Martin Chuzzlewit | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Martin Chuzzlewit | Chapters 37–39 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37: Tom Pinch, Going Astray, Finds That He Is Not The Only Person in That Predicament. He Retaliates Upon a Fallen Foe

Tom Pinch gets lost in London because he is too distrustful to ask anyone for directions. He runs into Charity Pecksniff, who asks Tom if he's run away from her father. He replies that he has not run away, but he has left Mr. Pecksniff. Charity asks if Mr. Pecksniff is married, and Tom replies that he isn't and isn't likely to be, if he's aiming for Mary. Charity tells Tom that it's a "wicked world" and he might be surprised by how manipulative people can be.

Charity implies, though doesn't say straight out, that she is engaged. She invites Tom into Mrs. Todgers, but Tom says he has to get to Furnival's Inn for an appointment. Charity says that her friend will be going there shortly and can take Tom, if he'll just step inside and wait for a moment. She mentions that her sister Mercy is inside, and Tom assumes that Mercy won't want to see him because of his fight with Jonas. Charity tells him that she never divulged that story to Mercy, and even if she had it wouldn't bother Mercy. Tom goes inside, worrying that his new clarity about Mr. Pecksniff's character might spread over to Mr. Pecksniff's daughters.

Tom is taken aback at the changed condition he finds Mercy in. Charity goes out of the room to look for Mr. Moddle to accompany Tom to the inn. Mercy asks why Tom has come to see her, when they have never had much of a relationship before. Tom replies that he holds no ill will against her, and Mercy bursts into tears. Mercy asks Tom to tell the old Mr. Chuzzlewit, if he should see him again, that she often thinks about his words to her in the graveyard. Mercy is so changed that she recognizes her old character was a "vain, unthinking, miserable girl." She hopes that her message to Mr. Chuzzlewit will help him realize what an influence he could have over others. She doesn't blame him for her troubles, but hopes he will have compassion for people who are as vain and frivolous as she was.

Mercy leaves the boardinghouse, and Tom and Mr. Moddle walk to Furnival's Inn together. When Tom wishes Mr. Moddle joy, Mr. Moddle replies that he doesn't care what happens to him, and seems to be jealous and depressed. Tom parts with him at the inn with relief and finds John Westlock waiting worriedly for him there. Tom tells John the whole story about Ruth and needing to find a place of their own. John drives Tom and his belongings to Islington, where he asks Tom if he needs money. Tom replies that they are fine, and goes inside. John Westlock sits outside in the carriage for a few moments and admires Ruth.

Chapter 38: Secret Service

Mr. Nadgett passes Tom but doesn't know who he is. Mr. Nadgett is still following Jonas Chuzzlewit closely. In the meantime, Jonas has become a director of Mr. Tigg's company. He doesn't notice Mr. Nadgett following him, though he sometimes sees Mr. Nadgett around. Mr. Nadgett's technique for throwing off suspicion is to act like he thinks he is being followed or watched. He frequently goes to Poll Sweedlepipe's barbershop to be shaved, which causes Poll and Mrs. Gamp to speculate about this "mysterious customer." Mr. Nadgett explains his constant presence at The Bull by saying that he is waiting to meet someone, though he seems to be perpetually stood up. He comes to know Mr. Mould and Mr. Mould's foreman, Mr. Tacker. He spreads the rumor at the company that he has a liver problem, and therefore begins seeing Mr. Jobling multiple times a day for his imaginary complaint.

The morning of the same day that Tom Pinch first came to London, Mr. Nadgett goes to Mr. Tigg's house with news. Mr. Nadgett doesn't trust giving his report aloud, afraid of who might be listening, so he hands Mr. Tigg a series of notes to read. Mr. Tigg becomes more serious and nervous as he reads. Mr. Nadgett mentions that the information was a certain amount of trouble to get, and Mr. Tigg assures him that he will be rewarded.

Jonas arrives and is announced. Mr. Tigg tells Mr. Nadgett to stay, in case there's trouble. Jonas tells Mr. Tigg he feels he doesn't have enough power in the company. Mr. Tigg tells him he has an idea, and whispers in Jonas's ear. Jonas goes through a range of emotions throughout the whispering that end in his being pale-faced in terror and anger. Mr. Tigg then asks him if he will continue to venture with them, and Jonas answers shakily that he will. Mr. Tigg wants Jonas to bring Mr. Pecksniff into the scheme. Jonas realizes that he is trapped and has no way out.

Chapter 39: Containing Some Further Particulars of the Domestic Economy of the Pinches; With Strange News from the City, Narrowly Concerning Tom

Ruth is ecstatic to become Tom's housekeeper and keeps busy. Ruth and Tom enjoy planning their dinners and Ruth is experimenting with cooking. They buy groceries together, and when they return Tom sits down to write a letter. When Ruth asks him what he is writing, he explains that he is writing to John Westlock about finding employment. Ruth insists that she will also need to look for work, but Tom wants them to stay together and insists that they try and make it without her leaving. John Westlock appears, startling Ruth. She continues making dinner but is horrified when Tom invites John to stay for dinner, since she is making a dish she has never tried out before and doesn't know how it will turn out.

Tom and John talk while Ruth works on the pudding. John tells Tom that there is no need for him to finish his letter, because a man came to John today to offer Tom a job. John Westlock says that he is surprised to know Tom has friends in London, but Tom is unaware of those friends as well. The man wants to hire Tom as a secretary and librarian for a hundred pounds a year. He said he doesn't know Tom personally, but was acting on the recommendation of someone else. The man gave John a pocketbook, introducing himself as Mr. Fips of Austin Friars, and asked to see Tom the following morning. Ruth suspects that John is not telling them something.

John and Tom decide to head out to Austin Friars and meet Mr. Fips. As they walk, John brings up the possibility that Tom Pinch is the son of someone important. Tom denies this. They arrive at Austin Friars, which is a gloomy place, and sit down in Mr. Fips's office. Mr. Fips asks if Tom thinks the offer is worth his time, and Tom replies that he is very grateful. They discuss particulars, and Mr. Fips reaffirms that he is acting on the behalf of someone else whom he cannot name. Tom says that he would like to take the position, and Mr. Fips confirms that Tom is hired. An hour later, they all go to see the place where Tom will be working. It is a dusty room filled with piles of books. Tom's job is to clean, organize, and catalogue the contents of the room.

Mr. Fips doesn't give Tom's employer's name, and John begins to wonder if maybe Mr. Fips is the employer after all. Mr. Fips leaves suddenly, and John and Tom are alone in the room full of books. They have a laugh and look around to see if there are any clues about Tom's employer. Then they return home to find Ruth ready for supper, and her pudding proves a great success. The three talk until late and Tom tells John all about Martin's trip to America and the situation with Mary. The next day Ruth finds a cookbook waiting for her in the parlor.

Analysis

Jonas finally realizes what kind of situation he's gotten himself into. Presumably when Mr. Tigg whispers in his ear, he is revealing the information that Mr. Nadgett collected about him. This also explains why Mr. Nadgett was allowed to stay in the room when Jonas came to call. The reader can assume that Jonas is now being blackmailed into roping Mr. Pecksniff into the scheme. Jonas is at the cusp of realizing what his greed has gotten him into.

Dickens gives a little insight into domestic lower-middle class life in London. It seems that the only work Ruth could find would be live-in work, presumably as a governess. It's interesting that Tom may go out and get a day job, but if Ruth takes work she will have to move in with the family or employer. Another interesting moment in Chapter 39 occurs when Ruth makes her first attempt at a pudding—which seems to be what would now be referred to as a potpie. Dickens describes the cooking of a pudding in detail, which is a point of interest because this this was probably something it is a little unusual for the author to have such a detailed knowledge of.

The mystery deepens as Tom gets hired by an unnamed employer. The reader is liable to suspect John Westlock of being behind this employment opportunity, as he paid Tom back previously for money Tom lent to Mr. Tigg, and lied to Tom about its coming from Mr. Tigg. However, from the information given by the narrator, it seems that John is just as confused as Tom Pinch is by this situation. The reader is given no hint as to whom the employer might be, and at the place where Tom will be working the proprietor's name is conveniently painted over with "a yellow smear of paint." The situation isn't painted as an ominous one, and seems benevolent enough.

There is also clearly an attraction between John Westlock and Ruth that is developing. The partiality is at least clear on John Westlock's side, as he seeks out Ruth's company and takes her side in the conversation with Tom. Presumably the recipe book is also from him, and he has rather charmingly blotted out the page with the beefsteak pudding recipe as a compliment to Ruth.

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