The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Travel Begins

The Pickwick Papers begins at a meeting of the Pickwick Club, where the members are honoring the founder, Samuel Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick intends to travel around the country, gathering stories and doing research. He will be accompanied by his three close friends: Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle.

The Pickwickians meet Mr. Jingle, a supposed actor and con man. At their first stop, Mr. Jingle insults a local doctor, and the doctor proposes a duel. Because of a mistaken identity, however, Mr. Winkle receives the challenge, not Mr. Jingle. Fortunately, the angry doctor realizes Mr. Winkle is not the man who insulted him and the duel is averted.

The Pickwickians are invited to stay with Mr. Wardle at Manor Farm. While there, Mr. Snodgrass develops an attachment to one of Wardle's daughters, Emily, and Mr. Tupman begins to woo Mr. Wardle's sister, Miss Rachael Wardle.

At a cricket match, the Pickwickians encounter Mr. Jingle again, and Mr. Wardle invites him to visit Manor Farm. Mr. Jingle manages to break up Mr. Tupman's romance with Miss Wardle and persuades Miss Wardle to elope with him instead. Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Wardle catch up with them at an inn where Mr. Wardle pays off Mr. Jingle, who then leaves. Also at the inn, Mr. Pickwick meets Sam Weller, who works there and who greatly impresses him.

London and Eatanswill

Back at home in London, Mr. Pickwick speaks to his landlady, Mrs. Bardell, about his desire to hire Sam as a servant. Mrs. Bardell believes that Mr. Pickwick is proposing to her and faints in his arms. Mr. Pickwick's friends arrive to find him holding her, a very awkward situation.

The Pickwickians visit Eatanswill during election time. At a party, Mr. Pickwick once again encounters Mr. Jingle, who is now using an alias. Mr. Jingle flees, but Mr. Pickwick and Sam follow. Sam meets Job Trotter, Mr. Jingle's servant, who tells them he will help them stop Mr. Jingle, but it is a trick. Instead, Mr. Pickwick is caught in an embarrassing situation and Mr. Jingle and Job escape.

Mr. Pickwick receives a letter from two lawyers, Dodson and Fogg, informing him that Mrs. Bardell has sued him for breach of promise because he has not married her. Mr. Pickwick returns to London and tries unsuccessfully to reason with Dodson and Fogg. On his way to meet his own lawyer, Mr. Pickwick and Sam bump into Sam's father, a coachman who complains bitterly about his second wife, Sam's stepmother. Mr. Weller also claims to know where to find Mr. Jingle and Job Trotter.

Due to a misunderstanding, the Pickwickians and Sam are arrested and brought before the magistrate. Luckily, Sam has learned that Mr. Jingle is staying at the magistrate's house under an assumed name. Mr. Pickwick informs the magistrate, gets himself out of trouble, and prevents Mr. Jingle from accomplishing his next scheme. At the same time, Sam has a pleasant meeting with a pretty young housemaid, Mary, who works for the magistrate.

Sam visits his stepmother and meets Mr. Stiggins, a religious man who seems more concerned with acquiring things for himself than providing for the needs of others. Mr. Weller does not like his wife's new friend, and Sam agrees with his father.

Manor Farm, Bristol, and Prison

At Christmas the Pickwickians return to Manor Farm to celebrate the holiday and the wedding of Bella Wardle to Mr. Trundle. Mr. Snodgrass renews his romance with Emily Wardle and Mr. Winkle makes the acquaintance of a young lady friend of theirs, Miss Arabella Allen. They also meet Miss Allen's brother Ben and his friend Bob Sawyer, both aspiring physicians.

Mr. Winkle, Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Tupman, and Sam are subpoenaed to appear in the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick. The trial goes badly for Mr. Pickwick, and he is ordered to pay 750 pounds. He refuses, even though he knows he will be sent to prison for doing so. To pass the time, Mr. Pickwick and his friends go on a visit to Bath. Mr. Winkle accidentally brings the wrath of a jealous husband upon himself and he flees to Bristol.

In Bristol Mr. Winkle meets Ben Allen again and learns that Arabella is nearby, moping over some man—her brother doesn't know who it could be. Mr. Winkle decides that he must see Miss Allen again, and he enlists Sam's help. Sam discovers the pretty housemaid, Mary, now works at a home near where Miss Allen is staying. Sam, Mary, and Mr. Pickwick all work together to arrange a meeting between Arabella and Mr. Winkle. Before Mr. Pickwick can assist any more, however, he is arrested and sent to debtors' prison.

Mr. Pickwick does not suffer as much as other people in debtors' prison because, as a wealthy man, he can buy what he needs. Sam is concerned that Mr. Pickwick will be abused in prison, so Sam arranges to be arrested for debt and joins Mr. Pickwick inside.

In the prison they find Mr. Jingle and Job Trotter, both weak and ill. Mr. Pickwick helps them so they can begin to recover. Mr. Pickwick insists he will stay in jail indefinitely, but Dodson and Fogg arrest Mrs. Bardell on the grounds that she owes them their fees. She is sent to the same prison as Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick knows if he pays his fees, she will also be released, so he does so, arranging the release of himself, Sam, Mrs. Bardell, and Mr. Jingle and Job.

Mr. Pickwick learns that while he was in prison, Mr. Winkle and Arabella Allen eloped. They ask his help in breaking the news to Arabella's brother and to Mr. Winkle's father. Mr. Pickwick does his best, and although neither family is initially pleased with the marriage, they both come to accept it.

Mr. Pickwick learns that Mr. Snodgrass and Emily Wardle are also in love. Mr. Wardle is reluctant to approve the match, but eventually he does, and there is another wedding at Manor Farm.

Mr. Pickwick announces he is done with traveling and plans to dismantle the Pickwick Club. He buys a house and lives there with Sam, watching over his friends and their new families. Mr. Pickwick realizes that Sam is in love with Mary, who now works for the new Mr. and Mrs. Winkle, and he arranges to hire Mary as his housekeeper so that Sam and Mary can be wed.

The Pickwick Papers Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 The Pickwickians start their journey and meet Mr. Jingle.

Rising Action

2 Mr. Jingle elopes with Miss Wardle.

3 Pickwick talks with Mrs. Bardell who thinks he is proposing.

4 Mr. Pickwick hires Sam as a servant.

5 Pickwick is tried and imprisoned for breach of contract.

6 Sam joins Mr. Pickwick in debtors' prison.


7 Mrs. Bardell is imprisoned.

Falling Action

8 Pickwick pays his debt and is released from prison.


9 Pickwick settles down in a house with Sam and Mary.

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