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Making Music with the Pickwickians: Form and Function in Musical Adaptations of The Pickwick Papers

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The stage musical Pickwick (1963), which was produced in the wake of the Dickensian musical fad initiated by Lionel Bart's Oliver! (1960), is the descendant of numerous musical treatments of Dickens's very first novel, including W. T. Moncrieff's infamous adaptation, Sam Weller (1837). The haphazard use of music in this Victorian stage show stands in sharp contrast to the meticulously organized musical score ofPickwick. Like virtually all of the Dickensian “musicals” produced in the nineteenth-century, Sam Weller is written in the British tradition of the eighteenth-century ballad opera, while Pickwick is written in the American tradition of the twentieth-century integrated musical. Though the later adaptation is clearly more organized and coherent from a musical point of view, the freewheeling and incoherent use of songs in the earlier adaptation is arguably more reminiscent of the overall tone and form of The Pickwick Papers as written by Dickens. In a way, the randomness of the songs compliments the randomness of Mr. Pickwick's adventures, and likewise, fills a gap left by the omission of the interpolated tales. Furthermore, the traditional Englishness of the Dickensian source is more pronounced in the Moncrieff adaptation due to his use of canonical English songs and the ballad-opera format.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7756/dsa.042.002.33-53

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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