The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 46 | Summary



Mrs. Bardell is enjoying tea at Hampstead Heath, a large park in the north of London, with her son and a group of friends when a man from Dodson and Fogg's office arrives. Mrs. Bardell had signed a document guaranteeing payment for Dodson and Fogg's services. Since Mr. Pickwick has refused to pay, they are having Mrs. Bardell arrested for nonpayment. She is sent to the same prison where Pickwick and Sam are incarcerated. When Sam hears this, he sends Job to find the lawyer, Mr. Perker.


In case the reader held any doubts about the ethics of Dodson and Fogg, Dickens has them take a final shocking step: forcing Mrs. Bardell—and her young son—into debtors' prison. They persuaded Mrs. Bardell to sign a legal document called a cognovit. By signing Mrs. Bardell gave them permission to hold her responsible if Pickwick did not pay. She says they assured her it was merely a formality, but they are holding her to it, and now she is in jail. It is technically a legal move, but hardly an ethical one. While cognovits are still legal in some parts of the world today, most U.S. states forbid their usage. Once again, Dodson and Fogg have the law on their side, but they do not have justice on their side.

Sam may not be a lawyer, but he knows Mrs. Bardell's presence is good for Pickwick. He can anticipate, just as Perker does in the next chapter, how this might be used to get Mr. Pickwick free once and for all.

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