Written for publication as a serial by Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely-related adventures revolving around a small group of gentleman travelling southern England in the 1820’s. The novel’s main character, Samuel Pickwick, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other “Pickwickians” (Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Later on in the serial Charles Dickens introduced the character of the comic cockney Sam Weller as a personal servant to Samuel Pickwick, and with his own take on the adventures.
The main protagonist and founder of the Pickwick Club. Following his description in the text, Pickwick is usually portrayed by illustrators as a round-faced, clean-shaven, portly gentleman wearing spectacles. The inspiration for Dickens for the character is believed to be based on a real life landlord and coach operator of the White Hart Hotel in Bath, who he had undoubtedly met whilst travelling the country in his early career as a journalist.
A young friend of Pickwick’s and his travelling companion; he considers himself a sportsman, though he turns out to be dangerously inept when handling horses and guns.
Another young friend and companion; he considers himself a poet, though there is no mention of any of his own poetry in the novel.
The third travelling companion, a fat and elderly man who nevertheless considers himself a romantic lover.
Mr Pickwick’s valet, and a source of idiosyncratic proverbs and advice. First seen working at the White Hart Inn in the Borough area of London (in Chapter 10), Weller is taken on by Mr Pickwick as a personal servant and companion on his travels and provides his own oblique ongoing narrative on the proceedings.
Sam’s father, a loquacious coachman.
A strolling actor and charlatan, noted for telling bizarre anecdotes in a distinctively extravagant, disjointed style. Jingle joins the Pickwickians (Samuel Pickwick, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass and Tracy Tupman) on their adventures. At Mr. Wardle’s farm he connives to elope with Rachael, Mr. Wardle’s spinster sister. Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Wardle are forced to persue Jingle to prevent a marriage. Alfred Jingle is eventually given a passage to start a new life in Demerara in the West Indies.
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.
Serjeant Snubbin is Samuel Pickwick’s ineffective lawyer. Snubbins, who has offices in Lincoln’s Inn Old Square, is described as ‘a lantern-faced, sallow-complexioned man, of about five-and-forty, or—as the novels say—he might be fifty‘.
Justice Stareleigh is a comical figure based on an irascible, little judge named Stephen Gaselee whom Dickens saw in action in the Court of Common Pleas. The fictitious name is a play on the letters of the character it is based on. If you replace an S for a Z you get Gaze, which Dickens replaced for Star. Stephen Gaselee was born in 1763 at Portsea, the father was an eminent surgeon at Portsmouth. Called to the bar 1793, King’s Counsel 1819, Justice of Court of Common Pleas 1824, knighted 1825. Retired from the bench in 1837. He died at 13 Montague Place, Russell Square, London, on 26 March 1839.