I am a great fan of Dickens, and I adored rereading Bleak House this fall. But instead of reading Martin Chuzzlewit straight through, I keep setting it aside for other books. As a result I have read a lot of light fiction this month, including E. M. Delafield’s The Way Things Are, an undistinguished novel about a disenchanted housewife, and Kate Carlisle’s bibliophile mystery, Once upon a Spine (don’t bother!). Not that I didn’t enjoy these books, but talk about mediocre!
On Oct. 28 I wrote in my journal:
Am making progress in Martin Chuzzlewit. Love the Pecksniffs! They’re so horrible, but really funny. Martin’s adventures in America, however, are dull, though he does get scammed and buys land in Eden, which turns out to be a swamp. Wow, the American values ARE SO BAD. I did know Dickens hated his tour of America. I didn’t remember Martin as so unlikable, but the Chuzzlewits and their relatives the Pecksniffs are all NO GOOD in different ways.
And since Oct. 28…nothing!
(I silently raise my eyebrows.)
Perhaps Martin Chuzzlewit was unpopular in its day (and none too pop now) for a reason. There is no real plot, and the character sketeches don’t really hang together. The good characters are much less interesting than the wicked. I can take the Pecksniffs–and the affected daughters are eventually radicalized by learning the secrets of the Pecksniff men– but every time I read a scene about the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Assurance Company, I tune out. Who could find that funny?
At its worst, there are beautifully weird sentences. But I am not enjoying it, and can’t wait to finish.
The weird thing is that I enjoyed MC on a camping trip in the ’90s. That’s probably because there was nothing else to do while shivering on a rocky beach on Lake Superior.