Written for publication as a serial, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely-related adventures. The action is given as occurring 1827-8, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms. It has been stated that Dickens satirized the case of George Norton suing Lord Melbourne in The Pickwick Papers. The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief theme of the novel. A distinctive and valuable feature of the work is the generally accurate description of the old coaching inns of England. (One of the main families running the Bristol to Bath coaches at the time was started by Eleazer Pickwick).
Its main literary value and appeal is formed by its numerous memorable characters. Each character in The Pickwick Papers, as in many other Dickens novels, is drawn comically, often with exaggerated personality traits. Alfred Jingle, who joins the cast in chapter two, provides an aura of comic villainy, with his devious tricks repeatedly landing the Pickwickians into trouble. These include a nearly successful attempted elopement with the spinster Rachael Wardle of Dingley Dell manor, misadventures with Dr Slammer, and others.
Gathered around the fire at the Maypole Inn, in the village of Chigwell, on an evening of foul weather in the year 1775, are John Willet, proprietor of the Maypole, and his three cronies. One of the three, Solomon Daisy, tells an ill-kempt stranger at the inn a well-known local tale of the murder of Reuben Haredale which had occurred 22 years earlier on that very day. Reuben had been the owner of the Warren, a local estate which is now the residence of Geoffrey, the deceased Reuben's brother, and Geoffrey's niece, Reuben's daughter Emma Haredale. After the murder, Reuben's gardener and steward went missing and were suspects in the crime. A body was later found and identified as that of the steward, so the gardener was assumed to be the murderer.
Joe Willet, son of the Maypole proprietor, quarrels with his father because John treats 20-year-old Joe as a child. Finally having had enough of this ill-treatment, Joe leaves the Maypole and goes for a soldier, stopping to say goodbye to the woman he loves, Dolly Varden, daughter of London locksmith Gabriel Varden.
Meanwhile, Edward Chester is in love with Emma Haredale. Both Edward's father, John Chester, and Emma's uncle, the Catholic Geoffrey Haredale - these two are sworn enemies - oppose the union after Sir John untruthfully convinces Geoffrey that Edward's intentions are dishonourable. Sir John intends to marry Edward to a woman with a rich inheritance, to support John's expensive lifestyle and to pay off his debtors. Edward quarrels with his father and leaves home for the West Indies.
Barnaby Rudge, a simpleton, wanders in and out of the story with his pet raven, Grip. Barnaby's mother begins to receive visits from the ill-kempt stranger, whom she feels compelled to protect. She later gives up the annuity she had been receiving from Geoffrey Haredale and, without explanation, takes Barnaby and leaves the city hoping to escape the unwanted visitor.
Charles John Huffam Dickens wrote twenty novels, dozens of short stories and novellas, several plays and countless articles and essays during his long and eventful writing career. From the time that Charles Dickens' novels were first published, in serialized monthly or weekly installments, they have never gone out of print in the UK. Charles Dickens is often considered to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.
Charles Dickens' colorful, if challenging, early life had a huge impact on his later works. Raised in poverty with little formal education, even working for a time as a child laborer, Charles' childhood on the harsh streets of London shaped his identity and fueled his creative drive. The harsh conditions he endured, the humiliation of running from his father's debts and his long daily walks around the poorest parts of London gave him first-hand experience of the world his colorful characters eventually inhabited. Charles' characters themselves, of course, were influenced by the rich cast of kind and evil, funny and tragic, rich and destitute people Charles came into contact with throughout his life.
Charles novels revolutionized readership in the Victorian era and the serial publication schedule he preferred soon became the dominant mode for novel publication. Although providing a novel in weekly or monthly installments was a huge commitment for Charles, and a difficult one to pull off, this format allowed him to respond to feedback while writing and make adjustments to plot and character.
Unlike some writers who closed themselves off from the world around them and worked in a solitary manner, favoring the internal world over the external, Charles was a social creature and by nature a multi-tasker. An indefatigable man, Charles wrote almost constantly from the time he tasted his first literary success with The Pickwick Papers to the day of his death. Charles was also a renowned philanthropist who campaigned vigorously for the rights of the most unfortunate in society. A social butterfly, Charles Dickens had countless friends including a number of prominent Victorian writers, artists, actors and businessmen. Before his death, Charles was even invited to a private audience with Queen Victoria, who was a fan of his work.
The adjective, 'Dickensian' refers to something 'of or reminiscent of the novels of Charles Dickens, especially in suggesting the poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters that they portray.' That the work of Charles Dickens has spawned its own descriptive term demonstrates how fully it has permeated English culture, from the moment of its creation to the present day.
Charles Dickens' life story can be read like one of his own novels with the man himself represented by different characters at different times. At first he is the poor child worker with a debt-ridden father, treading his rags to riches path on the chaotic and dirty London streets. Soon, he becomes a newspaper man who struggles to accept the injustice he sees in the law courts, in parliament, on the very streets he walks. Later, he is a cheerful father with a growing brood of children and a chaotic home life and further on in life he is a bachelor in the throes of a passionate and scandalous love affair with a younger woman. The best person to write the life of Charles Dickens would have been Charles himself but he has left that task to others. Living his life was exhausting enough.