Saturday, May 02, 2015

By George, another Pickwick?

Death and Mr. Pickwick: A NovelDeath and Mr. Pickwick: A Novel by Stephen Jarvis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this remarkable, 800 plus page historical tome and ambitious speculative fictional account of the events leading up to the publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1836. Especially of interest to an admitted 'late to the party' Dickens fan are the insights into the Pickwick characters and nineteenth century Holborn landmarks, side stories and all round Pickwickmania of 1836, London. The sad tale of Charles Whitehead, afforded an early chance to pen Pickwick, who dies penniless in Melbourne Australia is very compelling and the tale of Dickens' favourite clown Grimaldi and even sadder death of Grimaldi's drunken son is a key theme in this remarkable piece of historical investigative fiction: Drink, wasted talent, poverty, petty squabbles, opportunism and death haunt the book and while I admire the story greatly and how the tale is woven through so many characters, the prose at times lacks the whimsical esprit and comic potency of Dickens' writing and also does not quite have you side with cast off artist Robert Seymour, in the way that you might  side with Little Nell, Oliver Twist and certainly Samuel Pickwick himself. Whom may have come up with the original idea for Pickwick is the over riding theme and Death and Mr Pickwick goes to great lengths to prove that cartoonist Robert Seymour came up with the character for Pickwick, sports theme and comic episodes such as 'the sagacious dog'. This may well be the case but as has been proven by so many memorable characters written in intervening years, characters such as the 'young un', Smike, Sikes, Fagin, Pegotty, Ralph Nickleby, Mrs Faversham, Pip, Madame Lefarge, Uriah Heep, Dickens had it in him to write for his time and to write characters that walked off the page and into our very mind's eye.
This is a special book in a different way. What Death and Mr Pickwick does is show in very telling detail how authors and writers come up with ideas and mold them into a format which will be appealing to the general public. In the same way that Sketches by Boz attracted considerable interest, Death and Mr Pickwick is a very promising piece of historical fiction. It is no Pickwick Papers but does a fine job of bringing attention to the genious of the parties involved in the creation of the work and also bring to light several fantastic stories about the period. The story of the George and Vulture is one that Dickens would have kicked himself for not thinking to write. What will Mr Jarvis come up with next? As a Dickens fan, later in life, I thank Mr Jarvis for this and eagerly await his next book. ***1/2

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