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Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Martin Chuzzlewit feels like the beginning of Dickens' second act. While all of his previous books had strengths (and I probably still viscerally prefer Nicholas Nickleby), this, his 9th major work and 6th novel, was written after the celebrity Dickens' return from America, and marks the start of a busier lifestyle for the author, which included social engagements, speaking tours, and community responsibilities, not to mention a growing household. My suspicion is that he started devoting more time to the nuances of his writing - not the descriptions, which have always been first-rate, but the character arcs. The vivid characters of Pecksniff and Mrs. Gamp have a comic life of their own, while the analysis of human folly among the Chuzzlewit family is a deeper, more internal attempt at storytelling which Dickens would return to in his next novel, Dombey and Son. For the first time, Dickens hasn't felt the need to make his central character a paper-thin but sentimental naif (not that young Martin is exactly the most scintillating of figures).

We'll dock a couple of points for the American sequences, which have a reasonable level of thematic resonance but are clearly filler, but this is a new, more "novelistic" side of Dickens that can't be ignored. I certainly think more people should be reading Martin Chuzzlewit when they feel like a taste of Dickens. ( )
1 vote therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
Dickens takes a cultural diversion to the USA in this one (in order to boost flagging sales of the installments the book was released in) and it’s a plot diversion in what is otherwise a difficult tale to keep up with as characters come and go throughout. It wasn’t his most popular work and was removed from the first edition of the 1001 books list. I can see why on both accounts.

The first issue that threw me was that there are two Martin Chuzzlewits. Whereas the eponymous one is the younger and protagonist, he is the namesake of his wealthy grandfather who disinherits him. Thus, he stumbles into an acquaintance with the arch duplicitor Pecksniff who wheedles his way into Martin senior’s good books to the detriment of Martin junior. Pecksniff also has two daughters who are spoiled upstarts and then there’s Joseph Chuzzlewit (nephew to Martin Sr. and cousin to Martin Jr.) who is an absolute rogue.

With it so far?

Well, just as you are about settled, off goes Martin to the USA with the stalwart dependable Mark Tapley who he’s picked up from nowhere. There doesn’t seem to be any real rationale for this geographical tangent, but at least it does provide an interlude of sorts. While Dickens does get credit in his wider work for the sheer diversity of his characters, he didn’t see fit to bother displaying this talent for this American escapade. Everyone in the US is a shyster with a personality you’d not wish to be stranded on a desert island with and views that are as abhorrent as possible to the British public. It’s almost as if Dickens had a window in time through through which to study Trump for inspiration.

Martin Jr nearly dies from an illness picked up in a swamp settlement that the two of them spend all their money to reach deceived into thinking it will resemble Eden simply because it’s named after it. A benefactor pops up to get them their fare home at just the right moment.

Meanwhile Joseph has got himself embroiled in some nefarious dealings which drive him to murder (I really couldn’t fathom why he would have needed to resort to such extreme measures) and Dickens channels the ghost of Jane Austen and the yet-to-be-present spirit of Agatha Christie in a couple of closing chapters that see rogues exposed and everyone married off bar one as the sun sets on the closing scene. Ugh.

So, of the 10 Dickens that were included in the first edition of the 1001 books list, only Bleak House awaits me. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a lot better than this. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jul 14, 2018 |
This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Martin Chuzzlewit
Series: ----------
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 954
Format: Digital Edition


Martin Chuzzlewit, the Elder, has a falling out with his grandson, Martin Chuzzlewit, the younger. It all centers around the Elder's ward, Mary Graham. Both men being cut from the same cloth, ie, stubborn, they go their separate ways. The Younger to seek his fortune so as to be able to provide for Mary and the Elder amongst his other relatives to see if any of them are worthy of being his heir.

We meet a veritable cornucopia of people along the way.

Mr Pecksniff, a relative of the Chuzzlewit's. A more self-righteous, moralizing, hypocritical and thoroughly sleezy character you couldn't ask for. The Elder goes to live with Pecksniff and his 2 daughters. The Elder allows Pecksniff complete control over him so as to see if there is even one drop of selflessness in him. Also living with Mr. Pecksniff is Tom Pinch, a humble character who believes the best of everyone and while talented, always believes that it is the genius in others that makes his doings so good.

We have another branch of the Chuzzlewit family introduced and the father there dies soon after and the son, Jonas, takes over. Jonas is a mean, grasping, simple, villianous fellow. He marries one of his cousins, Pecksniff's younger daughter, for her dowry and then gets involved in a huge money scam. It is revealed that Jonas murdered his father so he could inherit and he, Jonas, then murders another fellow who knew of this and was the leader of the money scam. Jonas ends up penniless and commits suicide by poison on the way to jail to avoid the gallows.

The Younger meets up with Mark Tapley, a jolly fellow who believes it is his duty to serve under poor conditions so as to “bear up and be jolly”. Martin and Mark head to American, get boonswaggled into buying a swamp, almost die and then come back to Englad. Martin changes and realizes how selfish he has been and begins working on becoming a better man. Mark realizes that he's going to be jolly no matter what circumstances he's under, so he marries the widower of a local inn and decides to be a jolly taproom owner.

Tom Pinch, the assistant to Mr. Pecksniff, has always believed that Pecksniff walked on air. However, when he interrupts Pecksniff's plans to marry Mary Graham so as to get an even greater grasp on the Elder and to hurt the Younger, Tom has his eyes opened. He is secretly in love with Mary himself but knows she loves the Younger and honors that love. He does what he can to protect Mary and is fired by Pecksniff. He makes his way to London to his sister's and a friends and begins working as a clerk under mysterious circumstances. The friend, John Westlock, a rich young gentleman, falls in love with Ruth Pinch and by the end of the book they are married and Tom is living with them, bringing kindness and gentleness to all he comes into contact with.

Pecksniff is taken in by the money scam that Jonas is involved in and when the masterminds abscond to America with all the money, Pecksniff's estates became collateral for all the other people involved. The Elder reveals that he knows of his villianous ways concerning Mary and cuts Pecksniff out of his life for good. Pecksniff ends up a drunken hobo.

The Elder and the Younger are reconciled when both realize what asses they have been. The Younger marries Mary with the Elder's blessing and they live happily ever after.

My Thoughts:

It has been 10 years to the month since I last read Martin Chuzzlewit. So this re-read was definitely due. It was also a complete smashing success. Dickens give full reign to his verbosity but this time around, I was able to appreciate the wordsmithing that took place instead of being annoyed by the windy wordiness. Part of it was that Dickens is making his characters fully fleshed out with the long passages, the little, or not so little, passages of dialogue. He is building these characters from the ground up and much like a real person, they have quirks. Dickens gives us his characters, fully quirked!

While this is entitled Martin Chuzzlewit, I found that Tom Pinch was the real hero of this book. Dickens explores Selfishness through his characters, deliberate or otherwise and Tom Pinch is the antidote to that all. While others are sunk in schemes and plots, Mr Pinch is nothing but kindess and love. He seeks out ways to help anyone who comes across his path and takes upon his own back the rod meant for another. There were times where I wanted to just shout “You GO Tom Pinch!”

The rest of the side characters also made this book what it was. From Bailey the little rascal boy to Mrs. Gamp, to the survivors of Eden (the swamp Martin and Mark go to in America), to the politicians in America. Oh man, Martin's time in America was great. Dickens doesn't spare his cousins across the Pond one bit. Caricatured and lampooned, Dickens shows us a land that has not yet gone through the fire of its Civil War and it is not a pretty picture. Money, slander and violence were the watchwords then. Which goes to show that not much has really changed here in 175 years.

Now on to the two Martin's. None of this story would have happened if either of them weren't such pigheaded boneheads. Thankfully, Dickens doesn't make them the main focus of the story even while using them as the skeleton upon which the whole book hangs. The various side characters give us flesh, blood, emotion, etc, making for a pleasant read. If it was just a book about the side characters it would have gone “sploosh!” in a bloody, fluidy mess and if it was just a book about the Martins, it would have been Skeleton War, and honestly, who wants THAT in a Charles Dickens book?

yeah, yeah, I know. Putting in a gratuitous skeleton war picture in a Charles Dickens review. Shameless!

I found that I had to almost literally hold myself back from racing through this. Dickens was a wordsmith and I am finding that the goals in reading something from a wordsmith are different from the goals I have when reading something like Forgotten Realms. When I was in the right mind frame, I enjoyed the long, convoluted passages immensely. It was when I got impatient and tried to hurry things along that I ended up wishing that Dickens hadn't been quite so verbose. I feel that my time reading this was well spent though and that my time was rewarded with some great storytelling and some really good writing. Reading good writing is one of the best ways to learn how to spot bad writing. I also gave this my coveted “Favorite” tag. Now you know I mean serious business!

To end, this first step along my Dickens re-read path was completely successful. I appreciate his skill even more and I find his stories even more universal in touching upon humanity in all its glories and in all its shame. Bravo Mr Dickens!

★★★★★ ( )
2 vote BookstoogeLT | Feb 22, 2018 |
M100 General Works
  TLH7718 | Dec 15, 2017 |
This was one of the only two of Dickens's full length novels I had never read (the other is Dombey and Son). It's fair to say it's not going to become one of my favourites. The theme of the novel is selfishness, shown most consistently by Seth Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit, and initially also by the title character and his namesake grandfather ("The curse of our house..has been the love of self; has ever been the love of self. How often have I said so, when I never knew that I had wrought it upon others"). Young Martin's redemption comes after his near death experiences in a town in the back of beyond in America. The American portion of the novel is probably its most well known characteristic, being so unlike anything else in Dickens, but which forms a only small part of book. It is based on Dickens's own experiences of his first visit to the States, where he seems to have been most struck by three different wildly different phenomena: the horrors of slavery; the unpleasantness of the habit of tobacco chewing and spitting; and the complete absence of any copyright laws in the States at the time, which meant his works were being abused in his eyes. Most of the characters did not really impress in this one. The midwife Mrs Gamp is probably the best known and quite an effective comic character, though she has hardly entered the top pantheon of the author's most famous creations. My favourite was probably young Martin's loyal companion Mark Tapley, though I also liked Tom Pinch and his sister Ruth. Pecksniff's daughters the inaptly named Mercy and Charity take after him and were also quite amusing, and it was interesting to see how Mercy's character changed during the course of her book after undergoing her own redemption through a miserable marriage. All in all, though, this was a bit of a chore in places, albeit with some dramatic events and a couple of violent deaths. ( )
  john257hopper | Dec 3, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (42 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrett, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Browne, Hablot KnightIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Furbank, P.N.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Houghton, Arthur BoydCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingham, PatriciaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingham, PatriciaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russell, GeoffreyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wall, StephenChronologysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Miss Burdett Coutts this tale is dedicated, with the true and earnest regard of the author
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As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit Family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest.
"You have heard of him whose misery (the gratification of his own foolish wish) was, that he turned every thing he touched into gold. The curse of my existence, and the realization of my own mad desire, is that by the golden standard which I bear about me, I am doomed to try the metal of all other men, and find it false and hollow."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140436146, Paperback)

Set partly in America, which Dickens had visited in 1842, the novel includes a searing satire on the United States. Martin Chuzzlewit is the story of two Chuzzlewits, Martin and Jonas, who have inherited the characteristic Chuzzlewit selfishness. It contrasts their diverse fates of moral redemption and worldly success for one, with increasingly desperate crime for the other. This powerful black comedy involves hypocrisy, greed and blackmail, as well as the most famous of Dickens's grotesques, Mrs Gamp.

In her introduction to this new Penguin Classics edition, Patricia Ingham discusses how, in writing a story that was only meant to 'recommend goodness and innocence', Dickens succeeded in exploring 'the intertwining of moral sensibility and brutality.'

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:06 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

This is the story of an inheritance, relating the destinies of two descendants of the brothers Chuzzlewit. Martin is a selfish young man, who lost his fortune in America. Jonas is a villain, committing murder, and eventually poisons himself.

» see all 24 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140436146, 0141198907

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