The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
by Charles Dickens; narrated by Debra Lynn for Librivox
I haven’t read a ton of Dickens in my day, but the humorous title and description of this book made it a good one to dive into. It was a long one, though. The audiobook was divided into 75 chapters of roughly 30 minutes each. With stopping to listen to my other podcasts occasionally, it took me something like 3 months to get through this book.
MC tells the story of two title characters, the cranky old man who comes to see the error of his cranky old ways, and the eponymous grandson who comes to see the error of his ways too. Throw in a conniving genteel architect, some scheming relatives, and a knave named Jonas, and you’ve got everything you need for a decent Dickensian saga. A few thoughts:
- Dickens and his names. Some of the names in this book: Misters Pecksniff, Slime, and Pinch stand out. The characters speak in an overwrought way that must have made conversation achingly slow sometimes.
- The book has numerous side plots that all weave into the main story by the end. No long-lost missing wealthy relatives show up in Tom Pinch’s life, though. (Pinch is the Cratchett of the story.)
- At one point, young Martin and his friend Mark (who thinks there’s honor to be found in being cheerful under dire circumstances) take a trip to the United States, where nearly everyone they meet acts the boor and brags about the value of being American. I wonder if old Charlie took a grim trip to the U.S., or if his impressions were mostly created by tourists in England. Either way, not too flattering.
- Dickens constructs a masterful heaping of schadenfreude on the villains of the book, and after all their skulduggery, we lap it up. The biggest burst balloon is, of course, the self-righteous and conniving Mr. Pecksniff, who brings all manner of trouble down on his house through his pious self-aggrandisement and cruelty to the characters we like. But he saves plenty for the other villains as well.
- Debra Lynn does a solid job reading the book for Librivox. While not as evocative as some other readers (she doesn’t do voices, for example), her steady tone and clear pronunciation works just fine.
My favorite moment comes near the end of the novel, when honest, upright Tom Pinch has been cruelly abandoned to his fate and life looks grim. He laments to his sister that things don’t always work out like they do in books:
‘You think of me, Ruth,’ said Tom, ‘and it is very natural that you should, as if I were a character in a book; and you make it a sort of poetical justice that I should, by some impossible means or other, come, at last, to marry the person I love. But there is a much higher justice than poetical justice, my dear, and it does not order events upon the same principle. Accordingly, people who read about heroes in books, and choose to make heroes of themselves out of books, consider it a very fine thing to be discontented and gloomy, and misanthropical, and perhaps a little blasphemous, because they cannot have everything ordered for their individual accommodation. Would you like me to become one of that sort of people?’
Of course, things work out mostly in Tom’s favor. But he doesn’t get the girl.