Samuel Pickwick
The Pickwick Papers character
Mr.Pickwick illustrated by 'Kyd' (1889)
Created byCharles Dickens
In-universe information
OccupationChairman of the Pickwick Club

Samuel Pickwick is a fictional character and the main protagonist in The Pickwick Papers (1836), the first novel by author Charles Dickens. One of the author's most famous and loved creations,[1] Pickwick is a retired successful businessman and is the founder and chairman of the Pickwick Club,[2] a club formed to explore places remote from London and investigate the quaint and curious phenomena of life found there.


Mr Pickwick as illustrated by Harold Copping in 1924

Mr Pickwick is believed to have been named after the British businessman Eleazer Pickwick (c.1749–1837). Although he is the main character in The Pickwick Papers, Samuel Pickwick is mostly a passive and innocent figure in the story around whom the other more active characters operate. Having an almost childlike simplicity, Pickwick is loyal and protective toward his friends but is often hoodwinked by conmen and poseurs; he can be quick to anger when confronted by the actions of tricksters and such as Alfred Jingle; he is always gallant towards women, young and old, but can also be indecisive in his dealings with them. Dicken's develops Pickwick's character as the novel evolved from the original concept of the Pickwick Club, a series of comic "cockney sporting plates" by illustrator Robert Seymour. The subsequent suicide of Seymour early in the publication afforded Dickens the opportunity to change both the course of the novel and the character of Pickwick.[3]

In Chapter One of The Pickwick Papers Dickens describes Pickwick:

A casual observer might possibly have remarked nothing extraordinary in the bald head, and circular spectacles, which were intently turned towards his (the secretary’s) face, during the reading of the above resolutions: to those who knew that the gigantic brain of Pickwick was working beneath that forehead, and that the beaming eyes of Pickwick were twinkling behind those glasses, the sight was indeed an interesting one. There sat the man who had traced to their source the mighty ponds of Hampstead, and agitated the scientific world with his Theory of Tittlebats ... The eloquent Pickwick, with one hand gracefully concealed behind his coat tails, and the other waving in air to assist his glowing declamation; his elevated position revealing those tights and gaiters, which, had they clothed an ordinary man, might have passed without observation, but which, when Pickwick clothed them—if we may use the expression—inspired involuntary awe and respect.[4]

The Pickwick Club

Robert Seymour illustration depicting Pickwick addressing the Pickwick Club (1836)

To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, Pickwick creates the Pickwick Club and suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club.[5]

Pickwick careens from one comic disaster to another in pursuit of adventure or honour attended by the other members of the Pickwick Club. Pickwick becomes involved in several sub-plots in the novel, including thwarting Jingle's various money-making matrimonial schemes, and assisting his friend Winkle in eloping with Arabella Allen.

Pickwick encounters troubles during his adventures because, as one of nature's innocents, he is unaware of the presence of deception and tricksters such as Jingle in the real world. By the end of the novel he has received an education in morality and is filled with goodness and Christian charity towards his fellow man - and woman. Always on hand to save the day is his able manservant Sam Weller; the relationship between the idealistic and unworldly Pickwick and the astute cockney Weller has been likened to that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.[6] By the end of the novel Pickwick looks upon Sam Weller almost as a son,[1] a feeling which is reciprocated by Sam.[5]

Bardell v. Pickwick

Mrs Bardell faints into the arms of Mr Pickwick - illustration by Frank Reynolds (1910)
The Trial of Bardell v. Pickwick - illustration by Hablot Knight Browne (1867)

Another sub-plot in the novel is the romantic misunderstanding between Pickwick and his landlady Mrs Bardell that results in one of the most famous legal cases in English literature, the breach of promise to marry suit Bardell v. Pickwick.[7][8][9] When Pickwick discusses with Mrs Bardell his idea of taking a servant (Sam Weller), expressing the view that three may eat as cheaply as two, she mistakes this for a marriage proposal and accepting his 'offer', much to his dismay, faints into his arms, possibly deliberately, as his three friends Winkle, Snodgrass and Tupman walk through the door and witness the scene:[10]

When Pickwick refuses to marry her Mrs Bardell is persuaded by the unscrupulous lawyers Dodson and Fogg into bringing a legal suit against Pickwick. During the trial at the Guildhall Sittings in London before Mr. Justice Stareleigh, Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz prosecutes Pickwick and bullies the witnesses into giving incriminating testimony, leading to Pickwick being falsely convicted. The height of Pickwick's moral and spiritual development occurs at the Fleet Prison where he is imprisoned for refusing to pay Mrs Bardell's damages and costs. Here Pickwick encounters his nemesis Alfred Jingle as a fellow resident. Moved with compassion, Pickwick forgives him and charitably bails him out and later arranges for Jingle and his servant Job Trotter to pursue their fortune in the West Indies.[1]

When Mrs. Bardell herself is sent to the Fleet Prison Pickwick learns that the only way he can relieve her suffering is by paying her costs in the action against himself, thus at the same time releasing himself from the prison.[11][12]

Media portrayals

Portrayals in adaptations

John Bunny as Mr Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers (1913)

In film, television and on stage Mr Pickwick has been portrayed by:[13]

Other media


The French composer Claude Debussy dedicated to this character a humorous piano piece: Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. (n. 9 of Préludes, 2ème Livre, published 1913).

Pickwick Island is the largest of the Pitt Islands, in the Biscoe Islands, Antarctica. It was named by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee (UK-APC) in 1959 after Samuel Pickwick, founder of the Pickwick Club.[21]


  1. ^ a b c Character analysis: Samuel Pickwick, The Pickwick Papers - Cliff'sNotes Study Guides online
  2. ^ Pickwick on David Perdue's Charles Dickens Characters page
  3. ^ This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCross, Wilbur L. (1920). "Pickwick Papers" . In Rines, George Edwin (ed.). Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. ^ Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers (1836), Project Gutenberg
  5. ^ a b Michael Pointer, Who's Who in Dickens - Grange Books (1995) - pgs 112-113
  6. ^ Mark Womald, introduction to Dickens, Charles (29 January 2004). The Pickwick Papers. Penguin Classics. ISBN 9780140436112.
  7. ^ Bander, Edward J. Bardell v. Pickwick Transnational Publishers (2004), ISBN 9781571053251
  8. ^ Fitzgerald, Percy Hetherington. Full text of Bardell v. Pickwick, (1902) Project Gutenberg eBook
  9. ^ Characters In The Pickwick Papers: Mrs Bardell, Charles Dickens Info website
  10. ^ 'Mrs. Bardell faints in Mr. Pickwick's arms', Victorian Web
  11. ^ Mark Wormald (2003) "Introduction" to The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. London, Penguin.
  12. ^ 'Pickwick Papers Characters' -
  13. ^ Samuel Pickwick on the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Playbill for St James's Theatre, advertising 'Mr Pickwick' - the British Library Collection
  15. ^ Dramatis Personæ: Mr Pickwick (1903), The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
  16. ^ Mr. Pickwick - The University of Kent Theatre Collection
  17. ^ Mr. Pickwick on the Theatricalia website
  18. ^ Quirk, David. "Record Review". New York Daily News. November 12, 1944. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  19. ^ - Mr. Pickwickk on the Internet Broadway Database
  20. ^ Bardell V. Pickwick (1955), British Film Institute Database
  21. ^ Pickwick Island. SCAR Composite Antarctic Gazetteer.