The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 17 | Summary



After his evening adventures, Mr. Pickwick is laid up with rheumatism. Sam does his best to amuse his master, resulting in Mr. Pickwick jotting down "The Parish Clerk—A Tale of True Love."

Nathaniel Pipkin, the parish clerk, is a funny-looking little man. He falls in love with Maria Lobbs, the only daughter of a wealthy man in town. Nathaniel flirts with Maria from a distance and eventually declares himself to her when she goes out for a walk. Maria hints that she is not opposed to marrying him, and the next day, when her father leaves the house, Maria invites Nathaniel to tea. The tea is impressive, but Nathaniel is disappointed that Maria has invited others, including a cousin of hers who monopolizes her attention. Maria's father, Mr. Lobbs, returns unexpectedly and the men hide. Mr. Lobbs discovers Nathaniel and Nathaniel declares his love for Maria, but no sooner has he spoken than the cousin reveals himself and declares that he loves Maria and she loves him. Maria and the cousin are married, but Nathaniel becomes a great favorite of Mr. Lobbs and spends many evenings there, even serving as a witness to Maria's wedding.


This chapter focuses primarily on the tale of Nathaniel Pipkin. It is not entirely clear whether Sam told Pickwick this tale or whether Pickwick invented it himself, although the chapter title suggests that Pickwick invented the story.

A pipkin is a small pot or jug, which hints at this character's less-than-impressive exterior. Nathaniel Pipkin struggles to woo the woman of his dreams because he is unimpressive and impoverished while she is beautiful and the daughter of a rich man. When Pipkin goes to her house for tea, he seems at least as impressed with the table full of food and expensive china and silver as with the woman he supposedly loves, and it is clear by the end of the story that he was not really as in love with her as he believed.

The story appears shortly after Dickens makes it plain that Mr. Tupman has moved past his injury at the hands of Mr. Jingle. Like Nathaniel Pipkin, Mr. Tupman was not as deeply in love as he thought. At the same time, the woman, Maria, is not truthful about her feelings and uses Pipkin to help her see the man she actually wants.

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