Spectacular spectacular!

Dear Charlie,

Today I finished the last few pages of Martin Chuzzlewit, and I had to smile. Both because it’s a satisfying ending to a great story of human selfishness in its many forms, but also because of the way in which you wrap things up. I get the feeling that you knew exactly where you wanted everyone to end up, and were so impatient to tie it all with a neat bow that, among other plot devices, you stuffed as many characters into a room as possible so that they, like us, bear witness to the consequences of their actions.

And boy, does Martin senior ever dole out justice with assembly line efficiency: you and you: marry, you: dead, you: happy, you: tavern, you: humiliated (ooh, Pecksniff’s a tough nut to crack!). Oh! Remember Chevy Slime ( how could you ever forget that name)? He’s a policeman, of all things, arriving on stage to arrest his relative and winge a bit, and then disappearing back into the wings. Good god, I hear you writing furiously, let’s just get the damned thing over with already! As if a character-stuffed room wasn’t enough, we then have to squeeze in a proposal – done! And then let’s rush over to Mrs. Todger’s boarding house for yet another wedding and deal with the Miss Pecksniffs (and a resurrection, no less).

And just when we think everyone is accounted for,  who should wander down the street but the unfortunate couple from the States, who may have lost all their children to Eden but whose future will undoubtedly be brighter thanks to Mark’s kindness. Is everyone dealt with now? Holy crap, what a finale! All we need now is a rousing musical number with showgirls and a giraffe and we can take this on the road!

All this and a resurrection too!
© Holger Badekow

This grand excess might be less satisfying if anyone got less than they deserved. As it is, I can go to bed tonight in the snug assurance that the good have ended happily and the bad unhappily. All’s right with your world, Mr. D, in fiction if nowhere else. And all jesting aside, it’s been a great journey.

And now a short break, before I start taking your friendship for granted, or OD on Dickensian style…. But know that I remain,

Yours affectionately,


Hoping for the best and the worst

Baddies. Bein’ bad.

Dear Charlie,

I’m getting down to the last 200 pages or so of “Martin Chuzzlewit,” and things are definitely coming to a head. Martin Junior has, fortunately for everyone, grown a brain during his failed attempt at conquering the New World, and has returned humbled, poorer, and a much better person. Worthy of having a book named after him, I should think.

I can’t root for him too long, however, since you seem much more intent on the fates of Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit, who are being brilliantly manipulated by Mr. Tigg (or Mr. Montague, as he now calls himself). I say brilliantly, but Jonas clearly has something along homicidal lines in mind for his associate. The interesting thing about characters who are all, in their own ways, complete bastards, is that you can watch the inevitable train wreck that is their karmic comeuppance with a glee unmitigated by sympathy. It’s coming, I can feel it, and I don’t want anyone to escape (except perhaps the wonderfully omnipresent Mr. Nadgett, spy extraordinaire – he deserves his own book).

Of course, I want Ruth and Mr. Westlock to get together, and for Tom to find happiness, and for Martin and Mary to receive Martin Senior’s blessing, but somehow watching good things come to good people isn’t half as entertaining as watching bad people get what they deserve. Schadenfreude is alive and well, in this little corner of suburbia anyway.

Now I get to sit back and watch things unfold, and hope that old Martin is playing a long con, and isn’t the senile old man he’d have Pecksniff believe. I also hope nothing untoward happens to Mrs. Gamp – her whole character is frickin’ genius, Charlie my friend.

And with that, I’d best get back to the story, although I remain,

Affectionately yours,



Dear Charlie,

I can’t believe it, but our entirely one-sided correspondence has just garnered 5,000 visits! Compared to your own vast readership it’s modest, I know, but I’m still thrilled. In celebration, I’d like to show you a portrait of you I discovered by a fantastic artist named  David Johnson.

Pretty cool, eh? I thought you’d like it.

Oh, and I just finished reading about Mr. Pecksniff’s oh-so-creepy advances to Mary. I thought Quilp was frightening, but Pecksniff is just…something else. So slimy and sanctimonious and just eewww. At least Mary has sense enough to see it, even if she’s being backed into a corner. What a character!

Well, I’ll let you get back to whatever famous dead authors do. Here’s to the next 5,000 visits!!





Pissing off Americans

ALL the Chuzzlewits!

Dear Charlie,

I’ve just finished the first volume of Martin Chuzzlewit, and have left Mrs. Gamp ministering at the sick bed of a mysterious stranger, an old friend of John Westlock’s, old Martin and Mary back at the Blue Dragon for reasons unknown, Jonas (mostly) engaged to Mercy and her sister enraged by it, Pecksniff doing his damnedest to keep on old Martin’s good side, and young Martin and the cheerful Mark finding themselves owners of a very dank, very remote piece of an American settlement called Eden.

I suppose I have become used to you, by now, poking fun at various English characters, institutions and cultural idiosyncrasies, so when you turned that sharp eye and caustic wit on the people and politics of the Americans Martin encounters upon his arrival in New York… well, I can see why your American friends weren’t exactly tickled by your exposing their foibles. As you yourself said:

I gather from a letter I have had this morning that Martin has made them all stark staring raving mad across the water.

Oops. I guess it’s true that you can only make fat jokes if you’re fat, eh? Fortunately, your friend Forster noted:

But though an angry they are a good humoured and a very placable people; and as time moved on a little, the laughter on that side of the Atlantic became quite as great as our amusement on this side, at the astonishing fun and comicality of these scenes.

And they are funny. Even if some of the politics went over my head, the behavior of the boarding house residents at dinner, the rigid social hierarchy, and the profusion of tabloids (I think we should definitely bring back your term for them, since ‘screamers’ is exactly what they are) made me laugh out loud. It’s interesting, too, that Martin, who you portray as a bit of a selfish ass, becomes much more sympathetic when you place him in the role of the English observer of American culture and customs. Let’s hope some hardship in the swamps of Eden finally helps him to get over himself and learn some humility before he returns home (assuming he makes it home).

And now this Canadian girl must put up a pair of curtains before wolfing down her dinner in the grand North American style. And, of course, I remain ever,

Affectionately yours,


From Christmas stories to family greed

Dear Charlie,

Welcome to 2013, Charlie dear! Have you made any resolutions? For starters, I would recommend a resolution to stop being dead, because I’m growing quite fond of you and would really like this correspondence to be a little less one sided. I didn’t need any more resolutions – reading your collected works in a year is proving challenging enough.

However, I did finish The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices on January 2 and am well into the first volume of Martin Chuzzlewit, so it’s been quite the eventful week. The former, and the last of your Christmas stories, reminded me strongly of our friend Mr. Pickwick and his seemingly random adventures, but now with a more satiric and cynical bite (although still very funny). Since you think that Mr. Goodchild’s aimless and purposeless tasks to be another form of idleness, I wonder if you would look back and consider Mr. Pickwick equally idle? I have a soft spot for old Mr. P., as I feel you do. I don’t yet know much about your later years, so I don’t know if your early penchant for walking the streets and observing people and events changed at all, or if Mr. Goodchild’s particular form of idleness as you portray it is necessarily a bad thing.

The Lazy Tour of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins!

Ha! And just as I write that, a cursory tour of the interwebs informs me that the story was based on a trip you took with Wilkie Collins, that it was a collaborative effort between the two of you, and that Goodchild was based on you! Well, no wonder the character is more of a vehicle for your observations of things like the horse races at Doncaster than he is a moral cautionary tale. And Mr. Idle’s hilarious musings on the perils of not being idle were those of Collins himself! Eesh, I feel I should read the whole thing again now that I know this. Goes to show you how a bit of foreknowledge can utterly change one’s perceptions of a work. At least I noted a similarity between Goodchild and you without knowing the extent of the connection. My New Year’s resolution clearly needs to be to do some damned research before I start blogging about things I don’t know. :-/ I will read this article about your friendship with Mr. Collins as the first part of my resolution.

Now it’s on to Martin Chuzzlewit, and I’m glad to be into one of your larger works again (I deliberately skipped over your adventures in the US and Italy because I needed a full course meal after the many Christmas appetizers). I learn that you liked this work more than your adoring public did, which must have been a bit of a rude awakening for you. Being about half way through the first volume, I can only guess that the absence of a likeable character may have played a part. Everyone has their own agendas, and they seem intent on pursuing them without regard to anyone else. Not that there aren’t some great characters (Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters, for instance, and their trip to London was hysterical), but so far I haven’t found anyone yet to really root for (except Tom Pinch, but I feel sorry for him more than anything, much like I did with poor old Barnaby). Even young Martin Chuzzlewit is a bit of a patronizing ass, isn’t he? I hope he improves upon longer acquaintance.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend, I am very much enjoying the book, and am very interested to see where all this family animosity and greed is heading (nowhere good, I imagine).

And please start working on that New Year’s resolution, would you? I know I’ll be working on mine.

Affectionately yours,