Throughout The Pickwick Papers, there are a number of instances in which Mr. Pickwick finds himself in awkward and humorous situations. This seems to be especially true when it comes to women. The following three passages (each from a separate scene in the novel) are representative of his "lady-trouble." The first passage comes from chapter 16 in which he frightens an entire school of girls after being duped by Jingle into believing that one of the girls is going to elope. The second comes from chapter 18 in which he is sued by Mrs Bardell for "false promises of marriage." Finally, the third passage can be found in chapter 22 when Mr. Pickwick accidentally wanders into a random lady's hotel room:
'Oh, the man-the man-behind the door!' screamed Miss Smithers. The lady abbess no sooner heard this appalling cry, than she retreated to her own bed-room, double-locked the door, and fainted away all comfortably. The boarders, and the teachers, and the servants, fell back upon the stairs, and upon each other; and never was such a screaming, and fainting, and struggling, beheld. In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from his concealment, and presented himself amongst them. [chapter 16]
Mr. Tupman, with a trembling voice, read the letter, of which the following is a copy...'Sir, having been instructed by Mrs. Martha Bardell, to commence an action against you, for a breach of promise of marriage, for which the plaintiff lays her damages at fifteen hundred pounds, we beg to inform you that a writ has been issued against you in this suit, in the Court of Common Pleas; and request to know, by return of post , the name of your attorney in London, who will accept service thereof. We are, Sir, your obedient servants, Dodson and Fogg.' [chapter 18]
'This matter is growing alarming' — reasoned Mr. Pickwick with himself. 'I can't allow things to go on in this way. By the self-possession of that lady, its clear to me that I must have come into the wrong room. If I call out, she'll alarm the house, but if I remain here the consequences will be still more frightful.' [chapter 22]
1. It has been stated many times throughout the novel that Mr. Pickwick is a noble, kind, and honest man. Yet he is always getting himself into trouble, especially with women. Is there any significance to this? Contrast Pickwick with Jingle (a dishonest, conniving con-artist) who seems to have the ladies fawning over him. Is honesty simply not the way to a woman's heart in Dickens' view?
2. Many times in the novel, it seems that Pickwick is a leader as well as a kind of father-figure to the other Pickwickians. If he had more of a sexual interest in women (as characters like Tupman and Winkle do), would this detract from his role as a father-figure? Does purity lie in his seemingly asexual character?
3. All of the women that we have come across up to this point in this novel seem to be fairly weak-minded, unable to see the truth of matters, and extremely prone to fainting. What is the significance of this? Compare the women in The Pickwick Papers to Jane Eyre. Is Jane a strong character simply because Jane Eyre was written by a woman?
Last Modified 19 February 2003