losely associated with the local public house, The Blue Dragon, and enamoured of its comely publican, the indefatigable Mark Tapley undertakes becoming the servant and companion of young Marin Chuzzlewit, a role which he is certain will lead to challenges to his ebullient nature. After all, as Paul Davis notes in Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work, "His self-defined mission in life is to remain 'jolly' in the most trying circumstances" (382). Complacency and comfort offer no opposition to his essential optimism, but as "Co." in America (that is, young Martin's architectural partner in Eden) he finds himself constantly tested by Yankee duplicity and impostures. His shares with Dickens his county of origin: "No part of Martin Chuzzlewit takes place in Kent, yet both the eponymous hero and his more admirable servant-companion Mark Tapley are casually described as coming from the county" (Fido, 17), just as young Charles Dickens came up to London from Rochester, Kent, at the age of twelve. When Mark finally returns to the comfortable Wiltshire landlady, the widow Mrs. Lupin, and marries her, she renames the inn "The Jolly Tapley." In his judgments, despite his penchant for actively looking for obstacles to his equanimity, Mark serves as Dickens's normative touchstone: how he feels, implies the author, the reader ought to feel, too. He is therefore more than an updated or retreaded version of the first great Dickens servant-companion, Mr. Pickwick's valet, the quintessential Cockney, Sam Weller; rather, in a story full of deceptive surfaces, Mark Tapley is, above all and from the first, "honest Mark," in contrast to the Chuzzlewit toadies and sychophants whom Dickens introduced in the initial instalment (January 1842).
Mr. Pinch was jogging along, full of pleasant thoughts and cheerful influences, when he saw, upon the path before him, going in the same direction with himself, a traveller on foot, who walked with a light quick step, and sang as he went — for certain in a very loud voice, but not unmusically. He was a young fellow, of some five or six-and-twenty perhaps, and was dressed in such a free and fly-away fashion, that the long ends of his loose red neckcloth were streaming out behind him quite as often as before; and the bunch of bright winter berries in the buttonhole of his velveteen coat was as visible to Mr. Pinch’s rearward observation, as if he had worn that garment wrong side foremost. He continued to sing with so much energy, that he did not hear the sound of wheels until it was close behind him; when he turned a whimsical face and a very merry pair of blue eyes on Mr Pinch, and checked himself directly.
"Why, Mark?" said Tom Pinch, stopping. "Who’d have thought of seeing you here? Well! this is surprising!"
Mark touched his hat, and said, with a very sudden decrease of vivacity, that he was going to Salisbury.
"And how spruce you are, too!" said Mr. Pinch, surveying him with great pleasure. "Really, I didn’t think you were half such a tight-made fellow, Mark!"
"Thankee, Mr. Pinch. Pretty well for that, I believe. It’s not my fault, you know. With regard to being spruce, sir, that’s where it is, you see." And here he looked particularly gloomy.
"Where what is?" Mr. Pinch demanded.
"Where the aggravation of it is. Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed. There an’t much credit in that. If I was very ragged and very jolly, then I should begin to feel I had gained a point, Mr Pinch."
"So you were singing just now, to bear up, as it were, against being well dressed, eh, Mark?" said Pinch.
"Your conversation’s always equal to print, sir," rejoined Mark, with a broad grin. "That was it." [February 1842: Number Two, Chapter Five]
After a rather pedestrian opening, with the selfishness of the Chuzzlewit clan and the exploitation and hypocrisy of Pecksniff made manifest, the narrative begins to take flight as we move from a cultural milieu of the rural village (one that Dickens — despite his nostalgia for it — little understood) to the teeming and tawdry life of the lower-middle class of the sprawling metropolis. After the falling off in the fifth and sixth chapters, necessarily establishing the contrasting characters of the inconsiderate young Martin, the deferential Tom, and the ebullient Mark, the action begins to rise again, first with the introduction of that engaging rascal Tigg, and then with Mark's sudden decision to leave the bucolic paradise in order to save his soul from complacency. Albert Guerard rightly expresses the feeling that the story "achieves sustained life only in the third monthly part, with the movement to London in chapter 8" (235). In saying farewell to the multi-gabled Elizabethan Green Dragon and his friends and neighbours as he takes the high road (his trunk having already gone up by waggon two days before), Mark Tapley, the jovial ostler of the local public-house, seems to be saying goodbye to a way of life found in the hamlets of England's rural counties from Tudor times (recalled by the thatched roofs of the forge and the inn in the Phiz plate) to the railway age. He departs on foot for the capital as lads ever since young Shakespeare's time have done, but he is in fact not a denizen of the little Wiltshire village at all; rather, he was born in Kent, and has already worked in London (sharing a little of Dickens's own life's story) prior to working for the kindly Mrs. Lupin at the Blue Dragon. Nevertheless, in just a few years he seems to have established himself in the villagers' hearts, if Dickens's description of his circumstances in Chapters 5 through 7 and Phiz's sixth plate are to be credited.
Mark Tapley, this picaresque novel's Sancho Panza figure, appears so obsessed with remaining "jolly" in the face of frustration, malevolence, and adversity that he often seems a mere caricature rather than a believeable, fully developed character. But in Mark Begins to be Jolly Under Creditable Circumstances Phiz has taken pains to individualise him. From his tousled hair, swirling neck-cloth, neat leggings, and hat held jauntily aloft on a rather short walking-stick (a mere flourish to the travelling costume rather than a functional prop for this strapping giant) we have a clear conception of his style and manner; a significant touch is the slightly melancholy visage, betokening an inner conflict as he leaves the woman he has grown to love for an uncertain future. Phiz leaves us in no doubt that Mark is the subject of the picture, for his solid and robust figure fills the frame, from the dog in vigorous movement and the child in stasis at the bottom to the open sky above.
Although the ebullient Mark has risen early, in part, one suspects, to avoid tearful farewells, already the villagers, their children, several dogs, Tom Pinch (left) and the Widow Lupin herself (in the window, centre) are up to see him off, the plate's realisation of the event paralleling Dickens's description, but for the crowd of young admirers that Dickens implies in "children enough to hand down human natur to the latest posterity" (Ch. 7, Penguin p. 172, Oxford p. 102). Though both a crowd scene and a set piece (a "departure" in a "progress"), the picture has both drama and pathos without any sense of crowding. Phiz has, as it were, filled in the blanks in Dickens's mere half-page description of the departure scene, adding the buildings and subtracting the garden. Phiz communicates something of the energy of the dashes and reiterated "good-by'es" in the letterpress through the waving hands of Tom Pinch, the conclave of wheelwrights, and the crowd in front of the inn, so vividly realised in the clear air that we are soon to exchange for the London smog of Todgers's and vicinity. Phiz's humanizing touch is the lone child, right, whose posture, gesture, and facial expression reveal how much everyone in the little community will miss jolly Mark. His jacket blows in the stiff breeze from left to right, a wind of destiny that in agitating the bottom of his garment draws the eye to the significant words on the poster: "Lost, Stolen." Reiterating the left-to-right movement is the fingerpost above Mark's beaver, with the word "Salisbury" just decipherable. The church spire and the gables of the Blue Dragon reinforce the upward movement of Mark's figure, as if heaven, emigration, and the pursuit of jollity under trying circumstances are all connected.
What awaits Mark Tapley and the novel is a highly necessary change of venue. Although Londoner Charles Dickens yearned for the simplicity of village life, unlike George Eliot, he was not especially adept at capturing its intense inward-turning, tightly knit society. Having offered neither bucolic tranquility nor the incisive dialogue of Eliot's village worthies, and watching the sales of the monthly numbers stagnate, Dickens must felt the necessity to move the narrative along.
Related Materials: Illustrations 1842-1910
- Illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (42 plates from the Chapman and Hall Edition of 1843)
- Illustrations by Sol Eytinge, Jr. (16 plates from the Ticknor and Fields' Diamond Edition of 1867)
- Fred Barnard (60 plates from the Chapman and Hall Household Edition of 1872)
- Clayton J. Clarke (five studies from three sources, 1910)
- Harry Furniss (twenty-eight lithographs for the Charles Dickens Library Edition, 1910)
Various Studies of the Ebullient Mark Tapley, 1867-1910
Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley (1867). Centre and Right: J. Clayton Clarke's (Kyd's) Player's cigarette card image of and commentary about the indefatigable optimist, Mark Tapley (1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Left: F. O. C. Darley's frontispiece for volume two, "Jolly sort of lodgings", alluding to Mark's deciding to join young Martin on the voyage to America. Right: Furniss's introduction of jolly Mark and pensive Tom, Mark Tapley and Tom Pinch (1910).
Above: Fred Barnard's complementary character studies "He turned a whimsical face and a very merry pair of blue eyes on Mr. Pinch" (Chapter 5, the Household Edition, 1872).
Allingham, Philip V. "Phiz's Illustrations, Part One." [Ch. 2-7] The Dickens Magazine: Martin Chuzzlewit. 5.1 (Feb., 2008): 12-15.
Davis, Paul. "Tapley, Mark." Charles Dickens A to Z. The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998. Page 382.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.
_____. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Andrew Lang. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). The Gadshill Edition: 34 volumes. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897. 2 vols.
_____. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Margaret Cardwell. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). The Clarendon Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Fido, Martin Chapter One. The World of Charles Dickens: he Life, Times and Work:of the Great Victorian Novelist. Vancouver, B. C.: Raincoast, 1997. Pp. 16-31.
Harvey, John R. Ch. 6, "Dickens and Browne: Martin Chuzzledwit to Bleak House." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington and London: Indiana U. P., 1978.
_____. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972): 119-149.
Vann, J. Don. "Martin Chuzzlewit, twenty parts in nineteen monthly installments, January 1843 — July 1844." New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Pp. 66-67.
Last modified 3 March 2019