The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 18 | Summary



Back in Eatanswill, Mr. Winkle is still staying with the Potts. One morning he comes down to breakfast to find Mr. Pott upset. A poem has been published in the newspaper suggesting that Mrs. Pott and Mr. Winkle are having an affair. Pott is ready to fight Mr. Winkle, but Mrs. Pott intervenes by having hysterics. She threatens to leave him, and Pott retracts his accusation. They both encourage Mr. Winkle to continue staying with them, but Mr. Winkle excuses himself to join Mr. Pickwick in Bury St. Edmunds. When the Pickwickians reunite, they also rejoin Mr. Wardle and Mr. Trundle and congratulate them on Mr. Trundle's upcoming marriage to Bella Wardle.

Mr. Pickwick receives a letter from two attorneys, Dodson and Fogg. They are suing him on behalf of Mrs. Bardell, his landlady, for breach of promise. Mrs. Bardell believes Mr. Pickwick proposed to her and then abandoned her, and she is seeking 1,500 pounds in damages. Mr. Pickwick dismisses it until his friends remind him of how they found her fainting in his arms. Pickwick realizes his friends may believe he did propose to Mrs. Bardell. He decides to head to town to clear up the matter, but not before keeping his promise to ride out to a hunt with his friends.


The Potts serve as one illustration of Dickens's mixed messages about marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Potts's marriage may have been strained before Mr. Winkle's arrival, but now it is in crisis. They are clearly not well matched: Pott is obsessed with his paper and politics, and Mrs. Pott could not care less about either one. Once again Mr. Winkle is lucky to escape from an awkward situation.

The Pickwickians have many awkward encounters with women. In part this is because of their collective naiveté. Mr. Winkle doesn't realize that Pott will get jealous; Mr. Tupman doesn't realize that Mr. Jingle is cutting him out. Mr. Pickwick is so convinced of his own honorable intentions that he never stops to think what will happen if he's caught in a girls' school garden late at night.

The Bardell v. Pickwick suit is the ultimate example of this naiveté. Mr. Pickwick never grasps the reason for Mrs. Bardell's reaction. When he speaks to her of the cost of two people compared to the cost of one, when he refers to a companion for her son and a way to reduce her own loneliness, the comments can be, and are, misinterpreted. Mr. Pickwick seems to have never considered marriage for himself under any circumstance, and if he had, presumably Mrs. Bardell would not be his lady of choice. Still, the fact that he does not even remember the fainting incident implies that he has not given much thought to his landlady's hopes and opinions.

The timing of the letter, which arrives while Mr. Pickwick is lecturing his companions about their interactions with women, brings home the point that while Pickwick is their leader, he is no more knowledgeable about the world than they are. He assumes that his friends will recognize his innocence, but in fact they are not sure. His reputation may not protect him as well as he thought.

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