Friday, September 5, 2008

Dickens: Martin Chuzzlewit

_Martin Chuzzlewit_ may be one of Dickens' least known novels. Moreover, most references to the novel generally focus on one part of the novel, young Martin Chuzzlewit's trip to the United States and its unfavorable portrayal of the inhabitants. As it has been many years since I read the novel, my comments are based on the BBC adaptation of the novel (which I just viewed) that stars Paul Scofield as Martin Chuzzlewit, the grandfather.

The overall plot details the trials and tribulations of a number of people, but I guess the core plot would be the separation between Martin Chuzzlewit, a rich old man, and his grandson, also named Martin Chuzzlewit.

However, I think that there are strong arguments that the true name of the novel should be _Seth Pecksniff_. I think Pecksniff is one of Dickens' greatest creations. He is arrogant, deceptive, sanctimonious, brutal to those he has power over, sycophantic and obsequious to those more powerful than he. At the end, I realized that I had missed something significant about him; he is also truly self-deceptive. I almost felt sorry for him at his downfall at the end.

There is also an argument for considering Tom Pinch the major character, but while he is prominent throughout, he for the most part is passive, although he does grow in stature at the end. In addition, he seems to be the only "good" character who doesn't marry his true love at the end, for he has fallen in love with Mary, the orphan ward of the senior Martin Chuzzlewit, and she is true to her first love, the young Martin Chuzzlewit.

As can be expected, Dickens has filled the work with memorable secondary characters--two of whom are free-lance nurses, who unfortunately were nearly unintelligible to me.

Good film for those who like a story with a number of subplots and a wildly assorted cast of characters.


  1. I haven't read this book yet, but it's on my TBR list. Some Dickens I love ( i.e Bleak House, Great Expectations, Dombey and Son, Oliver Twist). Others, I couldn't get into ( i.e. David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop). I don't know why that is, but sometimes it helps if I try reading it again at a later time.

  2. Cheryl,

    I've tried _Oliver Twist_ several times, book and film versions, and just can't get into it. Too bleak, I guess.

    I still have many others left: Dombey and Son, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, of those you mentioned.

    I've found that trying again with a book sometimes works. I tried a number of times to read Jane Austen but couldn't get past the early chapters. I then was assigned _Sense and Sensibility_ for a class, read it, loved it, and went out and read everything I could find by her.