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The Pickwick Prefaces

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Dickens wrote or rewrote prefaces for the first edition of The Pickwick Papers (1837), for the Cheap Edition (1847), for the Library Edition (1858), and for the Charles Dickens Edition (1867). In them the voice of the reformer is to be heard, the voice of the champion of those who found few champions. But at moments another voice displaces it—preening, prickly, and mendacious. Cavalier about facts, and adapting to circumstances as the years passed, it is a voice which insists that Dickens alone was responsible for making the book what it was, for realizing that the humble serial might be a suitable vehicle for durable fiction, for overcoming youthful limitations, for attracting publishers by remarkable early achievements, and for turning a sequestered country childhood to good account. Dismaying though it is to hear this voice, it leads us to the conclusion that Dickens could write about Mr. Pickwick because, in effect, he was Mr. Pickwick. Both were generous, chivalrous, and valiant when power was abused. Both looked for acclaim, resented their achievements being picked over, and bridled at the least slight. The prefaces are further proof of Dickens's talent for making enduring literature out of his own imperfections.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-06-01

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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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