Given the full title of this novel: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, the reader is lured into making an assumption that the novel will consist solely of a collection of letters, notes, postcards, diaries and meeting minutes but in reality, the novel is initially more preoccupied by the character of Boz trying to organise the papers before the narrative eventually gives way to an omniscient third-person narrator who forgets about the papers and prefers, instead, to focus on the current events. This is Dickens’ first novel and given the complexities of its narrative, it is possible to view it as either an accomplished first piece of work or rather as a complicated, uncertain novel which lacks coherency. Either way, it is fair to comment that The Pickwick Papers is a multi-narrative style novel which is supposed to give the impression of a ‘collection’ of narratives as per its name’s suggestion. However, it is a novel which aims to bring the reader into the folds of the Pickwick Club and does so by employing a series of narratives which both enhance the plot as well as a sense of metanarrative-style which the novel invokes to enhance the imaginative nature of the text.
Originally, the novel was published as a series of works which lent itself to its disjointed narrative nature. However, in 1837, the series was published as one collected novel and its imaginative nature became immediately clearer due to it all being juxtaposed with one another.
Initially, the novel begins by presenting the minutes-style record of a meeting in which it is decided that a travelling society will be formed to better increase the knowledge of Mr Pickwick: “…that they be requested to forward, from time to time, authenticated accounts of journeys and investigations, of their observations of character and manners, and of the whole of their adventures… to the Pickwick Club, stationed in London.” (Dickens 2). The immediate tone of this scene is pompous and the suggestion is that Dickens has deliberately composed it to be somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ – giving rise to its function as an imaginative piece: the implied meaning is that no group of gentlemen could ever behave quite so preposterously in real life. It is a caricature of Victorian Britain and its fascination with travelling the world. This mocking is further compounded by Dickens through his attempt to fashion the chapter into the style of minutes from a real meeting. In doing this, Dickens is invoking the imagination as it is clearly a mockery but one based on very real clubs of a similar nature.
Further proof of the novel’s imaginary nature is chapter 34: the trial scene. As a whole, the chapter is focused on a humorous countenance which sees a dour court scene transformed from its dull realities to a richly amusing imagined circumstance. However, like the rest of the book, the scene accurately depicts events in a realistic light: here, Dickens clearly demonstrates his understanding of how and why a trial works, picking holes in the justice system and the archaic rigidity of a courtroom drama. Despite Dickens’ ability to utilise minor details to present a realistic image, the scene’s humour undercuts that and causes its imaginative nature to be recurred. An example of this is Sergeant Buzfuz making a fuss about Tommy Bardell’s marbles: “…and, after inquiring whether he had won any alley tors or commoneys lately (both of which I understand to be a particular species of marbles much prized by the youth of this town)…” (Dickens 450). The details included in this statement border on the ridiculous as Sergeant Buzfuz focuses his attention to devoutly upon minor details as opposed to the major ones.
This is Dickens’ way of implying the imaginative nature of this scene, despite its realistic groundings, by highlight the absurdity of the occurrences. This is evidential throughout Dickens’ novels as he is well-known for his realistic and often gritty depiction of Victorian era life.
However, in The Pickwick Papers, he manages to tread the fine line between humour and realism by presenting an accurate portrayal of life for these gentlemen whilst keeping his tongue firmly in his cheek – it is almost satirical in its humour, but still very much the work of Dickens’ imagination.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. New York: Books, Inc., 1868. Print.