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Martin Chuzzlewit > MC, Chp. 01-03

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message 1: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Hello Curiosities,

I have the great pleasure to start our discussions on Martin Chuzzlewit, the sixth novel written by Charles Dickens and generally considered the last of his works as a “younger” writer, the novels following this one being more carefully structured and often more mature in tone. Apart from that, Martin Chuzzlewit was not such a success in Dickens’s day and age as many of the preceding novels so that the author decided to change horses in midstream by sending his hero to the United States and introducing new characters. We will see whether this new turn of the story can be regarded as a felicitous one or not.
First of all, we have to dive into the first chapter, which gives us some information about the pedigree of the Chuzzlewit family and in which nothing happens as such. Instead, the narrator assures his readers of the old age of the Chuzzlewit family and marks it a worthy of the reader’s interest. Still, he very early on casts some shadow of doubt on the integrity of this family by making sly remarks like this one:

”It is remarkable that as there was, in the oldest family of which we have any record, a murderer and a vagabond, so we never fail to meet, in the records of all old families, with innumerable repetitions of the same phase of character. Indeed, it may be laid down as a general principle, that the more extended the ancestry, the greater the amount of violence and vagabondism; for in ancient days those two amusements, combining a wholesome excitement with a promising means of repairing shattered fortunes, were at once the ennobling pursuit and the healthful recreation of the Quality of this land.

Consequently, it is a source of inexpressible comfort and happiness to find, that in various periods of our history, the Chuzzlewits were actively connected with divers slaughterous conspiracies and bloody frays. It is further recorded of them, that being clad from head to heel in steel of proof, they did on many occasions lead their leather–jerkined soldiers to the death with invincible courage, and afterwards return home gracefully to their relations and friends.”


Let’s see how this bodes for the family we are concerned with on the pages of our new novel. Any guesses, maybe?

The first chapter is rather long and does not seem to introduce any characters relevant to the actual story, but the narrators picks out certain individuals among the old Chuzzlewits and points out, often in a mock-serious tone, that these Chuzzlewits were generally in dire financial straits and had to go hungry or to resort to the pawnbroker’s, and he even connects the Chuzzlewit family with the Gunpowder Plot, although in not too precise a manner. The narrator concludes his musings on the Chuzzlewit family tree by saying that regardless of what different theories on the human race exist, it is quite clear ”that some men certainly are remarkable for taking uncommon good care of themselves.”

It’s probably good to bear this last sentence in mind – not so much as a reminder to take good care of ourselves, which, I hope, we won’t forget – but more as a key to the novel as such.

QUESTIONS
What do you expect of Martin Chuzzlewit after reading such a prologue-like first chapter? Does the style remind you of other writers, or maybe of the beginning of another novel by Dickens? The chapters don’t have titles (or are not simply numbered) but have little summaries instead. What style of literature is this typical of? When did Dickens last use this literary device?
Did you actually like this first chapter? Would you have read on after this chapter if the novel were not our next group read?


message 2: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
In Chapter 2 we meet some of the main characters of our story, although not too early because first of all the narrator sets the scene by describing a rural late autumn day in a little Wiltshire village. The mood is idyllic and gentle, and we even get the following impression, probably as a nod towards our good old friend Gabriel Varden:

”Then the village forge came out in all its bright importance. The lusty bellows roared Ha ha! to the clear fire, which roared in turn, and bade the shining sparks dance gayly to the merry clinking of the hammers on the anvil. The gleaming iron, in its emulation, sparkled too, and shed its red–hot gems around profusely. The strong smith and his men dealt such strokes upon their work, as made even the melancholy night rejoice, and brought a glow into its dark face as it hovered about the door and windows, peeping curiously in above the shoulders of a dozen loungers.”

Then an evening wind arises, and it soon blows itself into veritable anger, chasing the newly fallen leaves around and playing havoc on the front door of a certain Mr. Pecksniff, closing the door with a vengeance on its owner’s very nose when he is on the point of entering, sending him down the stairs on his back. We now get a comical scene when one of Mr. Pecksniff’s daughters, aroused by the noise, comes outside to make inquiry about its cause, but fails to see her parent lying supine before her. Only when Mr. Pecksniff has slowly come around from his fall is he able to draw his daughter’s attention to himself, and he is taken inside, his – not very serious injuries – are tended and his belongings are recovered.

We get further insight into the family during these procedures, especially with regard to the two Pecksniff daughters, whose names are Mercy and Charity – which already reflects a certain light on their widowed father’s character. Mercy is described as girlish, playful, buoyant and, of course, wholly unconscious of all these endearing attributes. As to Charity, we learn very early that she has a shrill voice, but also ”mild, yet not reproachful gravity”. The narrator is so exuberant in his descriptions of the sisters and of their relationship with each other that we must probably be cautious. We also get similar encomium with regard to Mr. Pecksniff, but when we look closely, we find that his praise is double-edged, as, for example, here:

”Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr Pecksniff, especially in his conversation and correspondence. It was once said of him by a homely admirer, that he had a Fortunatus’s purse of good sentiments in his inside. In this particular he was like the girl in the fairy tale, except that if they were not actual diamonds which fell from his lips, they were the very brightest paste, and shone prodigiously. He was a most exemplary man; fuller of virtuous precept than a copy book. Some people likened him to a direction–post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there; but these were his enemies, the shadows cast by his brightness; that was all. His very throat was moral. You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr Pecksniff, ‘There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace, a holy calm pervades me.’ So did his hair, just grizzled with an iron–grey which was all brushed off his forehead, and stood bolt upright, or slightly drooped in kindred action with his heavy eyelids. So did his person, which was sleek though free from corpulency. So did his manner, which was soft and oily. In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower and dangling double eye–glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’”

What do you make of this kind of praise? And what about Mr. Pecksniff’s introduction into the novel? This fall down the stairs is hardly a very seemly first appearance to the reader – how does it put you in relation to Mr. Pecksniff? Is there a deeper sense in it?

In the following conversation between Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters it becomes clear that Mr. Pecksniff goes through life as an architect – quite in the manner of George Costanza, probably – and that he takes both up and in young men who pay him money to learn how to become architects. Apparently, the Pecksniffs are waiting for a new young man to come, since one of the students they have had so far is about to leave the house. Actually, the old students should have left the day before but his luggage is still there, and he seems to have had a night out with Tom Pinch, another young man who lives in the house and whom the two daughters obviously look down to.

Mr. Pinch suddenly arrives, and he is described as ”[a]n ungainly, awkward–looking man, extremely short–sighted, and prematurely bald” of about thirty years or so. He is obviously about to help the former student, John Westlock, carry his luggage to the place where the coach is going to stop, and being of a harmonious nature, he opens the door for Mr. Westlock to enter and say goodbye. That latter young man tries to part in good spirits with Mr. Pecksniff – notwithstanding all the quarrels they had – but he gets only a paltry response from the great architect. Instead of shaking hands with Westlock, Mr. Pecksniff blandly says that he had already forgiven Westlock his outrages the moment they were committed, and the idea of being forgiven by Mr. Pecksniff is a thought that makes Mr. Westlock bristle with rage, and so their farewell is not really hearty as such. It is further embittered by Mr. Pecksniff’s sneaky way of reproaching Mr. Pinch for having brought Westlock back into his presence.

On their way to the coach, John Westlock tries to convince Tom Pinch that he thinks too highly of Pecksniff and too lowly of himself, that it is indeed Pecksniff who exploits Tom in a thousand little ways, using him as a kind of advertisement of himself and that he played on his grandmother’s pride and hopes for Tom when he agreed to take him into his house in exchange for the grandmother’s savings. Tom, however, is hardly convinced by anything that is said against Pecksniff – Westlock finally tones down his criticism of Pecksniff –, and so Westlock parts with Tom in the knowledge that his friend is too good at heart to see through the evil ways of some people.

What do you think of Tom and John? They have promised to stay in touch with each other, but do you think that is likely? What do you think of the narrator’s way of giving us Tom’s background story and some further assessment of Mr. Pecksniff’s character through John Westlock?

Do like the narrator’s obvious irony in connection with Mr. Pecksniff or do you think it is overdone? Here is one example which I particularly like because in my eyes it is a very modern attitude:

”‘When I say we, my dear,’ returned her father, ‘I mean mankind in general; the human race, considered as a body, and not as individuals. There is nothing personal in morality, my love. […]’”


message 3: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Chapter 3 is set one day after the events described in the preceding chapter, and it introduces some further characters. Once again, however, the chapter is introduced by a rather long description of the Blue Dragon, the country inn of the village, and the signboard in particular.

QUESTIONS
What do you think about the long description of the Blue Dragon? Does it add to depth for you or do you think it could have been dispensed with?

The Blue Dragon has two new guests, namely an old gentleman who has been taken ill on the road and been put up at the inn in order to recover. We are later to learn that the old man’s name is Martin Chuzzlewit and that he is a rich but also very distrustful and unhappy man. Although his fits are probably very painful, he does not want to see any doctor but insists on being looked after by his travelling companion, a young and gentle woman by the name of Mary. The landlady, Mrs. Lupin, at first thinks that Mary may be the old man’s granddaughter, daughter or niece, or even his wife – but Mary always answers in the negative to these questions. For all his pain, Mr. Chuzzlewit orders his writing materials to be brought to him and he starts writing a document which he takes great pains to conceal from anyone in the room, especially Mary.

All these particulars – especially the fact that Mary is not married to Mr. Chuzzlewit, but also the old man’s obvious mental anguish – cause so great alarm to Mrs. Lupin that she decides to have Mr. Pecksniff sent for with a view to this eminent moral authority probably being able to instil Mr. Chuzzlewit with a sense of calm and moral edification. When that man arrives, however, it becomes obvious that Mr. Pecksniff and Mr. Chuzzlewit know each other – in fact, they are cousins –, and that Mr. Chuzzlewit is not exactly well-disposed towards Pecksniff nor towards any other family member. Mr. Pecksniff offers to listen to the old man’s problems not as a cousin but as a stranger might do it, protesting that he has no personal interest whatsoever in ingratiating himself with his wealthy relative. Apparently, the old man takes up this offer and opens his heart to Pecksniff, telling him of how his money and wealth are in fact a great curse to him because they have regularly aroused selfishness in the people around him and motivated them to fight against each other for the possession of the old man’s favour. He says that it is easier for a poor man to find love, help and support for their own sake but for a rich man, whose presence inevitably will give rise to envy, greed, underhandedness and selfishness. That’s why he has shunned his family, even his grandson Martin, and adopted Mary, who knows very well that she will play no role in his testament but will only be granted a moderate allowance as long as he lives. This way, he says, at least Mary will not anticipate his death with impatience and the feeling of improving her own station in life, but will genuinely grieve. Mr. Pecksniff, hearing all this, admonishes him that such general distrust against mankind is not good for him and unbecoming in a Christian, and he implores him to open his heart to young Martin, his grandson – if to no one else.

When Mr. Chuzzlewit is alone again, he bemoans his fate and the fact that he has burned the paper he has been writing on so carefully. Another testament made for nothing!

QUESTIONS
Who may have profited from the testament that Martin Chuzzlewit wrote and later destroyed on his sick-bed? Mary? Or Martin junior?
Why does Mr. Pecksniff – who is probably not quite as disinterested as Tom Pinch thinks – go all out for Martin Chuzzlewit junior?
And, most interesting of all, why should Martin senior, who is full of suspicion against his surroundings, trust a man like Pecksniff?
What do you think of the arrangement between Mr. Chuzzlewit and 17-year old Mary? You adopt a young woman to look after you in your old age and on purpose do not provide for her after your death so that she may not join the family circle of legacy-hunters? It is probably clever, but it is also fair?
What do you think of Mrs. Lupin, whom I rather neglected in my summary? Will she play a more prominent part in the story? Is she a welcome change from old Willet?


message 4: by Mary Lou (last edited Sep 22, 2019 04:28AM) (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Tristram wrote: "Did you actually like this first chapter? Would you have read on after this chapter if the novel were not our next group read? ..."

Oh, dear... I'm already behind on my weekly installment. I read Chuzzlewit on my own not too many years ago, and thought about skipping it this go 'round, but I always get so much more out of a Dickens novel when we discuss it as a group. But I thought perhaps I'd listen to it this time around, and save my actual reading time for the backlog of books on my coffee table. Chapter 1 was NOT a good chapter for listening, and I found the reader on the CDs from the library to be pretty awful. As a result, I found myself zoning out quite a bit. The one thing that made me chuckle was our narrator's observation that the Chuzzlewit line had "exquisitely-turned limbs" Perhaps Sim Tappertit was distant cousin, haha!


message 5: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1038 comments I found the "Preface" a bit odd. It was not signed and dated by the author, such as, for example:

Charles Dickens
Gad's Hill
October 10, 1844

Just a blank preface of a few pages that had me wondering whether it was a character-narrator of the book itself. I thought for a minute: how ingenious, as the character-narrator mentions characters from previous books. But I don't think that was the intention, obviously.


message 6: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Tristram wrote: "In Chapter 2 we meet some of the main characters of our story, although not too early because first of all the narrator sets the scene by describing a rural late autumn day in a little Wiltshire vi..."

My goodness, it's taking FOREVER for Dickens to jump into the meat of this story. Thank God for Pecksniff's arrival!

Mr. Pecksniff goes through life as an architect – quite in the manner of George Costanza, probably

Hahaha! Perfect!

Tom and John... have promised to stay in touch with each other, but do you think that is likely?...

If the tongue-in-cheek presentation of Pecksniff's character didn't clue us in, then his exchange with John certainly left no question about which of these two men we should align ourselves with. Pecksniff may not be evil, but he's definitely someone who is looking out for his own interests and shouldn't be trusted. Will Tom and John stay in touch? It's Dickens, so they may fall out of touch for awhile, but I'm sure they'll come together again - probably with a host of mutual friends - at some point. :-)

Mr. Pecksniff was in the frequent habit of using any word that occurred to him as having a good sound, and rounding a sentence well without much care for its meaning. And he did this so boldly, and in such an imposing manner, that he would sometimes stagger the wisest people with his eloquence, and make them gasp again.

I remember reading an interview with Paul McCartney once in which he admitted to much the same thing about some of his lyrics. "The movement you need is on your shoulder" indeed.

the younger one was moved to sit upon his knee forthwith, put her fair arms round his neck, and kiss him twenty times. During the whole of this affectionate display she laughed to a most immoderate extent: in which hilarious indulgence even the prudent Cherry joined.

Serious questions: Can you think of any other author who has their post-pubescent female characters acting this way towards their fathers? Am I the only one who thinks it's bordering on inappropriate? And if it's not just me, is this a matter 21st century sensibilities being critical of 19th century norms, or is Dickens truly bordering on the unseemly? I probably wouldn't think much about it if it was a one-time thing -- just a girl being silly. Thankfully, I don't remember Dolly Varden crossing the line in her interactions with Gabriel, but we do see it with Bella Wilfer, Lucy Manet, and others. Which makes me wonder if Dickens thought of himself as a father figure to Mary Hogarth. There's definitely room for some psychoanalysis here....

Now I'm off to see if youtube has an audio version with a superior reader who will keep me engaged as I catch up on chapter 3.


message 7: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1038 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Tristram wrote: "In Chapter 2 we meet some of the main characters of our story, although not too early because first of all the narrator sets the scene by describing a rural late autumn day in a li..."

That's a very interesting insight, Mary Lou, regarding Dickens and some of his female characters. I always found, from a biographical standpoint, the Mary Hogarth thing a bit oft-putting. I wasn't sure in what terms to think of it.


message 8: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
I remember that I wondered at Bella Wilfer's way of sitting on her father's lap or of curling his hair, but in the instance of Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters the behaviour did not strike me as peculiar. Probably, this is because this domestic scene of artlessness and bliss seems to me to be a sign of the hypocrisy cultivated by the Pecksniffs, When Charity inquires after the money the new student is going to pay in exchange of enjoying Mr. Pecksniff's patronage, the father gently and jestingly - as if he couldn't imagine she were serious on this point - rebukes her for her materialistic outlook on life. At the same time, it is clear that all three Pecksniffs consider this aspect to be of importance.

Unlike many other hypocrites, Mr. Pecksniff even keeps up his mask within the family circle, although his daughters see through him and are tarred with the same brush. If he does this with a view to not lose any opportunity of practising his arts of deceit, or because hypocrisy is no longer his second but already his first nature, is maybe a point we might discuss in the course of our Chuzzlewit adventure.


message 9: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Tristram wrote:
Why does Mr. Pecksniff – who is probably not quite as disinterested as Tom Pinch thinks – go all out for Martin Chuzzlewit junior?


It doesn't seem to mesh with the self-interested character that Dickens painted in the previous chapter, does it? My only theory is that by speaking on young Martin's behalf, he appears selfless enough to hope that reverse psychology might work. Far fetched?

... why should Martin senior, who is full of suspicion against his surroundings, trust a man like Pecksniff?

He shouldn't. I wonder if this heart-to-heart wasn't just a moment of weakness for Chuzzlewit that he may come to regret later.

What do you think of the arrangement between Mr. Chuzzlewit and 17-year old Mary?

I think of her as a hired private nurse and platonic companion, and feel badly for her that having such a position causes even good people like Miss Lupin to assume the worst.

You adopt a young woman to look after you in your old age and on purpose do not provide for her after your death so that she may not join the family circle of legacy-hunters? It is probably clever, but it is also fair?

Sure. This was long before pensions were common. She's getting a good salary now, which she can tuck away for her future.

As you know, I'm the Queen of Associations (does that make me Queen Ass?), and this situation reminds me of George Washington, who had a provision in his will that his slaves would be granted their freedom when Mrs. Washington went to her reward. Now old George probably thought he was doing a great thing -- making sure his property and his wife would be looked after until her death, and then emancipating his slaves. But Martha, who had obviously thought this through a bit more carefully, lived in a certain amount of fear once George died, always wondering if one of the slaves, wanting his freedom sooner than later, might just do her in. George might have learned something from Chuzzlewit! Mary's financial security depends on her employer being kept healthy. She has no incentive to slip anything into his drink or hold a pillow over his head.

What do you think of Mrs. Lupin? Will she play a more prominent part in the story? Is she a welcome change from old Willet? "

I like her. Despite her suspicions (and, yes, nosiness) about Mary's situation, she is still polite, concerned, and not condescending or self-righteous. I hope we see more of her and her fine establishment going forward.


message 10: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments I ... am not all through chapter three yet. The first chapter somehow was horrible to get through, and then I got a terrible cold, making me stall reading further, because the letters of chapter one simply danced before my eyes. The arrival of Pecksniff made things better very much though.

Although the first chapter does give some insight into the family, I could have done with another start like the one of Barnaby Rudge, with the description of a nice, cosy place to begin with ;-)

I like Mrs. Lupin too. She's nosy and a bit too busy with other people's business, but I have the idea it comes from the will to help, and her somehow thinking too well of mr. Pecksniff at this moment. I rather have charactes who make faults trying to do what is good, than ones who ... do the wrong thing on purpose or to look good. And I do hope that mr. Pecksniff's hypocrisy will bring some comic relief.


message 11: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments I just come across the sentence, in Martin Chuzzlewit Sr.'s speech to Mr. Pecksniff:

;or,' and here he looked closely in his cousin's eyes, 'or an assumption of honest indepedence, almost worse than all;'

I think Chuzzlewit Sr. was very much aware that he could not really confide in Pecksniff. It is not as much as baring his thoughts to Pecksniff, and more of a rant about why he'd never trust the guy, packaged into a kind of civility and giving the guy a bit of his own medicine, I think. At least, that was what I got out of it when I read it last time, and again now I read it this time.


message 12: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Jantine wrote: "I just come across the sentence, in Martin Chuzzlewit Sr.'s speech to Mr. Pecksniff:

;or,' and here he looked closely in his cousin's eyes, 'or an assumption of honest indepedence, almost worse th..."


Yes, that's a very nice detail showing that old Martin knows very well whom he is dealing with, after all. It is to be hoped that he does not underestimate Mr. Pecksniff's wiles just because he is sure to see through the man and have set him down as a hypocrite. Maybe, Pecksniff is deeper than Martin is prepared to give him credit for.


message 13: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Jantine wrote: "The arrival of Pecksniff made things better very much though. "

Mr. Pecksniff will be delighted to hear that, Jantine, and probably grossly outstay his welcome. ;-)


message 14: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "My only theory is that by speaking on young Martin's behalf, he appears selfless enough to hope that reverse psychology might work. Far fetched?"

It might well be that Pecksniff has another ace up his sleeve we don't know a lot about yet. His good words about Martin's grandson at any rate make the best of architects appear in an honest light of disinterestedness. A light which, at a closer look, might well be eclipsed ;-)


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Hello Curiosities,

I have the great pleasure to start our discussions on Martin Chuzzlewit, the sixth novel written by Charles Dickens and generally considered the last of his works as a “younger”..."


Tristram

You ask a question that I stumble to answer with complete honesty. Would you have read on ... if the novel were not our next read?”. Well ... let’s say I would have rather skipped past this novel and headed straight for Dombey and Son.

The first chapter spins away into a tangle of people and history that makes my head spin. Found within the chapter there are some nuggets that may well prove of interest to readers, but there are not many needles in the chapter’s messy haystack.

The novel’s first chapter has tinges of 18C novels British novels but even that idea is a stretch. To be honest, I’m glad you had to do it, to me. :-)


message 16: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "In Chapter 2 we meet some of the main characters of our story, although not too early because first of all the narrator sets the scene by describing a rural late autumn day in a little Wiltshire vi..."

Ah, Pecksniff’s manner was soft and oily. What a perfectly tangible description. With his introduction to the reader as a man who is bumped down his own outside stairs and needs to be rescued by his daughter we get to know all we need to about him. And the daughters’ names. Can Dickens mean that they are as their names suggest, or are they the antithesis of their own names? From our first three chapters it is clear to me that Pecksniff and his daughters are characters we will learn to dislike immensely.

Pecksniff is a great creation of Dickens. It seems each novel Dickens creates a great cast of unique characters. At first glance it seems such characters cannot possibly exist in real life, but, on second thought, I image that we all are aware of, have met, or even worked with their real life double.


message 17: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Chapter 3 is set one day after the events described in the preceding chapter, and it introduces some further characters. Once again, however, the chapter is introduced by a rather long description ..."

As we meet new characters in this chapter I find myself drawn to Mary, Mrs Lupin and Tom. While many of Dickens’s greatest characters are the protagonists of his novels, the supporting casts are delightful too. Some are quirky, some are mysterious, some are honest, and many are from the shadier regions of society, but they are all stamped with a unique and memorable personality.

I really enjoyed the leisurely introduction to the Blue Dragon. Perhaps it is a place to visit when we need our thirst quenched.

So far Martin Chuzzlewit eludes me. I’m not sure if I like him or not. As to Mary, his companion, now that is a rather mysterious relationship. Why Chuzzlewit would put any trust in Pecksniff I have no idea but do wonder if Chuzzlewit is as clever a chameleon as Pecksniff is a dishonest fake. Could Martin Chuzzlewit be playing Pecksniff for some yet undisclosed reason?


message 18: by Emma (new)

Emma (misswoodhouse) | 19 comments Hello:

I might be in the minority here, but I liked the first chapter. It did take a minute to catch on, but once I had hold of the biting, sarcastic tone, I was hooked. In the preface, Dickens writes “I set out, on this journey which is now concluded; with the design of exhibiting, in various aspects, the commonest of all vices.” Immediately, I thought the “common vice” he was referring to would be greed, (knowing a small bit of the plot from reading the back cover and some online summaries). However, after reading the first chapter, I wonder if that common vice might not be pride? The Chuzzlewit family clearly have a false sense of pride that they have developed and fostered over the years: “It is needless to multiply instances of the high and lofty station, and the vast importance of the Chuzzlewits, at different periods. If it came within the scope of reasonable probability that further proofs were required, they might be heaped upon each other until they formed an Alps of testimony.” But, Dickens takes great pains (and certainly time) to show to us that they are not at all entitled to this sense of superiority. I thought this chapter was hilarious and definitely intrigued me to read more and figure out what exactly has gone wrong with this family.

I was under the assumption that the style of providing brief summaries before each chapter (rather than a title) is a consequence of serialization (The PIickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, two early serials also make use of this). Perhaps not though!

I was also really intrigued by the description of the blue dragon. Of course, the question immediately rises: why a dragon? Why not a unicorn? Or a lion? I was tempted to draw a parallel between the dragon and Martin Chuzzlewit Sr. That’s something that would need to be teased out a bit more if I were to make a compelling argument of it, but something about them each being fierce yet somewhat tamed (Chuzzlewit by his illness) drew me to make this comparison.

This is my first time joining a Dickens group discussion and I’m really excited to be here! :)


message 19: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Well, I finally did it: I sat down, threw my legs up on a chair, turned on a reading light, and opened my Nook to chapter 1 of Martin Chezychew. And there it was, proof positive, right there in the first chapter -- the backbreaking weight of carrying the family tree on one's back. Guilt by heredity. The real original sin.

Woe is the young lad whose mother has looked him in the eye and said, "Don't you want to grow up to be just like your granddad?" I wish I had read Chapter 1 of Martin ChezyChew as a wee boy, then I might have had a smart retort.


message 20: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5691 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Would you have read on ... if the novel were not our next read?”

Yes, I would have. I read it once or twice before our group. Then you and I read it together in our other group. If I got through all your grumpiness that time I don't know why I couldn't this time. Besides, your favorite character is in this book and I can hardly wait to argue with you as to how wonderful she is. :-)


message 21: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5691 comments Mod
Emma wrote: "Hello:

I might be in the minority here, but I liked the first chapter. It did take a minute to catch on, but once I had hold of the biting, sarcastic tone, I was hooked. In the preface, Dickens w..."


Welcome Emma, it's nice to meet you. :-)


message 22: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Emma,

I liked the first chapter too. That's the Dickens narrator I'm fond of: the irreverent, exaggerating, satirizing voice that is so capable of slicing to ribbons the object of its attention.


message 23: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Mary Lou wrote: "What do you think of Mrs. Lupin? Will she play a more prominent part in the story? Is she a welcome change from old Willet? "

I like her. Despite her suspicions (and, yes, nosiness) about Mary's situation, she is still polite, concerned, and not condescending or self-righteous. I hope we see more of her and her fine establishment going forward ..."



I like her too, although I'm skeptical we'll see much of her. She's too well-adjusted and happy, not the direction this book seems to be headed. If she had a really awful husband I'd expect to see her as a major character, but she is instead a widow, which as far as I can tell is the very most comfortable thing for a Victorian woman to be, at least in a novel.


message 24: by Julie (last edited Sep 25, 2019 07:33PM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Tristram wrote: "In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower and dangling double eye–glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’”

What do you make of this kind of praise? "



All I know is, I once saw a man congratulate his wife on being "the most ethical person I know" in a very public birthday salute to her, and I have not been able to take either of them seriously since.

Moral/ethical people tend to be quiet about it.

(Also, I mean, come on. What does that say about his opinion of everyone else he knows?)


message 25: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Mary Lou wrote: "You adopt a young woman to look after you in your old age and on purpose do not provide for her after your death so that she may not join the family circle of legacy-hunters? It is probably clever, but it is also fair?

Sure. This was long before pensions were common. She's getting a good salary now, which she can tuck away for her future."



Well, true... but there's something so grotesquely mean about the way Martin does this. As in, I will make her care about *my* well-being, but I won't give a fig about hers: she's destitute as soon as I'm gone and that's the way I like it.

He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. He doesn't just hire and pay her: he hires and pays her with the intention that she be nothing without him.


message 26: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1038 comments Something I came across in my Jane Smiley bio.... the names Dickens considered before settling on Chuzzlewit:

Chuzzlewig
Sweezleden
Chuzzletoe
Sweezlebach
Sweezlewag


message 27: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Julie wrote: "He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. .."

I saw it a bit differently. Revisit this passage with me:

the young girl whom you just now saw, is an orphan child, whom, with one steady purpose, I have bred and educated, or, if you prefer the word, adopted. For a year or more she has been my constant companion, and she is my only one. I have taken, as she knows, a solemn oath never to leave her sixpence when I die, but while I live I make her an annual allowance: not extravagant in its amount and yet not stinted.

The phrase, "with one steady purpose" does come across as very selfish, I admit. But, for me, it doesn't seem like greedy, entitled selfishness (as we'll come across in chapter 4), but the kind of selfishness that we all have - wanting a decent place to live, enough money tucked away to pay for the nursing home when the time comes, and the hope that, at that point, we'll have someone to care for us who isn't cruel, and might actually be fond of us.

In the meantime, Mary was an orphan, so her shot at a good life was pretty non-existent (except that she's ended up in a Dickens novel :-) ), but now she's been educated, and presumably clothed, fed, and housed. And she gets that stipend that is "not extravagant, but not stinted." The particulars aren't laid out for us, but I'm reading that as an indication that she could save a bit if she chose to live simply.

I do agree with you, though, about her future when it comes to the things that make a good life beyond finances. While he's not leaving anything to her in his will (or so he says), it does seem that he expects her to stay in his "employ" until his passing, so I don't see much hope for her to have a social life, either with friends or a man.


message 28: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Emma wrote: "... I was tempted to draw a parallel between the dragon and Martin Chuzzlewit Sr...."

Very interesting idea, Emma (and welcome to the discussion!). The opening paragraph of the chapter, describing the dragon's aging certainly foreshadows what we learn about Chuzzlewit's declining health shortly thereafter.

Dickens takes great pains (and certainly time) to show to us that they are not at all entitled to this sense of superiority. I thought this chapter was hilarious

My brother recently reminded me of something our great-uncle used to say: "Don't do anything to embarrass your ancestors!" Dickens has a delightful way of reminding us that sometimes, even in "old" families (or, perhaps, especially in old families!) our ancestors did plenty of things that should embarrass us. Perhaps my uncle would have done better to tell us not to do anything to shame our grandchildren.

And speaking of "old families" what does that phrase mean anyway (she asked rhetorically)? Every family is as old as another. I know what it's getting at, but it seems like a silly thing to say or, at least, a silly way to put it.


message 29: by Bobbie (last edited Sep 28, 2019 08:16AM) (new)

Bobbie | 294 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. .."

I saw it a bit diffe..."


I agree with you, Mary Lou, I think if her room and board is being paid I don't see that she should not be able to save some. I don't know if she must buy her own clothes, so she may have some expenses but I am thinking it would not be much.

I do agree she would have very little opportunity to meet or have friends, male or female, but hopefully that can come later.


message 30: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. .."

I saw it a bit diffe..."


Hm. I wonder if it's his decision to place someone in his pay above everyone with a personal connection to him that makes me find Martin C selfish--rather than his actual treatment of his employee.


message 31: by Peter (last edited Sep 29, 2019 05:47AM) (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. .."

I s..."


The question of how we should view the Mary-Chuzzlewit relationship is really interesting. Chuzzlewit pays her to be a caregiver which she obviously does to his satisfaction. That he will not look after her after he dies may, on the surface, seem somewhat cold, or even cruel, but he is under no obligation to do so.

Could it be that none of his blood relatives ever stepped forward to offer their assistance and so this is his way of punishing the relatives? We must keep in mind that from an historical perspective the obligation of an employer to an employee was different than in today’s world ( although the trend today to company pensions and extended benefits is dwindling). To old Chuzzlewit, who I agree is a mean and penny-pinching man, he is paying for an employee. Period. When her work is no longer required, she will no longer be paid. Cruel mindset indeed, rather like Scrooge.

Still, I wonder if Dickens is exploring the touchy world of families and their obligations to one another, especially financial obligations. Our first chapter was one of family history and inter-relationships. What are the duties and obligations of family to one another? If one person believes that another member of their family is not being attentive enough how do we determine if there is any financial obligation of one to the other?


message 32: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments I keep going back to a passage in which Chuzzlewit is unloading on Pecksniff. It's very bitter, but also very sad. Chuzzlewit has seen what the prospect of money can do to people. It's not pretty, but it's probably accurate. So is it any wonder that he's suspicious and distrustful of his relative's motives? Like celebrities -- are they loved for themselves, or their fame and fortune? Who can be trusted, and who has ulterior motives? I think we probably all know those people who only come around if they need or want something, but can't be found otherwise. Seems like Chuzzlewit's been trusting in the past, only to be betrayed. So now he's put up a wall, and the only person he can trust is Mary because of this arrangement they've made. I don't think there's any greed where Chuzzlewit is concerned. Only the sadness that comes from disillusionment.

Here's the bit I'm referring to:

I tell you, man,' he added, with increasing bitterness, `that I have gone, a rich man, among people of all grades and kinds; relatives, friends, and strangers; among people in whom, when I was poor, I had confidence, and justly, for they never once deceived me then, or, to me, wronged each other. But I have never found one nature, no, not one, in which, being wealthy and alone, I was not forced to detect the latent corruption that lay hid within it waiting for such as I to bring it forth. Treachery, deceit, and low design; hatred of competitors, real or fancied, for my favour; meanness, falsehood, baseness, and servility; or,' and here he looked closely in his cousin's eyes, `or an assumption of honest independence, almost worse than all; these are the beauties which my wealth has brought to light. Brother against brother, child against parent, friends treading on the faces of friends, this is the social company by whom my way has been attended. There are stories told--they may be true or false--of rich men who, in the garb of poverty, have found out virtue and rewarded it. They were dolts and idiots for their pains. They should have made the search in their own characters. They should have shown themselves fit objects to be robbed and preyed upon and plotted against and adulated by any knaves, who, but for joy, would have spat upon their coffins when they died their dupes; and then their search would have ended as mine has done, and they would be what I am....I have so corrupted and changed the nature of all those who have ever attended on me, by breeding avaricious plots and hopes within them; I have engendered such domestic strife and discord, by tarrying even with members of my own family; I have been such a lighted torch in peaceful homes, kindling up all the inflammable gases and vapours in their moral atmosphere, which, but for me, might have proved harmless to the end, that I have, I may say; fled from all who knew me, and taking refuge in secret places have lived, of late, the life of one who is hunted.


message 33: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Peter wrote: "When her work is no longer required, she will no longer be paid. Cruel mindset indeed, rather like Scrooge...."

Oh, Peter! I could spend all day on this statement!

Why is this cruel? Should Mary (or anyone, for that matter) continue to get paid when her work is no longer required? She's not only been paid adequately for her work, but has received an education and some kind of experience to draw on going forward. She's entitled to nothing more. What was once considered a benefit or perk to attract the best candidates for a position in modern society, has come to be expected as an entitlement, but I doubt it would have been so for a young woman in the Victorian age. At this point in our story, she's apparently no more than seventeen. Surely Chuzzlewit's not required to support her for the rest of her life (or even for the rest of the day, if she chooses to leave).

As for Scrooge, my revelation upon our last reading was that the story was only partially about Scrooge's greed. Mostly it was about kindness and human connection. Of course, the more connected one is, the more likely one will pry open his wallet for those about whom he cares, but what a different book it would have been if Scrooge, like Fezziwig, would have just treated others with goodwill, even without any great expenditure!

We haven't seen much of Chuzzlewit's interaction with Mary, other than when he's been ill and in quite a lot of pain. Still, there's nothing to suggest she's treated badly, like Scrooge treated Cratchit. It could be that when he's feeling well, Chuzzlewit and Mary may be pleasant companions who enjoy one another's company.

Yes, he is wary of others who might be trying to get money from him, but it is not from selfishness on his part:

I am not a miser sir, though even that charge is made against me, as I hear, and currently believed. I have no pleasure in hoarding. I have no pleasure in the possession of money, The devil that we call by that name can give me nothing but unhappiness.'

I think Chuzzlewit is convinced (though I wouldn't necessarily support him in this argument) that by isolating himself, he's actually doing others a favor, i.e. by not presenting them with a temptation that will bring out their baser natures. Whether one buys that justification or not, I think Chuzzlewit himself actually believes it. His relationships, both with money and with other people, do not have the same foundation as Scrooge's, even if the results seem similar.

Unlike some of Dickens' other wealthy characters (though not Scrooge, in this case), Chuzzlewit has no interest in stringing his less fortunate relatives along, like a cat playing with its prey before eating it. I'm thinking here of Miss Havisham, or even Uncle Lillyvick, who may not have cruelly toyed with the Kenwigs, but had no problem cutting them out of the picture once he found a wife. In his way, Chuzzlewit is trying to do his relations a favor. He is the embodiment of 1 Timothy 6:9-10 - "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Does anyone else see this as I do, or, to quote another Bible verse, am I a voice crying in the wilderness? Let me have it!


message 34: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Mary Lou

Your phrase Only the sadness that comes from disillusionment is indeed sad but I think accurate as well. Mary is a kind, caring person and worthy of whatever Chuzzlewit pays her. Still, the world is mean and most people are out for themselves. Chuzzlewit has no doubt been bruised before and has turned to see the world as a transaction. If his relatives will not address his needs as he sees fit, then he will withhold his love and money.

Mary is kind, and her attentive nature Chuzzlewit is willing to acknowledge financially - and perhaps with a limited emotions as well. Still, when he dies, he sees his obligation to her as ended as well.

Chilling way to look at the world, but sadly true too often. Future chapters will further our understanding.


message 35: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Peter wrote: "Future chapters will further our understanding..."

True, Peter. While I've read the book before, I have a really awful memory, so all of my ranting is done with little to no knowledge of what's to come. My opinions may well change as they become better informed.


message 36: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Chapter 2

What a wonderful opening description. For me, a little bit Frost (autumn day) conflating with a little bit Longfellow (Village Smithy), and both gliding smoothly into the Dickens' narrator's description of Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters, Mercy and Charity (love it).

Might Mr. Pecksniff be a bit of a swindler? Money is the root of all evil, says Mr. Pecksniff, and he is such a moral man that he has devoted his life to taking it off the hands of others so that they will not be tempted and corrupted?

Such a good man.

Love that comparison to George Costanza Tristram, one of sit-coms most memorable characters, up there with Urkle.


message 37: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
John wrote: "Something I came across in my Jane Smiley bio.... the names Dickens considered before settling on Chuzzlewit:

Chuzzlewig
Sweezleden
Chuzzletoe
Sweezlebach
Sweezlewag"


Oh dear! Chuzzlewit is silly enough already, let alone Sweezlewag or Sweezlebach. Were there ever people born to such names as these? Are there any Chuzzlewits in a British directory?


message 38: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Love that comparison to George Costanza Tristram, one of sit-coms most memorable characters, up there with Urkle."

Yes, isn't it? I was watching some episodes the other day with my wife and my son and must say that I have never seen any comedy show so funny and so full of ever-green references.


message 39: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "Mary Lou

Your phrase Only the sadness that comes from disillusionment is indeed sad but I think accurate as well. Mary is a kind, caring person and worthy of whatever Chuzzlewit pays her. Still, t..."


In a way, I think that there is a lot of truth in Mary Lou's statement: Why should Mr. Chuzzlewit continue paying money to Mary Graham when she is no longer nursing him? After all, he has provided her with an education and with a salary she could have made savings from. But on the other hand, this idea of picking an orphan and bringing her up with such a clear-cut purpose in mind was something I found very egocentric - even though Chuzzlewit's distrust of people in general is the consequence of the bad experience he had with most people that he mingled with.

But then we also find Mr. Chuzzlewit writing on a piece of paper on his sickbed, and trying to conceal the paper from Mary so that she is unable to read what he has scribbled down. Could it be the case that he has chosen to err from his resolution not to provide for Mary in his will, and that he has just made a draught to that effect? And that, remembering the end behind his initial resolution, he finally destroys this draught again?


message 40: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments So what's the problem with Martin? Why such a bleak outlook on life? Hemorrhoids, gout, goiter, boils? Some other Victorian era specialty? Gotta be something like that. He needs to lighten up and enjoy himself.

He has a daughter to care for, but he acts like she's his maid, insisting they call each other by their christian names. Yet he says he adopted her. He's a pill. And he's very weird. He should be caring for her (and maybe his grandson). Where is the son/daughter?

He insists he sees weakness and corruption in everyone. But I wonder if he sees in others what he expects to see, rather than what is truly there?


message 41: by Xan (last edited Sep 29, 2019 01:39PM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Serious questions: Can you think of any other author who has their post-pubescent female characters acting this way towards their fathers? Am I the only one who thinks it's bordering on inappropriate?"

It sounds off and inappropriate to our modern ears, but if it were inappropriate for its time, given Dickens fame, wouldn't we see contemporary criticism of it, and maybe even some outrage? Has anyone come across any?

EDIT: I believe in Victorian England parents could legally marry off their daughters at the ripe old age of 12. Today we would look aghast at that and grab a shotgun. How about a full grown man bouncing his 12-year-old wife on his knee? Perhaps I like the idea of the father doing it better.


message 42: by Xan (last edited Sep 29, 2019 02:44PM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Jantine wrote: "I think Chuzzlewit Sr. was very much aware that he could not really confide in Pecksniff."

Following this through, is it possible that while alone Martin burns what Pecksniff thinks is Martin's will because that way Pecksniff continues to think his cousin has given some money to his grandson when he hasn't. Advantage Martin??? Did Martin know Pecksniff was coming over?


message 43: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Mary Lou wrote: "Julie wrote: "He doesn't say anything about paying her well enough that she will be able to save for the future. I got the impression he doesn't want her to have a future. .."

I saw it a bit diffe..."


Perhaps Martin does intend to leave something to Mary but won't say so because he doesn't want her growing up thinking she will be financially independent.


message 44: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments It's early, but right now I find it more than coincidental that Martin happens to find lodging with Mrs. Lupin who happens to know and admire Martin's cousin, Pecksniff. I'm wondering if the will and the speech weren't both rehearsed for Pecksniff's benefit. Perhaps even the illness?


message 45: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "Peter wrote: "Future chapters will further our understanding..."

True, Peter. While I've read the book before, I have a really awful memory, so all of my ranting is done with little to no knowledg..."


Mary Lou

You were not ranting. In fact, I spent more time today thinking about the old Chuzzlewit - Mary relationship. The connection is unusual. Old Chuzzlewit will keep us guessing as to his motives as will Pecksniff.

With the length of the chapters I am already worried that I will miss a key sentence or phrase.


message 46: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "Peter wrote: "Mary Lou

Your phrase Only the sadness that comes from disillusionment is indeed sad but I think accurate as well. Mary is a kind, caring person and worthy of whatever Chuzzlewit pays..."


Tristram

I think it is significant that Mary Graham is cast as a young orphan who tends old Chuzzlewit. I would suggest it is not so much an example of his egocentricity but rather a case of insulating himself from his obviously greedy relatives. Mary and Chuzzlewit benefit from their arrangement but I have, as yet, not felt anything was awkward or untoward about their arrangement.

Old Chuzzlewit is a mysterious person so far to me. I’m sure his character will unfold as the novel progresses. As for Mary, I think Dickens has cast her clearly as a kind, gentle helpmate. While she is described as being small of stature, I feel Dickens has already marked her as a person with a strength of character.


message 47: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3030 comments Mod
Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Jantine wrote: "I think Chuzzlewit Sr. was very much aware that he could not really confide in Pecksniff."

Following this through, is it possible that while alone Martin burns what Pecksniff think..."


Hi Xan

The paper being ripped up was intriguing. What exactly was written on it? Was it vindictive towards the greedy family, thoughtful towards Mary Graham, a confessional of his own life?

I’m suspicious.


message 48: by Julie (last edited Sep 29, 2019 09:29PM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Peter wrote: "Chuzzlewit has no doubt been bruised before and has turned to see the world as a transaction. If his relatives will not address his needs as he sees fit, then he will withhold his love and money."

See, I can't believe we are supposed to see this as a positive in Dickensland, with its preference for selfless and even profligate generosity (as in reformed Scrooge, and all the girl-heroines)?


message 49: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5691 comments Mod
I find it not at all surprising that Dickens gave this book a name rather longer than we know now it as. His original totally Dickens name was:

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
His relatives, friends, and enemies.
Comprising all His Wills and His Ways, With an Historical record of what he did and what he didn't; Shewing moreover who inherited the Family Plate, who came in for the Silver spoons, and who for the Wooden Ladles.
The whole forming a complete key to the House of Chuzzlewit.



message 50: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 867 comments Kim wrote: "I find it not at all surprising that Dickens gave this book a name rather longer than we know now it as. His original totally Dickens name was:

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
His rel..."


Well, at least no colon.


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