Here is a quick plot summary. Martin Chuzzlewit senior is the grandfather to Martin Chuzzlewit. Martin senior is a cranky old man who is well off and greedy. He spends most of his time hiding from family members who want his money. He employs an orphan named Mary to be his nursemaid and tells her that while he is alive she will be looked after, but not to expect anything from him in his will. His grandson, Martin, falls in love with Mary. When Martin senior finds out he disinherits the younger Martin.
Young Martin apprentices himself to Seth Pecksniff, who is also a relative. Pecksniff maintains that he is an architect, however, he prefers taking the money from his students and have them do his work and then he claims that the work of his students is actually his own. Pecksniff takes in Martin to collect more money and to develop closer ties to the rich grandfather in hopes that he will be in the will.
However, the grandfather informs Pecksniff that young Martin is a rascal for falling in love with Mary and wants the tutor to kick Martin out. Pecksniff has no issues doing so since he really only wants the older man’s money. The younger Martin ends up moving to America, with Mark Tapley. Martin believes that America is the place for him to seek a fortune so he can return to England and marry the woman he loves. However, life in America proves to be disastrous. He doesn’t make his fortune and his survival is threatened. What will become of both Martins, Pecksniff, and all of the family and friends embroiled in this story and about selfishness and greed?
This is just a brief summary of the novel. At first when I started this novel I was a little disappointed. After reading and enjoying Nicholas Nickleby so much I thought that this novel would also knock my socks off. However this wasn’t the case. In fact, I found the first few hundred pages, my copy is 802 pages, to be somewhat slow and my reading took much longer than anticipated. But I persevered and I’m glad I did since I ended up liking it. It wasn’t as wonderful as other novels I’ve read by Dickens, but it has its own merit. The author actually thought that this novel was one of his better ones but it has been one of his least popular works with the public. I can see why. While it is good, it isn’t great. And a lot of people, me included, expect all novels by Dickens to be great.
One of the best aspects of this novel is the supporting cast of characters. Dickens is a master of character development and descriptions and this novel is more proof.
I loved this description of Mrs. Gamp:
“The face of Mrs. Gamp- the nose in particular – was somewhat red and swollen, and it was difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a smell of spirits.”
Mrs. Gamp is an alcoholic who is hired to take care of the sick. One night she is looking after a young man who is gravely ill. “Ah!” said Mrs. Gamp, walking away from the bed, “he’d make a lovely corpse.”
Another memorable character is Nadgett.
“He was a short, dried-up, withered old man, who seemed to have secreted his very blood; for nobody would have given him credit for the possession of six ounces of it in his whole body. How he lived was a secret; where he lived was a secret; and even what he was, was a secret.”
Nadgett is an informant for his employer. And his employer is actually a con artist.
If you are a huge fan of Dickens I would suggest this book. However, if you are looking for suggestions on where to start, I would direct you to other works since this may not be the greatest example of how well he can craft a story.