Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Death and Mr Pickwick – a novel

“MY DEAR CHARLIE, – There has been going on for years an attempt on the part of Seymour’s widow, to extort money from me, by representing that he had some inexplicable and ill-used part in the invention of Pickwick ! ! ! ” — writer  Charles Dickens in a letter to his son, dated April 4, 1866
by John Adcock
BRITISH literature in serial form goes back as far as the 17th century but serial novels entered the mainstream in February of 1836, when a young Charles Dickens (24), a reporter on the Morning Chronicle, agreed to write the text to accompany comic prints by the illustrator Robert Seymour. Four hundred copies of the first instalment were printed and appeared on March 31, 1836, under a very long title — The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club containing a faithful record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members, edited by “Boz” the name under which Dickens rose to fame — with four illustrations by Seymour, published by Chapman and Hall in London.

Pickwick Club sales were slow at first, on April 20 illustrator Seymour (37) placed the muzzle of a fowling piece into his mouth and blew out his brains after the second number of the series, but despite this inauspicious start Pickwick recovered and went on to become the most beloved character in English fiction. Now, nearly 180 years later, Death and Mr Pickwick tells of the “creation and afterlife” of Dickens’ most popular novel.

PLOT AND STORY. The narrator is a hack writer employed by a collector of Pickwickian texts and illustrations to write Death and Mr Pickwick under the pseudonym Inscriptino. The collector uses the pseudonym Mr. Inbelicate, referring to a printer’s error in the first edition of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.

Caricaturist Robert Seymour is pictured as a gay married man who suffers from a melodramatic depressive nature. The suspense builds to an excruciating pitch as Dickens and his collaborators shoulder Robert Seymour into second place status on Pickwick, steal his original characters, and spend the rest of their lives covering up the theft. Charles Dickens, John Forster, and Chapman and Hall are not presented in a sympathetic light.

Scenes shift as we observe the celebrated men of the period mingle in gin-houses, highway inns and print-shops. Among the characters are Thomas Rowlandson, illustrator of The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, Pierce Egan, author of Life in London, George Cruikshank, illustrator of Jack Sheppard, the engraver George Adcock, Rudolph Ackermann, William Heath, Gilbert à Beckett, Robert William Buss and “Phiz” (Hablôt Knight Browne). The caricaturist’s wife, Jane Seymour, is one of the strongest female characters.

AUTHOR. Stephen Jarvis, the English author of Death and Mr Pickwick – a novel, a book of 800+ pages based on the life of caricaturist Robert Seymour, builds a splendidly satisfying story from the rubble and romance of obscure episodes in the history of illustrated British literature.

Death and Mr Pickwick – a novel,
Available May 21, 2015, from
Random House (UK) and
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US)

See the Sketches by Seymour HERE.

Jarvis’ novel is already praised as  “…a phenomenon itself…”

★ Peter Kemp in The Sunday Times, May 17 HERE.
(this TST review is only available to subscribers 
but also pasted into author Stephen Jarvis’ facebook page HERE.)
★ Lucasta Miller in The Independent, May 17 HERE.
★ Nicholas Dames Was Dickens a Thief ?” in The Atlantic, May 20 HERE.
Kirkus Review, May 15 HERE.
Publisher’s Weekly, June HERE.

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