Places: Pickwick Papers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: serial, 1836-1837; book, 1837

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1827-1828

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Pickwick PapersGreat Britain’s capital city is the headquarters of the Pickwick Club. Dickens’s acute sense of place enhances his descriptions of the great city, particularly the labyrinthine streets and lanes and inns–such as the White Hart Inn, where Sam Weller first appears and identifies the unscrupulous rogue Alfred Jingle. The various characters’ lodgings, such as Mr. Pickwick’s rooms at Mrs. Bardell’s, Mr. Weller, Sr.’s domicile in Dorking, and the rooms of Bob Sawyer, highlight class distinctions.

*Fleet Street Prison

*Fleet Street Prison. London institution in which Mr. Pickwick is incarcerated after losing a trumped-up breach of promise suit to Mrs. Bardell. The prison scenes contribute to the thematic concerns of spurious litigation and social abuses and highlight Dickens’s own remembered horror and shame over the period in his youth when his father was imprisoned for debt.

As Mr. Pickwick travels about and attempts to uphold the law and bring justice to all those who deserve it, he is manipulated into a legal situation from which his pride will not permit him to extract himself. It is only in the depths of the Fleet, where his kindness and sympathy know no bounds, that Mr. Pickwick is able to put aside his pride and set himself free in order to save Sam Weller and Mrs. Bardell, who have joined him there. The suggestion is clear: The welfare of others is easily considered when one’s own will is being fulfilled, but only deep in the prison of the ego, where one is compelled to act out of concern for others at the expense of pride, can altruism and compassion be realized.

*Dingley Dell

*Dingley Dell. Country location of Mr. Wardle’s Manor Farm, which nurtures the comic romances that pervade the novel. “Who could live to gaze from day to day on bricks and slates, who had once felt the influence of a scene like this?” asks Mr. Pickwick on his first morning at the farm. The natural world of the country stands in innocent contrast to the fallen world of the cities, particularly London and Birmingham. Though tainted at times and thrown into confusion by the machinations of city types like Jingle or even local politicians and newspapermen, the country and small towns possess a resiliency that restores them from apparent hurts and assaults from the fallen world. When the Pickwick Club is officially disbanded, it is noteworthy that Mr. Pickwick settles in Dulwich, a town near London that possesses the trappings of country living.

*Bath

*Bath. Resort city in western England, noted for its hot springs, to which the Pickwickians repair after Mr. Pickwick is convicted of breach of promise. The sojourn at Bath promotes the romance between Mr. Winkle and Arabella Allen, but the health spa is not beyond the reach of the city law courts, as Mr. Pickwick’s retreat is broken by a subpoena calling him back to London for refusing to pay damages to Mrs. Bardell. Bath, like Ipswich and Bury St. Edmonds, functions to remind the reader of the discrepancy between appearances and reality. Jingle is found lurking in Bury St. Edmonds, and he is foiled in Ipswich.

*Rochester

*Rochester. Town southeast of London that is the first destination of the Pickwick Club, whose journey begins with Alfred Jingle’s insinuating his way into the company, foreshadowing the conflict between idyllic intentions and chaotic circumstances that marks the comic nature of the novel. In this first journey Dickens demonstrates his skills at using travel and destination as devices to advance and complicate the plot, a technique he would employ throughout his literary career.

BibliographyDexter, Walter. Pickwick’s Pilgrimages. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1992. A study of the actual places Mr. Pickwick visited in Dickens’ novel. The actual conditions he and his companions would have encountered illuminate the story. Particularly good descriptions of Rochester, Ipswich, Bath, Bristol, and Tewkesbury.Dexter, Walter, and J. W. T. Ley. The Origin of Pickwick. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1974. A study of some of Dickens’ early sketches that were used, Pickwick Papers. Examines the publishing history of the early numbers of Pickwick Papers and Dickens’ early illustrators.Fitzgerald, Percy. Bozland: Dickens’ Places and People. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Gryphon Books, 1971. A consideration of people and places in Dickens, with emphasis on Pickwickian inns and actual towns and locales depicted in Pickwick Papers. Examines Mr. Pickwick’s relationship to lawyers in the light of actual legal practice during Dickens’ time.Lockwood, Frank. The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick. New York: Haskell House, 1972. A late Victorian study of the legal mores depicted in Pickwick Papers. Mr. Pickwick’s trial took place in 1827, a time before the legal reforms of 1843, which the author examines in relationship to the novel.Noyes, Alfred, et al. A Pickwick Portrait Gallery. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970. A series of insightful character analyses of various members of the Pickwick Club by outstanding writers and critics of the first half of the twentieth century. Particularly good for Samuel Pickwick, Samuel Waller, and Mrs. Bardell.
Categories: Places