The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 31 | Summary



Mr. Pickwick and his friends are served with subpoenas by Dodson and Fogg. Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Winkle, Mr. Tupman, and Sam are summoned as witnesses for the plaintiff, Mrs. Bardell. Mr. Pickwick meets with his lawyer, Perker, who reassures Pickwick that they will be represented by Serjeant Snubbin, a lawyer known for his persuasiveness in court. Mr. Pickwick arranges to meet with Serjeant Snubbin and his supporting attorney, but no one is able to guarantee Pickwick that he will be able to win his case. Mr. Pickwick announces his determination never to pay the damages if the case goes against him.


The subpoenas against Mr. Pickwick's friends are a reminder of his questionable situation. Even if they are his friends, they are obligated to testify that they found Mrs. Bardell in Pickwick's arms, which will outweigh his protestations of innocence.

Dickens offers some new perspective on lawyers in this chapter. Perker, Mr. Pickwick's lawyer, seems to be a good enough person, in spite of his choice of career, but his persuasive abilities pale before the greatness of Serjeant Snubbin. The title "serjeant" refers to a serjeant-at-law, the highest class of lawyers that existed at this time. In fact, Dickens dedicated the book to a Serjeant Talfourd, who was working on issues of copyright law.

Dickens is at it again with the names, though, as Mr. Pickwick meets Serjeant Snubbin, who distinctly "snubs" Pickwick. The illustrious Serjeant Snubbin cannot be bothered even to remember what cases he is handling, leaving all the details to his assistant, Mr. Phunky (a name suggesting "flunky") while he, the great Serjeant Snubbin, devotes himself to a case that has no impact on anyone any more.

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