Ah, 876 pages of Victorian English, the language so dense that only royalty could love it. And yet somehow, far from being the imposing linguistic nightmare that the tome's sheer bulk suggests, The Pickwick Papers is a lighthearted romp through Dickens' England. Who knew that the man who wrote Bleak House (If you are not a fan of completely uncalled-for jabs at that atrocious novel, you probably shouldn't read anything I write) had it in him?
Anyway, The Pickwick Papers chronicles the adventures of the Pickwick Club as it's members traipse around England (Though almost always by carriage (And, in one memorable incident, wheelbarrow), as they are well-to-do), generally making complete fools of themselves. The group's head is the illustrious Samuel Pickwick, a man who can be described in no other way than to say that he is (To use the Pickwickian sense of the word) a bit of an ass. This man has no idea of how he appears to others, or what he is actually doing, quite frequently (Though he does always seem to know when he is within reach of rum punch). With him are three members of his club, Misters Snodgrass, Tupman and Winkle (Dickens here, as always, never fails to give his characters names that are anything short of spectacular), to be joined partway through by the absolutely scene-stealing character Samuel Weller, Mr. Pickwick's servant, who is always happiest when antagonizing a real or imagined foe of his master using either words or his fists. The novel encapsulates a variety of settings, from the pleasant retreat of Dingley Dell (What, you thought he was only good at naming characters?) to the horrific debtors prison, an institution that Dickens was intent on attacking any chance he got throughout his literary career. The supporting cast is just as large, with five pages before the start of the novel set aside just to list the participatory parties. And a varied cast it is, giving Dickens room to satirize nearly every part of English society, from the outright conmen Jingle and Trotter to the lawyers Dodson and Fogg (Okay, these are kind of the same thing). Even the more poetic elements of society are sent up through Mrs. Leo Hunter, authoress of the noted 'Ode to an Expiring Frog'. All of this is set forth in the name of good clean fun, and is a ball to read, something I never expected to say about Dickens. This was his first work, so perhaps he didn't make the move towards inaccessibility until a bit later (Though the fact that the miserable Oliver Twist was the novel to follow this may blow that theory straight out of the water. Oh well. Too bad my delete key is broken. What?).
And what of it all? Well, there is a bit more than just the capers of four buffoons at work here, as Dickens subtly tweaks the characters throughout the course of the novel, showing that while eveyone certainly has their bad points, there is good to be found in everyone outside the legal profession as well. The reader gets closer to the titular character as the book goes on and finds that, while he's still a bit of a buffoon with a fondness for punch, he's at the least a well-intentioned punch-loving buffoon, and that's certainly better than many people are (Insert joke about royal family here). I've tried not to give away the adventures partaken in by the fictional multitudes, but instead recommend that you personally pick up a copy at your local independent bookseller and join in the merriment. Just make sure you have a free month or so for the undertaking.