The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 49 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter recounts a ghost story about the bagman's uncle, who was walking late one night and dozes off near a deserted coach yard. He awakens to find it full of activity. He is told he must ride the coach and is forced inside, along with two gentlemen and a young lady. The lady whispers a plea for help, so the uncle challenges the men to a duel. He kills one of the men, and the lady kills the other. The lady is so beautiful that the uncle falls in love with her and promises that he will never marry another. At the sound of pursuers, the two of them run away, but at that moment the uncle wakes up. He is sitting on an old abandoned coach in the yard where he'd fallen asleep, and the lady is nowhere to be found: she was a ghost.

Analysis

Dickens worked hard to keep his audience engaged throughout the many issues of The Pickwick Papers, and these inset tales were one of his favorite tricks. In this case he uses a ghost story—a device he would use again in the future—to explore how a man can find his heroic side when a beautiful lady needs him. Coming as it does between Mr. Pickwick's two "breaking the news" conversations, it seems that Dickens's romantic side is coming to the fore. Dickens—and Pickwick—both respect the choice that Mr. Winkle and Arabella have made, choosing love over societal expectations. The man in the story also confounds expectation by remaining faithful to the beautiful ghost he rescued. But just in case the tone is getting too romantic, Dickens ends the chapter with a bad joke about mail ghosts and "dead letters." This is The Pickwick Papers, after all, and not a grand romance.

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