Martin Chuzzlewit

Martin Chuzzlewit is a novel by Charles Dickens, considered the last of his picaresque novels, which was written and serialized in 1843-1844. Like nearly all of Dickens' novels, Martin Chuzzlewit was released to the public in monthly installments. Sales of the monthly parts were disappointing, compared to Dickens' previous works, so Dickens changed the plot to send the title character to America. This allowed the author to portray America satirically as a near wilderness, whose pockets of civilization were filled with deceptive and self-promoting hucksters.

The main theme of the novel is selfishness, which is portrayed in a satirical fashion using all the members of the Chuzzlewit family. The novel is also notable for one of Dickens' great villains, Seth Pecksniff, and the nurse Mrs. Gamp.

The work was dedicated to Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, a friend of Dickens.

Plot Summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Young Martin Chuzzlewit, estranged from his grandfather because of his love for Mary, signs on as an apprentice to Mr. Pecksniff. There he meets and befriends Tom Pinch. Unbeknownst to Martin, Mr. Pecksniff has taken him on in order to create an alliance with Martin's wealthy grandfather.

All of the Chuzzlewits and their relations (of which Mr. Pecksniff is a member) have been trying for years to ingratiate themselves to Martin, senior. Grandfather Chuzzlewit then requires Mr. Pecksniff to kick out young Martin. The elder Martin Chuzzlewit in with Mr. Pecksniff and slowly appears to fall under Pecksniff's complete control.

Old Anthony Chuzzlewit dies, leaving his wealth to Jonas. Jonas gets married to Mercy Pecksniff and is abusive towards her, changing her personality. Jonas gets involved with the unscrupulous Tigg Montague and becomes financially involved in his insurance scam.

Tom Pinch, after years of devoted service, finds out the true nature of Mr. Pecksniff's character and leaves him at last. He moves in with his sister Ruth and gets a job for an unknown, mysterious employer, both with the help of Mr. Nadgett.

Young Martin travels to America with Mark Tapley, observes the generally low and degraded character of the American people, and then attempts a new start in life in a swampy, disease-filled settlement ironically named Eden. Mark and Martin both nearly die in Eden. The experience changes Martin's selfish character and they are able to return to England after the experience. He returns to his grandfather, repentant and changed, but his grandfather is now under Mr. Pecksniff's control and does not accept him. Mr. Pecksniff also becomes financially involved in the insurance scam.

Young Martin is reunited with Tom Pinch. Jonas Chuzzlewit murders Montague when the insurance scam goes bust. Tom Pinch discovers that Old Martin Chuzzlewit is his employer. Together, the group faces Mr. Pecksniff and confronts him with their knowledge of his true character. Mr. Nadgett leads the group to the discovery of Jonas as the murderer. Martin and his grandfather are reconciled, Martin and Mary get married, Tom Pinch's sister gets married, and the other characters generally get what they deserve, good or bad.

Characters in "Martin Chuzzlewit"

The Chuzzlewit Extended Family

The main characters of the story are the members of the extended Chuzzlewit family.

The first to be introduced is Seth Pecksniff, a widower with two daughters who is a self-styled teacher of architecture. He believes that he is a highly moral individual who loves his fellow man, but mistreats his students and passes off their designs as his own for profit. He seems to be a cousin of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. Mr. Pecksniff's rise and fall follows the novel's plot arc.

Next we meet his two daughters, Charity and Mercy Pecksniff. They are also affectionately known as Cherry and Merry, or as the two Miss Pecksniffs. Charity is portrayed throughout the book as having none of that virtue after which she is named, while Mercy, the younger sister, is at first silly and girlish in a manner that's probably inconsistent with her numerical age. Later events in the story drastically change her personality.

Old Martin Chuzzlewit, the wealthy patriarch of the Chuzzlewit family, lives in constant suspicion of the financial designs of his extended family. At the beginning of the novel he has aligned himself with Mary, an orphan, in order to have a caretaker who is not eyeing his estate. Later in the story he makes an apparent alliance with Mr. Pecksniff, who he feels is at least consistent in character. His true character is revealed by the end of the story.

Young Martin Chuzzlewit is the grandson of Old Martin Chuzzlewit. He is the closest relative of Old Martin and has inherited much of the stubbornness and selfishness of the old man. Young Martin is the protagonist of the story. His engagement to Mary is the cause of estrangement between himself and his grandfather. By the end of the story he becomes a reformed character, realizing and repenting of the selfishness of his previous actions.

Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit is a relative of Old Martin. He and his son, Jonas, run a business together called Chuzzlewit and Son. They are both self-serving, hardened individuals who view the accumulation of money as the most important things in life.

Jonas Chuzzlewit, son of Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit, is the mean-spirited, sinisterly jovial son of Anthony Chuzzlewit. He views his father with contempt and wishes for his death so that he can have the business and the money for himself. He is a suitor of the two Miss Pecksniffs, wins one, then is driven to commit murder by his unscrupulous business associations.

Other characters

Thomas (Tom) Pinch is a former student of Mr. Pecksniff's who has become his personal assistant. He is kind, simple, and honest in everything he does. He carries in his heart an undying love and adoration for Mr. Pecksniff. He serves as a foil to Mr. Pecksniff.

Ruth Pinch is Tom Pinch's sister. She is sweet and good, like her brother. At first she works as a governess to a wealthy family. Later in the novel she and Tom set up housekeeping together.

Mark Tapley is the good-humored employee of the Blue Dragon and suitor of Mrs. Lupin who leaves that establishment in order to find work that's more of a credit to his character. He eventually joins Young Martin Chuzzlewit on his trip to America, where he finds at last a situation that requires the full extent of his innate cheerfulness of disposition.

Montague Tigg/ Tigg Montague is a down-on-his-luck bum at the beginning of the story. Later, he starts a thriving, sleazy insurance business with no money at all and lures Jonas into this business.

Mr. Nadgett is a soft-spoken, mysterious individual who is Tom Pinch's landlord and serves as Montague's private investigator.

Sarah Gamp (also known as Sairey) works as a nurse, midwife and layer-out of the dead. Even in a house of mourning Mrs. Gamp manages to enjoy all the hospitality a house can afford, with little regard for the person she is there to minister to and is often a little under the influence of drink. She habitually carries with her a battered black umbrella. So popular with the Victorian public was the character that Gamp became a slang word for umbrellas in general.

Spoilers end here.


Martin Chuzzlewit was published in 19 monthly installments, each composed of 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Hablot K. "Phiz" Browne and costing one shilling. The last part was double-length.

  • I - January 1843 (chapters 1-3)
  • II - February 1843 (chapters 4-5)
  • III - March 1843 (chapters 6-8)
  • IV - April 1843 (chapters 9-10)
  • V - May 1843 (chapters 11-12)
  • VI - June 1843 (chapters 13-15)
  • VII - July 1843 (chapters 16-17)
  • VIII - August 1843 (chapters 18-20)
  • IX - September 1843 (chapters 21-23)
  • X - October 1843 (chapters 24-26)
  • XI - November 1843 (chapters 27-29)
  • XII - December 1843 (chapters 30-32)
  • XIII - January 1844 (chapters 33-35)
  • XIV - February 1844 (chapters 36-38)
  • XV - March 1844 (chapters 39-41)
  • XVI - April 1844 (chapters 42-44)
  • XVII - May 1844 (chapters 45-47)
  • XVIII - June 1844 (chapters 48-50)
  • XIX-XX - July 1844 (chapters 51-54)