Dickens Champions: Martin Chuzzlewit review part two
21 September 2012 / 0 Comments
Our Dickens Champions, Beeston Library's Afternoon Reading Group, needed two meetings to finish and discuss all of Martin Chuzzlewit. Here's what they thought in their second meeting:
It seems a bit strange to be sitting and discussing Dickens in the sweltering heat of our long-awaited summer of 2012, a nice crisp snowy scene seems much more "Dickensian", but we did our best to be in the mood.
We found there was still lots to say about the vast array of characters and incidents in Martin Chuzzlewit and Dickens' attitudes to women and the working class that seem to be revealed, but we did stray off the topic and onto funerals a bit towards the end. That's the beauty of Dickens though; absolutely all of life is relevant to any of the stories.
We felt that the "good" women were very idealised and didn't convince (particularly as Dickens had daughters and a sister and must have known there was far more complexity to their characters than these perfect doll-like creatures). The servants who feature prominently are given much more vivid features, but it is noticeable that Dickens likes them best when they know their place and are happy with their lot. We felt Dickens shows himself as very controlling - in the way that the plot is so focussed on drawing all the ends together in a very stage managed way, and that this is reflected in his own life e.g. his role at Urania Lodge with the "fallen" women where he was involved in all the minutiae of their daily life at the home. The ending is almost like a scene from Agatha Christie where Hercule Poirot finally enters the Drawing Room and explains whodunnit.
The scenes where Jonas commits the murder and then is tormented by paranoia and fear of discovery (although not by guilt or remorse), made a particularly strong impression, we could really feel his sense of terror.
Pecksniff again was a favourite, although at first he seems to be merely a buffoon, he is revealed as without any moral sense whatever, especially once he has designs on Mary and literally has her in his clutches - very menacing and creepy!
Dickens the writer
It seems significant that Dickens always wrote for a living; although he felt driven to write, there was always a commercial element to his work. We don't know of any examples of him writing to experiment or perfect certain styles, it always seems to have a function, but this doesn't diminish his skill or talent in any way. He must have had a pen in his hand every waking moment judging by the number of letters he wrote, and he seemed to derive energy from the response he received. We were slightly divided on whether or not social reform was the main motivation for his writing, but he was certainly enlightened for the time; unlike the Church charities, he didn't want to punish women for their desperate actions in resorting to theft and prostitution.
We rounded off by thinking about the changes in society that helped him to thrive as an author, the growth in the "clerking" classes with leisure to read for example, which led us on to "The diary of a nobody" - Mr Pooter and Lupin are definitely characters that have escaped from a Dickens' novel.
What's next on the Dickens agenda
Looking forward to meeting again in September and going back to Nicholas Nickleby and on to Barnaby Rudge.
Read part one of Beeston Library's Afternoon Reading Group's Martin Chuzzlewit review.
Watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read and review their way through Dickens during 2012.
Reading Dickens in your reading group or book club? Get in touch or post a comment to let us know how you're getting on.