Summary and book reviews of Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis

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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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 816 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 816 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A vast, richly imagined, Dickensian work about the rough-and-tumble world that produced an author who defined an age. Few novels deserve to be called magnificent. Death and Mr. Pickwick is one of them.

Death and Mr. Pickwick is a vast, richly imagined, Dickensian work about the rough-and-tumble world that produced an author who defined an age. Like Charles Dickens did in his immortal novels, Stephen Jarvis has spun a tale full of preposterous characters, shaggy-dog stories, improbable reversals, skulduggery, betrayal, and valor-all true, and all brilliantly brought to life in his unputdownable book.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, featuring the fat and lovable Mr. Pickwick and his Cockney manservant, Sam Weller, began as a series of whimsical sketches, the brainchild of the brilliant, erratic, misanthropic illustrator named Robert Seymour, a denizen of the back alleys and grimy courtyards where early nineteenth-century London's printers and booksellers plied their cutthroat trade. When Seymour's publishers, after trying to match his magical etchings with a number of writers, settled on a young storyteller using the pen name Boz, The Pickwick Papers went on to become a worldwide phenomenon, outselling every other book besides the Bible and Shakespeare's plays. And Boz, as the young Charles Dickens signed his work, became, in the eyes of many, the most important writer of his time. The fate of Robert Seymour, Mr. Pickwick's creator, a very different story-one untold before now.

Few novels deserve to be called magnificent. Death and Mr. Pickwick is one of them.

Excerpt
Death and Mr. Pickwick

THE FIRE'S RAYS ALONE LIT the parlour's gloom when I took my seat by the hearth. I am sure I betrayed some signs of nervousness to my interviewer, as I cast my eyes over the many shelves and cabinets, whose contents flickered in the firelight: he said that I should feel free to ask about anything on display. I saw a duelling pistol with the sign 'Loaded' underneath, as well as a stuffed rook in a pose of great fright and a stagecoach bugle with a crushed and glinting horn.

'Perhaps you could tell me the significance of some of the items,' said my interviewer. To encourage me to speak, he added: 'I keep that bugle because it makes me wonder how it became that way.' He twisted in his armchair on the opposite side of the hearth, for a better angle upon the shelf where the bugle stood. The firelight flashed upon his spectacles, which were circular. 'I was amused when the last candidate suggested I had sat upon it....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At 800+ pages, this novel is chock-full of digressions – some amusing, others seemingly irrelevant. Incidents are sometimes repeated from different perspectives, and there are many stories-within-stories. These can be tiresome for readers who just want to follow the central thread. Jarvis' descriptions of unusual characters and holiday scenes feel so historically accurate they might merit the adjective "Dickensian" – were that not almost a dirty word in this novel's context.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (812 words).

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Media Reviews

The Atlantic
So dramatically convincing that it is all the more surprising how much of it is historically verifiable . . . He has written a novel that reflects upon the world-altering effects of novel-reading.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
A masterpiece of imagination.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Burstingly informative and thronged with colourful characters, [Jarvis's] panoramic novel about the shady start and sunny breakthrough of a literary phenomenon is a phenomenon itself.

Library Journal
It starts slowly but gains a steady pulse once Dickens arrives on scene and truly catches fire with the publication of The Pickwick Papers, the first modern-day publishing phenomenon. Patient readers will be duly rewarded with an intriguing and lively story.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The book is very long, and some may find some of its detours a bit wayward, but it is a staggering accomplishment, a panoramic perspective of 19th-century London and its creative class.

Booklist
Starred Review. Packed with interesting characters and tall tales, and ranging in setting from sporting clubs (read drinking clubs) to the theater to a factory floor to a debtors' prison, this is fiction writ large.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis' capture of so huge a slice of life.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Charles Dickens' Illustrators

Illustrations were crucial to Victorian novels – a fact that is difficult to absorb nowadays, when the only books for adults with drawings are graphic novels. Charles Dickens was known for showing obsessive interest in his novels' illustrations, always making sure that artists adhered closely to his written descriptions. All but two of his novels (Hard Times and Great Expectations) first appeared with illustrations.

The controversy over Robert Seymour's work on The Pickwick Papers, the subject of Stephen Jarvis' Death and Mr. Pickwick, should not distract from the long, fruitful relationships Dickens had with other illustrators. He popularized these artists' work, but at the same time their drawings helped to ...

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