This quotation is said by Joe, a servant to Mr. Wardle. Joe who has no surname, is referred to as the ‘Fat Boy’ and is afflicted with medical issues, including a form of sleep apnea.
In Chapter 8 of The Pickwick Papers, whilst at Mr. Wardle’s farm at Dingley Dell, the elderly character Tracy Tupman declares his affections for Rachael, Mr. Wardle’s spinster sister. Tupman takes Rachael to an arbour in the gardens where he kisses her. The scene is witnessed by Joe, who startles the couple.
The following day Joe reports Tupman’s romance to Mrs. Wardle, mother of Mr. Wardle and Rachael. Knowing the revelation will annoy and anger the old lady, Joe says to her that I wants to make your flesh creep before he reveals the secret meeting he saw in the arbour.
The old lady was timorous—most old ladies are—and her first impression was that the bloated lad was about to do her some grievous bodily harm with the view of possessing himself of her loose coin. She would have cried for assistance, but age and infirmity had long ago deprived her of the power of screaming; she, therefore, watched his motions with feelings of intense horror which were in no degree diminished by his coming close up to her, and shouting in her ear in an agitated, and as it seemed to her, a threatening tone—
Now it so happened that Mr. Jingle was walking in the garden close to the arbour at that moment. He too heard the shouts of ‘Missus,’ and stopped to hear more. There were three reasons for his doing so. In the first place, he was idle and curious; secondly, he was by no means scrupulous; thirdly, and lastly, he was concealed from view by some flowering shrubs. So there he stood, and there he listened.
‘Missus!’ shouted the fat boy.
‘Well, Joe,’ said the trembling old lady. ‘I’m sure I have been a good mistress to you, Joe. You have invariably been treated very kindly. You have never had too much to do; and you have always had enough to eat.’
This last was an appeal to the fat boy’s most sensitive feelings. He seemed touched, as he replied emphatically—’I knows I has.’
‘Then what can you want to do now?’ said the old lady, gaining courage.
‘I wants to make your flesh creep,’ replied the boy.
This sounded like a very bloodthirsty mode of showing one’s gratitude; and as the old lady did not precisely understand the process by which such a result was to be attained, all her former horrors returned.
‘What do you think I see in this very arbour last night?’ inquired the boy.
‘Bless us! What?’ exclaimed the old lady, alarmed at the solemn manner of the corpulent youth.
‘The strange gentleman—him as had his arm hurt—a-kissin’ and huggin’—’
‘Who, Joe? None of the servants, I hope.’ ‘Worser than that,’ roared the fat boy, in the old lady’s ear.
‘Not one of my grandda’aters?’
‘Worser than that.’
‘Worse than that, Joe!’ said the old lady, who had thought this the extreme limit of human atrocity. ‘Who was it, Joe? I insist upon knowing.’
The fat boy looked cautiously round, and having concluded his survey, shouted in the old lady’s ear—
‘What!’ said the old lady, in a shrill tone. ‘Speak louder.’
‘Miss Rachael,’ roared the fat boy.
‘And she suffered him!’ exclaimed the old lady. A grin stole over the fat boy’s features as he said—
‘I see her a-kissin’ of him agin.’
Joe the Fat Boy.
Joe is the young messenger servant to Mr. Wardle, the owner of a farm at Dingley Dell. Joe who has no surname, is referred to as the ‘Fat Boy’ because of his obesity and has unsocial characteristics that include being ‘always asleep‘ and he ‘snores as he waits at table‘. Dickens’s clinical descriptions of Joe’s health conditions were unrecognized in his day but 120 years later medical professionals would apply the term ‘Pickwickian syndrome‘ to patients with similar symptons. After research into the condition it was later named obesity hypoventilation syndrome.
In 2020, British Conservative Party politician Desmond Swayne used this quotation — during a speech in the House of Commons — when he criticised his own government and official scientific advisers for their presentation of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Where has this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph? It was the purpose of the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers: ‘I wants to make your flesh creep‘. It was Project Fear. It was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they haven’t been terrified enough.”– Desmond Swayne M.P, 28 September 2020 (speech in the U.K. House of Commons).
In 2023, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made reference to this quotation and the character of Joe during a discussion on the Ukrainian war that was being held during the 2023 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (16–20 January 2023).
“Putin wants to present it as a nuclear stand-off between Nato and Russia. Nonsense. He’s not going to use nuclear weapons, okay. He’s like the fat boy in Dickens, he wants to make our flesh creep. He wants us to think about it. He’s never going to do it.”Boris Johnson. 19 January 2023 (World Economic Forum breakfast meeting, held at Davos, Switzerland).
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