The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 34 | Summary



The Bardell v. Pickwick trial commences. Mrs. Bardell's lawyers describe Mr. Pickwick as a schemer and deceiver who intentionally set out to ruin Mrs. Bardell's life. They submit two letters into the record, claiming they are evidence of Mr. Pickwick's relationship with Mrs. Bardell. The letters are totally innocuous, but the lawyers present another interpretation, claiming they are in fact coded messages.

Under examination, Mr. Pickwick's friends are forced to admit they found him holding Mrs. Bardell in his arms. Mr. Winkle unthinkingly volunteers Pickwick's mix-up at the inn, when he ended up in the room of Mr. Magnus's affianced bride. Finally, Sam is called and proves to be too clever for the prosecuting attorney. He not only avoids doing any damage to Mr. Pickwick, but he actually finds a way to point out Dodson and Fogg's ulterior motive for this case.

After 15 minutes of deliberation, the jury finds Pickwick guilty and orders him to pay 750 pounds. Mr. Pickwick refuses, declaring that "not one farthing of costs or damages do you ever get from me, if I spend the rest of my existence in a debtor's prison." As Mr. Pickwick and his friends leave the court, Sam's father appears, looking very serious and demanding to know why there was no alibi.


The majesty of the British courtroom is not on display in this chapter. The lawyers for Mrs. Bardell, Serjeant Buzfuz and Mr. Skimpin, use exaggeration and outright lies to paint a picture of her suffering and Mr. Pickwick's villainy. Their interpretation of Mr. Pickwick's letters to Mrs. Bardell is ludicrous, yet it is accepted by the jury. They claim that no man would write about such mundane details, but as the reader knows by now, Pickwick is precisely the sort of man who would write about chops for dinner and a warming pan for his bed. When they examine Mr. Pickwick's friends they suggest the friends may have agreed to tell a false story to protect him. Much of what they do would be unacceptable in a modern courtroom, but Serjeant Snubbin makes minimal effort to object on Pickwick's behalf.

Sam is the only one who manages the cross-examination process easily. As usual, he is unflustered by anything that occurs around him and he indulges in his typically colorful descriptions. After only a brief examination, Mrs. Bardell's lawyers dismiss him because of his "impenetrable stupidity," but Sam, Dickens tells readers, achieved exactly what he set out to do.

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