Although The Pickwick Papers seems to be primarily humorous, focusing on four fairly eccentric, harmless central characters, the novel is, as with most of Dickens’ other works, full of commentary about British society after the Industrial Revolution. It seems as though the narrative voice shifts from descriptive and playful to opinionated and perhaps critical, nevertheless maintaining an underlying sense of sarcastic humor and a seemingly objective, "omniscient" stance. It transitions itself quite suddenly from the private sphere of the Pickwickians to a broad, even blatant introduction of social issues pertinent to nineteenth-century England.

The following passage takes place when Mr. Pickwick and his friends stroll through a city called Muggleton.

As their walk was not above two miles long…as their conversation turned upon the delightful scenery by which they were on every side surrounded, Mr. Pickwick was almost inclined to regret the expedition they had used, when he found himself in the main street of the town of Muggleton.

Everybody whose genius has a topographic bent, knows perfectly well that Muggleton is a corporate town, with a mayor, burgesses, and freemen, and anybody who has consulted the addresses of the mayor to the freemen, or the freemen to the mayor, or both to the corporation, or all three to the Parliament, will learn from thence what they ought to have known before, that Muggleton is an ancient and loyal borough, mingling a zealous advocacy of Christian principles with a devoted attachment to commercial rights, in demonstration whereof, the mayor, corporation, and other inhabitants, have presented at divers times, no fewer than one thousand four hundred and twenty petitions, against the continuance of negro slavery abroad, and an equal number against any interference with the factory system at home; sixty-eight for permitting the sale of benefices in the church, and eighty six for abolishing Sunday trading in the streets [98]

Questions

Who is speaking here? How do the narrative voices of Pickwick, his friends, and the “omniscient” narrator work with or against each other in order to generate both humor and social commentary? (In other words, does the seemingly “omniscient” narrative voice speak through his characters in order to relay social commentary?)

Is this passage at all relevant to the inclusion of Chaucerian-influenced, Canterbury-like tales told by characters outside the Pickwickian circle?

How does the sarcasm and jocularity enable, rather than inhibit, the narrative’s ability to bring up issues such as slavery, the effects of the factory system, and religious corruption?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers Leading Questions

Last modified 10 February 2003