Classic Review: Martin Chuzzlewit

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
Martin Chuzzlewit 
by Charles Dickens

5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

Old Martin Chuzzlewit is disgusted with his greedy relatives who only want his money, so he disinherits everyone, including his grandson, Young Martin, who is named after him. Young Martin falls in love with an orphaned ward, Mary Graham, who acts as Old Martin’s nursemaid. But the two young people are torn apart when the family quarrel causes Young Martin to seek his fortune out in the world.

When he goes to work for a hypocritical architect, Mr. Pecksniff, Young Martin befriends poor Tom Pinch, a lowly clerk with a good and innocent heart. Because of his generosity and humility, Tom is always being taken advantage of and overlooked.

Mr. Pecksniff and his two daughters renew their relationship with their cousin, Jonas Chuzzlewit, a devious man who longs to inherit the family business and be rid of his doddering old father.

This book includes blackmail, murder, hidden identities, and fraud, as well as two sweet romances, hilarious characters, and a compelling redemption story.
I loved so many of these characters! Tom Pinch is definitely a favorite. In the beginning, he appears to be only a minor side character, but as he is thrown into the spotlight, Tom becomes a central figure in each plotline. He is so painfully innocent, but with a strange angelic wisdom of his own. I want to protect and shelter him from the cruel world, and towards the middle and end of the book, I rejoiced to see Tom’s friends rallying around him.

Young Martin is a frustrating character at the beginning. He is self-centered and thoughtless, but as his story unfolds, and he goes through terrible disappointments, adversity, and suffering, he learns valuable lessons and gains wisdom. He becomes more humble and begins to be more considerate of others. The outstanding character development and the gradual change in his personality is remarkable writing!

The women characters are incredibly engaging, although I wish the heroines had more complex personalities. Both Mary Graham and Tom Pinch’s sister, Ruth, are sweet and innocent and kind. They exist to be adored by all the menfolk. They are the perfect Victorian ladies, all sugar and no spice. They do have some lovely scenes, and some good dialogue, but I wish they had a little bit more depth and flavor. I love them though!

The unpleasant women in the book are much more complex. The Pecksniff sisters have more intensity in their personalities, as they scheme and plot for money, husbands, and social standing. They are always competing for attention, arguing at the same time that they profess their undying sisterly love. They want their own selfish way in everything, but are masters at hypocritically pretending to be humble and good, which they learned from their hypocritical father, Mr. Pecksniff.

I loved the plot! It is full of twists and turns and crazy coincidences. It has plenty of action, interspersed with Dicken’s famously lengthy descriptions of everything and everyone. The only parts that I really detested reading were the descriptions of American politicians. Their speeches went on forever and ever, which I suppose was the point; i.e. to poke fun at how long-winded politicians are.
But almost all the scenes set in America bored me to tears, because they didn’t really further the plot or accomplish any important points for the story. The American storyline could have been reduced to two chapters, instead of the ten or twelve that it encompassed, without losing any pertinent information.

Overall, I loved this book, and it has become one of my favorite Dickens books!

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