Mr. Pickwick receives a manuscript from the old clergyman upon his removal from Manor Farm. The clergyman tells him, "I had hoped to have the pleasure of reading [it] to you myself. I found it on the death of a friend of mine — a medical man, engaged in our County Lunatic Asylum . . . However, whether it be the genuine production of a maniac, or founded upon the ravings of some unhappy being, which I think more probable, read it, and judge for yourself." After retiring to the bedroom prepared for him in the village of Cobham, Pickwick recalls this manuscript and examines it, noting that it was, "a strange hand-writing, and the paper was much soiled and blotted." It is entitled, "A Madman's Manuscript," and the following passage is excerpted from it.

I don't remember forms or faces now, but I know the girl was beautiful. I know she was; for in the bright moonlight nights, when I start up from my sleep, and all is quiet about me, I see, standing still and motionless in one corner of this cell, a slight and wasted figure with long black hair, which streaming down her back, stirs with no earthly wind, and eyes that fix their gaze on me, and never wink or close. Hush! the blood chills at my heart as I write it down — that form is hers; the face is very pale, and the eyes are glassy bright; but I know them well. That figure never moves; it never frowns and mouths as others do, that fill this place sometimes; but it is much more dreadful to me, even than the spirits that tempted me many years ago — it comes fresh from the grave; and is so very death-like. [Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, pp. 151-152]

Discussion Questions

1. How does this disturbing tale enter the realm of fantasy? How is the characterization of the "madman" narrator comparable to the depiction of Bertha Mason in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre?

2. How does this manuscript compare with the old clergyman's earlier, equally grisly tale, "The Convict's Return"? How are the protagonists different? What does the clergyman attempt to accomplish by contrasting John Edmunds with the madman?

3. Why do these dark tales appear in the context of such a humorous and satirical narrative as The Pickwick Papers? How do these stories function to reveal the darker reality hidden beneath the surface of orderly Victorian society?

Last Modified 10 February 2003