Customer Reviews: Penguin English Library Martin Chuzzlewit
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on November 12, 2002
With this novel, Dickens left behind the shallow characters that sometimes marred his early works, and developed full-fledged people. Pecksniff and his daughters are marvelous creations that make one cringe with embarassment while laughing at their incredible selfishness. Tom Pinch is another character in a distinguished line of "too good to be true" Dickensian personalities, but he is shown to suffer and grow into a believable human being. The American episodes are biting in their satire, but overall they are on the money. Dickens' contempt for American armchair philosophers and "freedom-loving" slave owners fueled some of his most pointed social commentary. As always, there is a happy ending, but the plot is more complex than anything Dickens had written before. I have read Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiousity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge, and Martin Chuzzlewit ranks right up there with his best.
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on April 3, 1998
Martin Chuzzlewit is a funny, memorable, and insightful book. The engravings in the Oxford Illustrated edition are a charming addition to this story of hypocrisy, family intrigue, selfishness, loyalty, and friendship. Dickens's use of language is precise and often stinging. The book is laced with humor in the service of more profound goals. If you buy the Oxford Illustrated edition, skip the critical essay at the start of the volume, as it gives away some plot elements best left for the reader to discover. (Read the essay AFTER you have finished the book, if you like, or just ignore it.) My 9 rating reflects the combination of humor, satire, memorable characters (most especially the resolutely jolly Mark Tapley and the hypocritical Mr. Pecksniff), and a thoroughly entertaining plot.
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on June 15, 2004
Martin Chuzzlewit the elder is dying and all the family has designs on gaining their inheritance. His grandson seems the odds on favorite but young Martin, the grandson has fallen madly in love with the elder Martin's altruistic nurse, Mary Graham. Why the elder Martin finds this terrifying is puzzling. Does he really think Mary's interest in Martin the younger will compromise the quality of her job? Oh, oh...I've done it, I've caught Dickens capturing the foibles of humanity again!!!
These characters sometimes make me scream. I'd like to be face to face with them, vigourously attempting to argue them out of their other-destructive behavior...Of course it would be totally useless as far as they're concerned, but hopefully cathartic for me.
The PBS video (6 hours) is how I was introduced to this story. After viewing the video I read the book. Dickens offers a marked contrast to his near contemporary Alexis deTocqueville's. Where Tocqueville saw free association and high community spirit in his Democracy in America, Dickens saw flim-flam and greed everywhere. -As greed and selfishness are big themes in Chuzzlewit, America proved an apt foil. It is said American publishers pirated Dickens work, paying him no royalties, adding fuel to his ire. Other reviewers have commented on Pecksniff , Mrs. Gump, Jonas Chuzzlewit and Tom Pinch. Oh, there are Dickensian characters in this book. The rivalry between Mercy and Charity Pecksniff results in this case, in alarming tragedies of self-centeredness. If there be humor in such goings on, you'll love Montigue Tigg (Tigg Montigue). He is every bit the operator, having much in common with Mr. Merdle of Dicken's Little Dorritt. Rest assured, as Dickens torments the reader with the trials of his characters, this is one of those tales where just desserts are served in the end.
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on May 16, 2011
Even if Charles Dickens was not a master storyteller (he is) and even if he wrote about the world the way it was more than a century ago ( he did) Martin Chuzzlewit would be worth the read just for the way the man uses words. They are breath and blood. Everything between the covers is alive. Who else could spend the first three pages of the second chapter describing blowing leaves and keep his reader enraptured. The story advances not an inch, but the reader doesn't care. He is feasting on the Queen's English the way only Charles Dickens can serve it up.Martin Chuzzlewit (Oxford World's Classics)
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on January 17, 2001
Martin Chuzzlewit is full of those wonderful characters that Dickens excels at writing. His characters, both the odious and the virtuous, literally seep into your consciousness and feel like people you know (in fact, people you are certain you've met). With Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens gives us some truly awful examples of humanity and the all too common selfishness and false piety that so many demonstrate in their daily lives.
We stand beside the poor, woefully abused Tom Pinch and cheer at his every minor victory, and watch the machinations of Mr Pecksniff and his daughters, Charity and Mercy, with despair. In fact, every character feels like a true individual with a complete life of his or her own. Dickens succeeds brilliantly at making his characters come to life.
It is, indeed, these characters, far more than the overall plot, which makes this a wonderful read. We are drawn, literally, into their lives and we actually feel an emotional connection with them. That while some are caricatures of `good and bad', they are so fully realised, it makes little difference.
This is not to say the entire novel works - as with much writing of this period, the style might frustrate modern readers who are used to straightforward writing that `cuts to the chase' - Dickens certainly liked the written word and he uses it liberally, as an artist might cover a canvas with thick, colourful paint.
Martin Chuzzlewit is a novel you don't (and shouldn't) sit down to all at once. It's something to be savoured and enjoyed over time (as the original readers would have done, anxiously waiting for each chapter to be printed). This world is simply too detailed to skim through.
If you're an American, you might question the inclusion of the American section. While it ultimately brings about a characters transformation, its sarcastic, and at times scathing, humour of 1800's Americans is undoubtedly too much for some in the mainstream American audience. It's a pity that more people don't seem to have a great sense-of-humour about themselves - probably one reason this wonderful book has never enjoyed the success of other Dickens classics in the US (though it's still very popular). My suggestion (rather than another reviewer who shamefully said to just skip the US bit) is to simply look at this new world through an outsiders eyes (remember that this was 100 years ago) and understand they won't always see things with rose-coloured glasses - and lets admit it, nowhere is perfect. Just remember, for all of Dickens' criticism of the US, it is tame compared to his observations of life in England; unfortunately some Americans seem to forget that.
So, if you're looking for a wonderfully funny story of how truly good people are tormented by those who feign to be good, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Just waiting for everyone's comeuppance is worth it. Once you get into it, you won't want to finish.
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on December 29, 2003
If you like Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit is definitely worth the read. Like virtually everything he wrote, this novel is engaging, emotional, and intensely human. It follows a pattern that is bound to seem familiar to those acquainted with Dickens, and has a very Dickensian happy ending; but then, that is what we love about Dickens. There is still something to be said for virtue, and it satisfies our sense of justice when it wins out in the end. That isn't a very modern sentiment, but it is an undeniably good one. This isn't the first book I would recommend for someone wanting to pick up a little Dickens (Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist would probably all come first), but this is worth the read. I give it four stars only because I think it is second-tier Dickens; but second-tier Dickens is still first-rate.
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on October 14, 2009
My late father, Frank O'Driscoll (1927-1994), had a wonderful, inherited collection of old, dusty volumes of classic English literature, a home library with which I grew up and from which I developed a love for reading and discovery. Almost all of Dickens' novels formed part of this personal library. Yet I came to Dickens later in life.

As a child, his formal, florid, Victorian prose seemed to me to be a little offputting. Yet I loved television and stage musical adaptations of such classics as 'Oliver Twist' and 'A Christmas Carol', both of which were produced as school musicals at my secondary school in the 1970s and in which I took part. I think the images and characters created by Dickens are part of the collective cultural consciousness, on a par with the contemporary impact of Harry Potter, for example. Dickens' novels have proved, over the decades, to be a fecund territory for screen adaptations. But it is only in the last few years that I have finally begun to read his novels in earnest, and have thus far enjoyed such treasures as 'The Pickwick Papers', 'The Old Curiosity Shop', 'David Copperfield', 'Nicholas Nickleby', 'Dombey and Son', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'Great Expectations' and, of course, 'Martin Chuzzlewit'.

With each long novel, Dickens creates a fantastic, varied universe of characters, plots and sub-plots. All of human life is paraded in each novel, and his works rival Shakespeare in their beautiful use of language, their engrossing plots and their studies of human nature, with characters ranging from the most virtuous to the basest and most despicable.

However, one difficulty I have with Dickens is that so many of his characters seem caricatural. In 'Martin Chuzzlewit', some characters have no redeeming features and are completely egotistical and malicious, e.g. Jonas Chuzzlewit and Mr Pecksniff. In contrast, other characters are almost completely virtuous and less believable in consequence of their perfection, e.g. Tom and Ruth Pinch and Martin Tapley.

On the other hand, the eponymous hero, Martin Chuzzlewit (Junior) does trace a personal journey from selfishness to greater kindness and consideration for others.

Just as the characters are very diverse, so too are the themes and tones of this and other novels by Charles Dickens. There is much humour in the form of irony, satire and hyperbole, much sadness and much stinging social criticism. Dickens' novels speak on different levels to different readers, and fulfil multiple purposes, from entertainment to social commentary. The latter is often intended to bring about change, e.g. Dickens paints a witheringly denunciatory portrait of the Chancery legal system of the 19th century in Britain in 'Bleak House', and of the savagery and corruption of the so-called schools such as Dotheboys Hall, Yorkshire, in 'Nicholas Nickleby'. Much of his criticism in 'Chuzzlewit' is reserved for Americans; Dickens had travelled throughout the USA, and was displeased by some aspects of its society and people at that time. Chuzzlewit and Tapley thus serve as reflectors for Dickens' animosity towards the USA, as they journey to the States and encounter hypocrisy and underhand business dealings which leave them penniless and in broken health.

Like all of Dickens' novels, 'Chuzzlewit' is long and involved, with frequent changes of scene and complex sub-plots which gradually merge into each other and resolve themselves. The language is engaging, but it does require concentration. Effort on the part of the reader reaps its own rewards. Airport or beach fiction this is not.

My father once said of Dickens that each of his novels could be read and reread, at least twice; one could firstly enjoy the plot, and later savour the delicious prose.

Book sales and continuing adaptations of his novels testify to the fact that Dickens' literature has stood the test of time. And deservedly so, on the evidence of 'Martin Chuzzlewit' alone.
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on June 17, 2015
It was a happy day when I, for whatever reason, elected to sample Charles Dickens. Having read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, I digressed to more popular fiction (Michener, Clavell, McMurtry, King, Grisham), as well as periods of science fiction and even non-fiction (Ambrose, McCollough for example), before making an effort to upgrade my reading list.

I read some Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck and Hemingway with mixed success before reading Great Expectations. I liked it enough to read David Copperfield, and I was hooked. A Tale of Two Cities followed and then Oliver Twist (not my favorite), Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby before taking on this lengthy novel.

Martin Chuzzlewit takes its name not from one, but two characters in the novel, a very wealthy, old gentleman and his grandson. While there are numerous story threads involved in the work, the overarching theme involves the ultimate disposition of the elder Chuzzlewit’s substantial fortune, the characters maneuvering for a piece of it and those on the periphery.

As in almost all Dickens’s work, the beauty of the novel lies in the original and classic characters created therein. Heretofore, I had heard people referred to as “pecksniffs” without any understanding of the meaning (aside from context) or the source of the reference. Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters are central characters in this novel. The story was penned shortly after Dickens returned from a tour of the United States and that country does not show well in the younger Martin’s experiences there.

Having read several Dickens works prior to this one, I was aware that a period of acclimation is required before becoming comfortable with both the language and the cultural landscape, however the comfort that I eventually attained in the previous novels was more difficult to come by here. To be honest, some of the dialogue, especially that of the old nurse was virtually unintelligible.

Make no mistake, at nearly 900 pages this is a real door stop, with long periods of very slow advancement. Not my favorite of the several Dickens novels I have read, but not the worst.
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on March 30, 2015
I rarely ever get to the place where I SIMPLY can't endure another page. This book wore me out after getting to the middle of the book, I dreaded reading another page of this overly dramatic, intensely described passages.
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on March 13, 2011
I can't say much else about the book besides I love it. There are complaints this book is anti-American and I would like to address that. I am a very patriotic American but I didn't find the content about that disturbing. Please do not throw away the chance to read the book just because of what critics say. If you just ignore any part about Americans, Dickens never really denounced them in his own words anyway in here, this book is great! Who cares if he didn't like America when he visited and portrayed some Americans not so flatteringly? Do you readers know how much he denounced England? He drew attention to so many sins and injustices of thiers! They had much more reason to hate him and they did! And he denounced France too, in Tale of Two Cities. He did so much damage to them, why should we get ruffled about us? I for one don't care what Dickens or any other person thinks of America, he changed his mind later in his life anyway and apoligized for his critisicm. Anyway, if there is any complaint about this book, please just throw away the American stuff and enjoy the book itself.
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