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Martin Chuzzlewit is a novel by Charles Dickens, considered the last of his picaresque novels, which was written and serialized in 1843-1844. Like nearly all of Dickens' novels, Martin Chuzzlewit was released to the public in monthly installments. Sales of the monthly parts were disappointing, compared to Dickens' previous works, so Dickens changed the plot to send the title character to America. This allowed the author to portray America, which he had recently visited, satirically as a near wilderness, whose pockets of civilization were filled with deceptive and self-promoting hucksters.
The main theme of the novel is selfishness, which is portrayed in a satirical fashion using all the members of the Chuzzlewit family. The novel is also notable for one of Dickens' great villains, Seth Pecksniff, and the nurse Mrs. Gamp.
The work was dedicated to Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, a friend of Dickens.
The novel was made into a TV miniseries in 1994.
Young Martin Chuzzlewit was raised by his grandfather, also named Martin Chuzzlewit. The senior Martin, a very wealthy man, has been long convinced that everyone around him is after his money, and so he took the precaution, years before the book begins, of raising an orphaned girl, Mary, to be his nursemaid, with the understanding that she would be very well taken care of as long as he lived, and be thrown out onto the streets, penniless, after he dies. She would therefore have great motivation to care for his well-being and safeguard him from harm, in contrast to his relatives, who want him to die. However, his grandson and heir, Martin, falls in love with Mary and wishes to marry her, ruining the senior Martin's plans to keep her disinterested in his fortune. He demands his grandson give up the engagement, but he refuses and becomes disinherited from his grandfather. He decides to sign on as an apprentice to Mr. Pecksniff, a talentless, greedy, pseudo-pious user who periodically takes in students to teach them architecture, while actually teaching them nothing, treating them badly, and living grandly off their tuition. He has two vain, spoiled, mean-spirited but pseudo-pious daughters, Mercy (Merry) and Charity (Cherry). Unbeknownst to young Martin, Mr. Pecksniff, who is a relative of Chuzzlewit's, has taken the grandson on in order to establish closer ties with the wealthy grandfather, thinking that the grandfather's gratitude will give Pecksniff a prominent place in the will. While with the Pecksniffs, the younger Martin meets and befriends Tom Pinch, who is in some ways the true protagonist of the book. He is a gentle, kind-hearted soul whose late parents gave Pecksniff all they had so that he would take Pinch in and teach him a trade so he could make his way in the world. Pinch is so goodly that he is incapable of believing any of the bad things others tell him of Pecksniff, and always defends him vociferously. He also has a sister who is a governess in London. He works for Pecksniff for exploitatively low wages, all the while believing that he is the unworthy recipient of Pecksniff's charity. We briefly meet John Westlock, a former student of Pecksniff's who sees the value of Pinch and the evil of Pecksniff, and parts ways from the household as the book is beginning.
When Grandfather Chuzzlewit hears of his grandson's new life, he requires Mr. Pecksniff to kick the penniless young Martin to the street. The elder Martin Chuzzlewit then visits Pecksniff and the reader becomes acquainted with his large number of greedy relatives who have been circling him, waiting for his death. The senior Martin moves in with Mr. Pecksniff and slowly appears to fall under his complete control. During this sojourn, Pinch falls in love with Mary, but does not declare his love, knowing of her attachment to the young Martin.
One of Martin senior's greedy relatives is his brother, Anthony Chuzzlewit, who is in business with his son, Jonas. While somewhat affluent themselves, they live miserly, cruel lives, with Jonas constantly berating his father, eager for the old man to die so he can get control of his inheritance. Anthony dies abruptly and under suspicious circumstances, leaving his wealth to Jonas. Jonas then woos Charity Pecksniff, who is very flattered, while insulting and arguing constantly with Mercy, whom he refers to as "the other one," instead of by name. He then abruptly and cruelly declares to Seth Pecksniff that he wants to marry Mercy, and jilts a furious Charity. During their courtship, Mercy continues to tease and abuse him verbally, enjoying her power over him, to which he responds affably, muttering that he will get his revenge once they are married. This indeed happens, and he seriously physically and emotionally abuses Mercy once the marriage has taken place. Her personality changes from that of a giggly, flighty girl to a oppressed and frightened woman. Charity delights in Mercy's pain.
Jonas, meanwhile, becomes entangled with the unscrupulous Montague Tigg and becomes financially involved in his pyramid scheme-like insurance scam. Introduced at the beginning of the book as Tigg Montague, a dirty, petty thief and hanger-on, he transforms himself into a seemingly fine man of quality through dressing better and renting a nice office with a windfall of money he gets from cheating young Martin Chuzzlewit. This facade is enough to convince investors that he must be an important businessman from whom they may greatly profit.
While this is occurring, Tom Pinch, after years of devoted service, finds out the true nature of Mr. Pecksniff's character when he mistreats Mary, and leaves him at last. He goes to London to seek employment and rescues his governess sister Ruth, who he discovers has been severely mistreated by the cruel family who has been employing her, and they move in together. He renews his friendship with John Westlock, who has recently come into an inheritance. Pinch quickly receives an ideal job from a mysterious employer, with the help of an equally mysterious Mr. Nadgett.
Young Martin, meanwhile, has fallen in with Mark Tapley, a kind man from the inn in the town where Pecksniff lives. Mark, a satirical character, is always affable and cheerful, which he decides does not reflect well on him because he is always in happy circumstances. He decides he must test his cheerfulness by seeing if he can maintain it in the worst circumstances possible. To this end, he decides to accompany young Martin Chuzzlewit as his unpaid servant (indeed, he uses up his life savings paying for things for Martin) as he makes his way to the United States to seek his fortune. The men travel to America, make many humorous observations about the generally low and degraded or silly character of the American people, and then attempt to start new lives in a swampy, disease-filled settlement named Eden by the corrupt hucksters who sell him his land. Mark and Martin both nearly die in Eden of malaria. The experience changes Martin's selfish character and they return to England after the experience, where he is resolved to return penitently to his grandfather, humbled and changed. But his grandfather is now apparently under Mr. Pecksniff's control and rejects him. Mr. Pecksniff also becomes financially involved in Montague Tigg's insurance scam through the intervention of Jonas, who is being blackmailed by Tigg, who has some kind of information on Jonas. The information is not revealed until the end of the book, but it is implied that he has evidence that Jonas killed his father.
On his return, Young Martin is reunited with Tom Pinch. At this point, Jonas Chuzzlewit murders Tigg Montague when the insurance scam is failing, in order to prevent him from revealing the information he's been using as blackmail. Meanwhile, Tom Pinch discovers that his mysterious benefactor/employer is old Martin Chuzzlewit. The elder Martin reveals that when he saw the ends to which greed would take one (in the case of Jonas and Anthony), he decided to sit back and pretend to be in doddering thrall to Pecksniff, while he carefully planned to give everyone enough rope to hang themselves with. He soon realizes the evils of Pecksniff and the good of Pinch. Together, the group confronts Mr. Pecksniff with their knowledge of his true character. Mr. Nadgett leads the group to the discovery of Jonas as the murderer of Montague. They also find out from Anthony's devoted employee Chuffey that Jonas did not murder his father, but did plan to murder him, and in fact thought he had (with poison), when really the father died of a broken heart when he realized his own son wanted him dead. Martin also reveals that he was angry at his grandson for becoming engaged to Mary because he had all along planned to arrange that particular match, and felt his glory had been thwarted by them deciding on the plan themselves, instead. He realizes the folly of that opinion, and Martin and his grandfather are reconciled. Martin and Mary get married, Ruth Pinch gets married to John Westlock, and the other characters generally get what they deserve, good or bad. However, Tom Pinch remains in unrequited, undeclared love with Mary for the rest of his life, never marrying, and always being a warm companion to Mary and Martin and to Ruth and John, because the goodness of his heart is such that he is happy to see his loved ones happy though he not partake as much as them.
Characters in "Martin Chuzzlewit"
The Chuzzlewit Extended Family
The main characters of the story are the members of the extended Chuzzlewit family.
The first to be introduced is Seth Pecksniff, a widower with two daughters who is a self-styled teacher of architecture. He believes that he is a highly moral individual who loves his fellow man, but mistreats his students and passes off their designs as his own for profit. He seems to be a cousin of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. Mr. Pecksniff's rise and fall follows the novel's plot arc.
Next we meet his two daughters, Charity and Mercy Pecksniff. They are also affectionately known as Cherry and Merry, or as the two Miss Pecksniffs. Charity is portrayed throughout the book as having none of that virtue after which she is named, while Mercy, the younger sister, is at first silly and girlish in a manner that's probably inconsistent with her numerical age. Later events in the story drastically change her personality.
Old Martin Chuzzlewit, the wealthy patriarch of the Chuzzlewit family, lives in constant suspicion of the financial designs of his extended family. At the beginning of the novel he has aligned himself with Mary, an orphan, in order to have a caretaker who is not eyeing his estate. Later in the story he makes an apparent alliance with Mr. Pecksniff, who he feels is at least consistent in character. His true character is revealed by the end of the story.
Young Martin Chuzzlewit is the grandson of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. He is the closest relative of Old Martin and has inherited much of the stubbornness and selfishness of the old man. Young Martin is the protagonist of the story. His engagement to Mary is the cause of estrangement between himself and his grandfather. By the end of the story he becomes a reformed character, realizing and repenting of the selfishness of his previous actions.
Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit is a relative of Old Martin. He and his son, Jonas, run a business together called Chuzzlewit and Son. They are both self-serving, hardened individuals who view the accumulation of money as the most important things in life.
Jonas Chuzzlewit, son of Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit, is the mean-spirited, sinisterly jovial son of Anthony Chuzzlewit. He views his father with contempt and wishes for his death so that he can have the business and the money for himself. He is a suitor of the two Miss Pecksniffs, wins one, then is driven to commit murder by his unscrupulous business associations.
Thomas (Tom) Pinch is a former student of Mr. Pecksniff's who has become his personal assistant. He is kind, simple, and honest in everything he does. He carries in his heart an undying love and adoration for Mr. Pecksniff. He serves as a foil to Mr. Pecksniff.
Ruth Pinch is Tom Pinch's sister. She is sweet and good, like her brother. At first she works as a governess to a wealthy family. Later in the novel she and Tom set up housekeeping together. She falls in love with and marries Tom's friend John Westlock.
Mark Tapley is the good-humored employee of the Blue Dragon and suitor of Mrs. Lupin who leaves that establishment in order to find work that's more of a credit to his character, that is, that is more miserable so that his cheerfulness will be more of a credit to him. He eventually joins Young Martin Chuzzlewit on his trip to America, where he finds at last a situation that requires the full extent of his innate cheerfulness of disposition.
Montague Tigg/ Tigg Montague is a down-on-his-luck bum at the beginning of the story, and hanger on to distant Chuzzlewit kin Chevy Slyme. Later, he starts a thriving, sleazy insurance business with no money at all and lures Jonas into this business.
Mr. Nadgett is a soft-spoken, mysterious individual who is Tom Pinch's landlord and serves as Montague's private investigator.
Sarah Gamp (also known as Sairey) works as a nurse, midwife and layer-out of the dead. Even in a house of mourning Mrs. Gamp manages to enjoy all the hospitality a house can afford, with little regard for the person she is there to minister to and is often much under the influence of drink. She habitually carries with her a battered black umbrella. So popular with the Victorian public was the character that Gamp became a slang word for umbrellas in general.
Martin Chuzzlewit was published in 19 monthly installments, each composed of 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Hablot K. "Phiz" Browne and costing one shilling. The last part was double-length.
- I - January 1843 (chapters 1-3)
- II - February 1843 (chapters 4-5)
- III - March 1843 (chapters 6-8)
- IV - April 1843 (chapters 9-10)
- V - May 1843 (chapters 11-12)
- VI - June 1843 (chapters 13-15)
- VII - July 1843 (chapters 16-17)
- VIII - August 1843 (chapters 18-20)
- IX - September 1843 (chapters 21-23)
- X - October 1843 (chapters 24-26)
- XI - November 1843 (chapters 27-29)
- XII - December 1843 (chapters 30-32)
- XIII - January 1844 (chapters 33-35)
- XIV - February 1844 (chapters 36-38)
- XV - March 1844 (chapters 39-41)
- XVI - April 1844 (chapters 42-44)
- XVII - May 1844 (chapters 45-47)
- XVIII - June 1844 (chapters 48-50)
- XIX-XX - July 1844 (chapters 51-54)
- Martin Chuzzlewit, available freely at Project Gutenberg
- Martin Chuzzlewit - Searchable HTML version.
- Martin Chuzzlewit - Easy to read HTML version.