Reading guide for Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis

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Death and Mr. Pickwick

by Stephen Jarvis

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis X
Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 816 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 816 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. How was your reading enhanced by the frame story of Mr. Inbelicate and Inscriptino? How did your theories about their identities and motivations shift throughout the novel?
  2. What did you learn about nineteenth-century Britain's publishing industry, which produced so many classics? What has been lost and gained as television serials have replaced serial fiction?
  3. As you read about Robert Seymour's career, from his apprenticeship with Vaughan to his rivalry with Cruikshank, what did you discover about the world of illustrators? How does Seymour negotiate the difference between commercial art and fine art?
  4. How much of Seymour's angst do you attribute to his closeted sexuality? Does Jane have a more realistic image of Seymour than Wonk does?
  5. Jarvis captures a world in which caricaturists possess the best medium for conveying provocative images of power brokers. What is the value of satire? To what extent should it be censored, if at all? How has Seymour's line of work been transformed in the age of Charlie Hebdo?
  6. From the life of Henry Seymour, the cursed upholsterer, to the fact that Moses Pickwick was descended from a foundling, Death and Mr. Pickwick provides the backstory behind the backstory. How do these elaborate turns of fate affect your reading?
  7. What works have you read by Charles Dickens? What are the similarities between Dickens's novels and Stephen Jarvis's world in Death and Mr. Pickwick?
  8. Jarvis chose to deliver the findings of his research into Pickwick in the form of a novel rather than a nonfiction book. How does this change the way we receive the information about the creation of Pickwick? Are his theories about Dickens and Seymour more convincing as fiction?
  9. How is the novel shaped by the demise of the clown J. S. Grimaldi? Why do clowns resonate with Chatham Charlie so deeply?
  10. Discuss the issue of inheritance raised by Jane and her two children. If you were a judge, how much would you award them?
  11. As dozens of characters make their way into the story line, from Prime Minister Melbourne, on trial for adultery, to the unlucky heir Thomas Clarke, to Mr. Pickwick himself, what does Jarvis indicate about the creative process? Should novelists draw a clearer line between fact and fiction, or is the best material ripped from the headlines?
  12. Few authors have created satires that have surpassed the popularity and complexity of Dickens's intricate, enduring work, but who has come close in the twenty-first century? Is there a modern American equivalent to The Pickwick Papers?
  13. How did you react to Dismal Jemmy's tale and to his transformation in the closing scene? What does it say about good storytelling, and about the performances required in daily life?
  14. Ultimately, how do you feel about Dickens's success and Seymour's demise? How much responsibility do you place with Chapman and Hall? In your opinion, who had the right to own the Pickwick concept and characters?
  15. How does Dickens's concept of Pickwick and his cohorts differ from Seymour's? Does a storyteller create a more substantial portrait with words than an artist creates with visual elements?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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