3 of Earth - Seth Pecksniff
with Mercy & Charity Pecksniff
Mercy 'Merry' Chuzzlewit née Pecksniff;
Seth Pecksniff; Charity 'Cherry' Pecksniff.
Seth Pecksniff is a widower raising two young daughters of marrying age. A dreamer and a schemer, he is a self-styled teacher of architecture who runs a small architectural school. He fully believes he is an upright and thoroughly moral individual, yet he mistreats his students and passes off their work as his own for his own personal gain. The arch of what seems to be Pecksniff's upward success and his ultimate downward decline parallels the trajectory of many other characters in Martin Chuzzlewit, as well as the plot structure of the novel as a whole. Pecksniff's understanding of himself is on such shaky ground and his life is such a complete facade that the name Pecksniff has entered English parlance as a term for unctuous hypocrisy.
Accordingly, Charity – or Cherry – Pecksniff displays no sign of the quality for which she is named. She is Seth's oldest daughter and - deserted by Augustus Moddle, her betrothed who is anything but a model of eminence - she becomes her father's ill-tempered companion in their later years. Her younger sister Mercy – or Merry – is mercilessly vain, selfish, and insipid. Initially, Cherry is jealous of her baby sister when Merry marries their cousin, Jonas Chuzzlewit, which she does partly to spite her older sister. Jonas Chuzzlewit's designs on Merry are nothing but cruel, however, and Merry's life as his wife becomes anything but merry.
In the end, the Pecksniff girls must build for themselves what their father never gave them a foundation in, let alone supported in the way he raised them. Through an abusive husband, Mercy learns the meaning of mercy the hard way. When Seth becomes a writer of begging letters and a drunkard, Charity learns the meaning of charity by caring for her father. Seth Pecksniff, for his part, falls apart like a house of cards. Dickens likens him to a direction-post, “which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there.” While completely artificial and composed of nothing but false fronts, Seth Pecksniff is not an evil man by any means, just one who through his own misdirection has entirely lost his way.
Trapped in the maze of his own making, Pecksniff is actually one of Dickens' most memorable and entertaining characters. No small feat in Martin Chuzzlewit, a book somewhat less than amazing. Together with his daughters, the Pecksniff family creates a triumvirate, a lesson, a cautionary tale, a blueprint of ruin for us – the reader's – edification.
Shorthand : commercial business - a bold venture - building prosperity - hope springs infernal - be careful what you wish for - schemes and designs - sketchy - castles built on sand - false flattery - conceit which prevents one from establishing anything worthwhile - artificiality - unable to learn from criticism - wanting something from nothing.