“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis
Owned and Unread Project
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
Well, I have finally finished this nearly 800-page doorstopper, and I have to say I am darn proud of myself -- especially since I finished the last 400 pages in just about a week. Dickens sometimes takes awhile to get started, but once the story got rolling, I needed to finish it. I have now finished ten of the sixteen major works by Charles Dickens. Six more to go!
After struggling for weeks with the beginning of this book, it finally started to pick up and got interesting. However, the title of this book is very misleading. There are actually two Martin Chuzzlewits, and neither of them is really the main character. Basically, it's a book about greed, and selfishness, and loyalty, be it to friends or family. It's also about how terrible situations bring out the best and the worst in people. There are funny characters, and grotesques, and the typical Victorian tropes of misunderstandings and unbelievable coincidences. And it all ends up pretty well, though some people are much happier than others.
I'm not sure why this book is so obscure among the Dickens canon -- it's kind of uneven but it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. Having read several Dickens now, I can see that it contains elements of both the earlier and the later novels -- it's picaresque like Nicholas Nickelby, yet it also has the beginnings of the multiple storylines of Little Dorrit and Bleak House. I would categorize it as a transitional novel.
Other than the very slow start to this book (it took nearly 200 pages for something interesting to happen) my biggest quibble with this book is the title. It's named after Martin Chuzzlewit, but honestly, Martin's part isn't even that big, especially when you compare it to the other Dickens works with eponymous titles. Oliver Twist and David Copperfield? Makes perfect sense -- these are the main characters and all the action revolves around them. Little Dorrit? Well, she's a little more peripheral to the story, but I guess I can agree with that one. I haven't read Barnaby Rudge or The Mystery of Edwin Drood yet, so I can't comment on those. But Martin Chuzzlewit is a terrible name for a book. I suppose one could make the case that it's really about Martin the elder, whose appearance sets all the book's action in motion, since he arrives and gets all the relatives jockeying for position to see if they're going to get a get a piece of his estate in the event of his death. Really, he's hardly in the book at all.
And Martin the younger leaves for America, but he doesn't really get that much time in the book either. There's a lot more time spent on his faithful friend Tom Pinch, his nasty cousin Jonas Chuzzlewit, and the Pecksniff family, and what happens to them back in England during Martin's absence. It's a good book and the plot and characters turned out to be interesting, but I personally think he could have come up with a better title.
When I begin to think about it, Dickens' other titles aren't all that interesting either. Great Expectations? A Tale of Two Cities? Bleak House is my favorite, and Dombey and Son has great irony, but overall I think Trollope did a better job naming his books. You can't beat Can You Forgive Her? and He Knew He Was Right, or my personal favorite, Is He Popenjoy? (What the heck does that mean?) I still haven't read any of these titles, but they intrigue me. Yet they sit waiting patiently on the to-read shelf while I'm still trying to finish the major works of Charles Dickens.
This book also counts towards three of my challenges: The Victorian Challenge; The Classics Challenge; and the Chunkster Challenge.
Labels: 2012, big fat books, British, challenges, classics, Classics Challenge, Dickens, Victorian
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Congratulations! I loved the BBC adaptation of this one, but the book didn't call me afterwards in the way others have. I think you might be right to call it a transitional novel.ReplyDelete
Thanks! I have a box set of the Dickens adaptations and this is one of them. I'm going to take a little break from Dickens but I do want to watch this. I'm trying to wait until I've read the books before I watch the movies.Delete
I think you're right about the titles - Martin Chuzzlewit just sounds so ...unappealing. It sounds like a boring book about an old guy!ReplyDelete
I'm so impressed that you've read almost all of Dickens now. That is quite an accomplishment, in my eyes!
This is one of the least popular (next to last, just slightly higher than Barnaby Rudge), it was kind of a flop in America because of the anti-American satire -- basically, young Martin goes to the US and everyone spits tobacco and is rude, then he has some very harrowing experiences. But the end result was Dickens needed some quick cash so he wrote A Christmas Carol, which made him more popular than before. So all's well that ends well, I guess.Delete
I do hope to read all of Dickens someday, but it's time for a little break. On to Zola and Trollope!
Isn't this the book that a character was stolen from in The Eyre Affair?ReplyDelete
There is something about it in The Eyre Affair! A character is kidnapped and murdered, and it changes the novel forever. However, I'm pretty sure Jasper Fforde made up that character. It's supposed to be from a first draft of the manuscript -- which is kind of funny, because Dickens never had a complete first manuscript. He published it as he went along, in monthly installments.Delete
I think Martin Chuzzlewit may have been the last Dickens novel I read, or tried to read - as I remember, I gave up on it. The answer to Is He Popenjoy? is one of my favorites :)ReplyDelete
I do want to read Popenjoy! If nothing else, just because of the title.ReplyDelete
I also like the idea that this is a transitional title. I wonder if Dickens intended the novel to be more about the Chuzzlewits but then got enamoured with other characters as the writing progressed.ReplyDelete
Jane, I think you're right -- the side characters are much more interesting and dimensional than either Martin the elder or younger. I think the same thing happened with The Pickwick Papers. I haven't read it yet, but Sam Weller became really popular so Dickens changed the focus of the story.ReplyDelete
This one's on my summer reading list, along with The Pipwick Papers and Oliver Twist. I completely know what you mean about the title. I remember thinking it a little strange that Little Dorrit was titled after a character which isn't necessarily as central to the novel as its title would suggest. I prefer Dickens’s original title, which was “Nobody’s Fault." (I have heard from a few others that Martin Chuzzlewit is far less central to “Martin Chuzzlewit,” than Amy Dorrit is to “Little Dorrit,” though.ReplyDelete
If my memory serves me correctly, this titling issue also occurs in Tolstoy. Levin is just as central a character as Anna, but the novel takes its title from the latter. Hm. Quite interesting.
I hadn't heard about "Nobody's Fault." I agree, much better title than "Little Dorrit." I guess he changed it as he went along and by then it was too late to change the title. His later titles are generally better, and I think this is the point in his career where he started planning the novels out better before he started publishing them.ReplyDelete
At the time people jokingly renamed Can You Forgive Her? - Can You Stand Her? Having read the book I sort of agree with them. It's an enjoyable read though.ReplyDelete
I started Can You Forgive Her? more than two years ago and never finished it. I'll give it another shot after I finish the Barchester series.ReplyDelete
I so admire you for your dedication to Chuck Dickens. I am proud to say that I grew to love A Tale of Two Cities but it was probably because I was given an A+ on a symbolism paper in HS. Wish I still had that paper - it would be so interesting to read NOW.ReplyDelete
Chuck Dickens -- ha! I've never thought of him that way. And good for you about the ToTC grade! I don't think I ever got an A+ on a lit paper, especially on sympolism -- you have to pretty much hit me over the head with it for me to get it. I usually look it up after I'm done reading on Sparknotes.Delete
I do have a few papers from college and I'm too embarrassed to read them.
I have never heard of this one but I admire you for the huge amount of his works you have gotten through. I have only read GReat Expectations but I loved it but cant imagine reading as many as you have.ReplyDelete
I read Great Expectations in college but then I didn't pick up Dickens again for almost 20 years. . . I did go on a bit of a binge a few years ago and read about four works in a year, but now I'm spreading it out. I find it helps to have seen all the great BBC productions. Audio books in the car make the books go faster too.Delete
Kudos on finishing this one -- shamefully, despite liking Victorian lit, I've not read any Dickens. I really ought to!ReplyDelete
If you're a Victorian fan, you should give him a try! He's rather wordy but his satire is great and sometimes he's downright hilarious.Delete
I'm trying to read more Dickens this year. Currently into Bleak House, and enjoying it. This one sounds rather good as well.ReplyDelete
I just stumbled upon your blog and am already a fan. We love many of the same authors.ReplyDelete
I'm currently on a Dickens kick, so I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I'd not given much thought to how he titles his books before. Fascinating!
I can't remember if Martin Chuzzlewit is on my list for this year or not. I've just started The Pickwick Papers though. I'm excited to read some of his early writing.ReplyDelete
Which Dickens would you begin with if you had never read him before ?ReplyDelete
By the way, I think you're great to read all the Rougon Macquart ! Have a nice reading.
I would suggest Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, which should be somewhat familiar from screen adaptations and are a good read in themselves.ReplyDelete