sphere of life and fall in with people sharing your obligations and everyday routines. I once read somewhere that as soon as a Victorian man got married, it was common practice, and no bad taste at all, to consider his old relations with his bachelor friends as no longer valid. I don't know whether this was common; if it was, it is bad luck for Mr. Tupman.


message 18: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1342 comments Mary Lou wrote: "I've been thinking a lot about the question to which we keep returning, namely what is the main plot or theme of this book? Having finally finished, I'd have to say it's simply about life's vicissi..."

That's such a good point about changes, and it was also life-like to read this over time and find myself wondering what a character I hadn't heard from in a while was up to. And sometimes we'd find out (Jingle and Job) and sometimes never (do we ever see Rachael Wardle again? Or Peter Magnus?). And then here's Mr. Pott turning up, when I'd never given him a second thought at all!


message 19: by Milena (new)

Milena | 114 comments Hello Curiosities,

sorry for this long eclipse. I was busy for some time, but I managed to catch up and finish The Pickwick Papers. Needless to say, I loved it and I enjoyed reading your opinions about this great book. Mary Lou, I'm glad you're back. I like the pictures you posted and obviously I decided to go to the Dickens House Museums. Thank you Tristram for mentioning Daniel Pool's book "What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickens knew..." in one thread: I bought it on the Internet. It's very helpful. The glossary at the end is great. As for the characters of the book I would like to meet, well, call me banal, but I would like to be there when Sam and his father are together: look at them when they are writing Sam's valentine, or when they meet after Mrs Weller's death, or when Mr Weller finally kicks Stiggins out of the house. But I also would like to have a pint with Mr Pickwick at a jolly convivial meeting round a table with the Pickwickians and the Curiosities as well. What about the George and Vulture? I also would like to meet Perker, the good side of the attorneys' group. But I also would like to be around when Dodson and Fogg are there, but not too close. I have a double feeling about them: on one hand, like Perker, I admire their skills, on the other hand I'd like they used it to help people (a little utopian thought). The fat boy is absolutely funny: I laughed out loud when Lowten opened the door and watched the fat boy sleeping on his foot. By the way, he's always sleeping, but he's always there when somebody is kissin or hugging, and with his eyes wide open! I would go on writing and writing, I loved this book. Shortly after having read Pickwick, I started reading Chesterton's book "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens". I read the second chapter, where he writes about Pickwick: wow! In a nutshell (but really on a nutshell!) he says that Pickwick is a vision of Dickens's world. After having read these fantastic words, I couldn't help but dive into Dickens's world, and I started reading Oliver Twist.
PS. There might be some mistakes in my post. I'm not at home, I'm using the cell phone, and I have no time to check things.
PPS. Tristram, Goodreads is closing his site for EU Internet users? Nooooooooooooooooo


message 20: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2520 comments Milena wrote: "Hello Curiosities,

sorry for this long eclipse. I was busy for some time, but I managed to catch up and finish The Pickwick Papers. Needless to say, I loved it and I enjoyed reading your opinions ..."


Good to have you back, too, Milena.

Isn't it interesting that in this first novel, filled with warmth and happy endings, Dickens does not write Dodson and Fogg getting their comeuppance? Everything else is tied up nicely with a bow; the good guys are happy, and the bad guys have either repented or gotten what's coming to them, except for Dodson and Fogg, who continue to go through life profiting from their unethical ways. It's not enough to foresee Bleak House, but no one who'd read Pickwick should have been surprised by it.


message 21: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Milena wrote: "Hello Curiosities,

sorry for this long eclipse. I was busy for some time, but I managed to catch up and finish The Pickwick Papers. Needless to say, I loved it and I enjoyed reading your opinions ..."


Just on a short note, to prevent any misunderstandings, Milena: I did not say that Goodreads would close down its site for EU readers, but I just said that I worried that they MIGHT. However, this is just me worrying - and I do worry a lot about things that never come to pass - because I heard that some sites don't want to tackle with the EU laws. But, please, remember that I did not say this would happen in the case of GR. I very likely will not.


message 22: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Milena wrote: "Hello Curiosities,

sorry for this long eclipse. I was busy for some time, but I managed to catch up and finish The Pickwick Papers. Needless to say, I loved it and I enjoyed reading your opinions ..."


Milena

Wow. You wrote your lengthy and delightful comment on a cell phone keyboard. That, to me, anyway, is quite the feat.

Pickwick is delightful and you mention many of the people and episodes that I too enjoyed.

I have never read the Chesterton book. Sounds like yet another book to track down and take a look at. As for Oliver Twist. ... another world indeed. I look forward to your insightful comments. Welcome back.


message 23: by Milena (new)

Milena | 114 comments Mary Lou wrote: "...Dodson and Fogg, who continue to go through life profiting from their unethical ways. It's not enough to foresee Bleak House, but no one who'd read Pickwick should have been surprised by it. ..."

I agree, Mary Lou. As for Bleak House, I haven’t read it yet, but it’s in my TBR list, and I already found a copy in a second hand bookshop. :)


message 24: by Milena (new)

Milena | 114 comments Tristram wrote: "... I did not say that Goodreads would close down its site for EU readers, but I just said that I worried that they MIGHT. ..."

Tristram, I also think that the odds that Goodreads will close its site for EU readers are low, however I must admit that when I began hearing about the privacy issue at the news, and reading about it in the newspapers, it popped into my mind that there might be some consequences, and I think that you and me are not the only Europeans that had that little worry. ;-)


message 25: by Milena (last edited Jun 02, 2018 08:36AM) (new)

Milena | 114 comments Peter wrote: "... I have never read the Chesterton book. Sounds like yet another book to track down and take a look at. As for Oliver Twist. ... another world indeed. I look forward to your insightful comments. Welcome back. "

Thank you Peter, I remember Kim posted an excerpt from Chesterton’s book in the first thread (thanks Kim). I downloaded the book from the Gutenberg site, but I decided not to read it until I had finished The Pickwick Papers, so as to avoid finding spoilers. It was worth waiting, because when I read it I enjoyed it quite a lot, and now it’s in my currently-reading-bookshelf. But I won’t read the chapter about Oliver Twist until the discussion which I’m looking forward to, will not come to the final general thread.


message 26: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2520 comments Milena wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "...Dodson and Fogg, who continue to go through life profiting from their unethical ways. It's not enough to foresee Bleak House, but no one who'd read Pickwick should have been sur..."

Bleak House is probably my favorite Dickens novel, Milena. I know you'll enjoy it! And it's even better when read with this group, if you're patient enough to wait that long. I suggest you just plan to read it twice. ;-)


message 27: by Milena (new)

Milena | 114 comments Mary Lou wrote: "...if you're patient enough to wait that long. I suggest you just plan to read it twice. ;-) ..."

It won’t be “patiently waiting”. It will be “reading great novels” together, among which David Copperfield, that is the novel that made me decide to join the group. :)


message 28: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Bleak House is also my favourite Dickens novel, and probably my most-read one, too. On that head, I can assure you that you will enjoy it more the better you already know it because it is a very carefully woven novel, and there are so many little hints and cross-references that no one can exhaust it after one single reading.


message 29: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 29 comments According to The Friendly Dickens, the 'Pickwick Papers' contains 35 breakfasts, 32 dinners, 10 lunches, 10 teas, 8 suppers, more than 249 references to drinking, and mention of 59 Inns, 33 by name.


message 30: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 29 comments I enjoyed PP a lot, and I really liked Mr Pickwick. There was some discussion in earlier threads about where his money came from. I was looking through my copy of Charles Dickens: A Celebration of His Life and Work, and I found a theory about that that makes a lot of sense, but it casts Mr Pickwick in a somewhat darker light. I'm going to mark the passage with spoiler tags, so that if you don't want to know, you won't accidentally read it:

(view spoiler)

I am interested in hearing others' thoughts on this. Personally, I hope it's not true.


message 31: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Suki,

Thank you for posting that interesting find, which is a good example of a close and deconstructionist reading of a novel. Demerara is probably still known for its sugar today and at the time of the novel was under British rule, although formerly a Dutch colony, and it had lots of sugar-plantation worked by slaves. I think that a major slave rebellion in that colony in the 1820s was one of the reasons why the British Parliament finally decided to make slavery illegal throughout the British Empire. If Mr. Pickwick’s business connections with Demerara were the basis of his considerable means, it is therefore highly likely that, at least indirectly, Mr. Pickwick must have profited from slave labour or its products in one way or another.

But if we take a closer look at Mr. Pickwick’s connection with Demerara, I think that we find it mainly based on conjecture or, at best, implication. Mr. Perker says,

”The agent at Liverpool said he had been obliged to you many times when you were in business, and he would be glad to take him [i.e. Jingle, T.S.] on your recommendation.”


We know for sure that a) Mr. Pickwick had been doing business with an agent in Liverpool, and b) that the agent will send Mr. Jingle to Demerara on Mr. Pickwick’s recommendation. It does not follow that Mr. Pickwick himself had been doing Demerara business but just that he had business dealings with an agent who, in his turn, has connections with that colony. Mr. Pickwick is apparently a very wealthy man, but there are many more ways than Demerara to invest money and thrive on one’s investments, and if one has a good agent, one need not even be very sharp oneself. So, in a way, the conclusion that Mr. Pickwick himself did business with Demerara does not necessarily hold water any more than the conclusion that since A knows B, who is a cheat, A must also be a cheat.

We should also take a step back, onto the meta-fictional level, and ask ourselves the question what intention the narrator – or the author – could have had in making Mr. Pickwick, ever so implicitly, a slaveholder, or an adherent of slavery. With the Stiggins example, the intention is obvious: Mr. Stiggins is revealed as a hypocrite, as somebody whose right hand does not want to know or care what his left hand is doing. In Mr. Pickwick’s case, however, there is no apparent reason for taking the Demerara episode as a hint that Mr. Pickwick, for all his benevolence and genialness, was battening on slavery. Had the novel wanted to cast some doubt on Mr. Pickwick’s integrity, which, to me, it shows no signs of wanting, we might have taken this coincidence as a clever clue to Mr. Pickwick’s double moral standards. As matters stand, however, I cannot see any reason why we should allow Mr. Pickwick’s long-standing business acquaintance with the agent to cast any shadow on his character. It is most likely just a coincidence, not detracting anything from Mr. Pickwick’s moral qualities.

That’s at least what I would say.


message 32: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3447 comments Mod
Hi Suki

Thank you for the research and the book links. I do recall the sections that suggest Pickwick’s business past, but the book’s theory of the possibility of Pickwick’s darker path was intriguing.

I want to shout “say it ain’t so” as a response. Tristram has presented a fine commentary and I agree with him. To me, Pickwick is portrayed as being somewhat naive and out of touch with the more edgy sides of life. That, of course, does not mean that Pickwick was not involved in slaving as a person can easily miss or not acknowledge his/her own own darker shadows.

What I enjoyed most about your post is the fact that you brought a very interesting concept to us for discussion. When the Curiosities range beyond the plot in our discussions I get great satisfaction.

And what greater satisfaction is there than to have a precise breakdown of the gastronomic activities of our Pickwickian friends. I really enjoyed learning about their eating and drinking habits. I’m sure the fat boy would too.

Thanks for the references.


message 33: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 29 comments Tristram wrote: "Suki,

Thank you for posting that interesting find, which is a good example of a close and deconstructionist reading of a novel. Demerara is probably still known for its sugar today and at the time..."


Tristram-- thank you for your comments. I know next to nothing about British Colonial history, so this was enlightening. :-)


message 34: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 29 comments Peter wrote: "Hi Suki

Thank you for the research and the book links. I do recall the sections that suggest Pickwick’s business past, but the book’s theory of the possibility of Pickwick’s darker path was intrig..."


Hi Peter

I was completely shocked when I read the speculations on the foundations of Pickwick's wealth. It seemed so terribly out of character, but at the same time it fit in with Dickens' blending of the dark and the light in PP. I was very glad that I read the entry after finishing PP; the antics of Mr Pickwick would have been tainted by that ugly cloud of conjecture hanging over him.


message 35: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4856 comments Mod
Suki wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Suki,

Thank you for posting that interesting find, which is a good example of a close and deconstructionist reading of a novel. Demerara is probably still known for its sugar toda..."


You're welcome, Suki. I tried to do my best making a case for Mr. Pickwick, although I did not want to interfere with Mr. Perker's field of business.


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