The Pickwick Papers - Published in monthly parts Mar 1836 - Oct 1837
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When artist Robert Seymour proposed to publishers Chapman and Hall a series of engravings featuring Cockney sporting life, with accompanying text published in monthly installments, they readily accepted and set about the task of finding a writer. The publishers were turned down by several writers and finally asked 24-year-old Charles Dickens to provide the text. Dickens accepted and argued successfully that the text should be foremost and the engravings should complement the story. Seymour, an established artist but without recent success, was troubled with the direction the upstart writer was taking his project and with Dickens' suggestions of changes to the illustrations.
On completion of the engravings for the second monthly part Seymour, who had a history of mental health problems, committed suicide.
See the announcement of Seymour's death in the second number of Pickwick
Chapman and Hall decided to continue with the project and, after trying artist R. W. Buss, whose work was deemed unsatisfactory, hired 20-year-old Hablot Knight Browne as illustrator. Browne, who took the nickname "Phiz" to complement Dickens' "Boz", went on to illustrate Dickens' work for the next 23 years. Dickens took an active role in redesigning the project, the format was changed from 24 pages of text and four illustrations to 32 pages of text and two illustrations. Dickens also abandoned the original concept of the "sporting club", which had been Seymour's idea (Dickens noted that despite spending a portion of his childhood in the country, that he was no sportsman) and began to tie the sketches together into a more cohesive novel.
The novel, a still somewhat loose collection of the adventures of Samuel Pickwick and his friends, was a huge success. Chapman and Hall printed only 1000 copies of the first monthly installment, at the end of serialization 40,000 copies were being printed. Pickwick had taken Britain, and later the world, by storm and had successfully launched Dickens to celebrity status.
Mr. Pickwick in the Fleet
When Mr. Pickwick's landlady, Mrs. Bardell, brings a breach of promise suit against him and wins, the innocent Pickwick refuses to pay the damages, opting instead to be consigned to the Fleet debtor's prison. Upon entering the Fleet he undergoes an initiation known as "sitting for your portrait" where all of the turnkeys (jailers) study Mr. Pickwick's appearance to differentiate him from visitors to the prison who are allowed to come and go during the day.
Pickwick is appalled at conditions in the prison but is later told by a fellow prisoner that "money was, in the Fleet, just what money was out of it" and is able to purchase a furnished private room where he remains for three months.
Imprisonment for debt is a theme Dickens uses frequently, his father having been imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor's prison when Dickens was a child.