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3 of Fire - Young Martin Chuzzlewit


Young Martin Chuzzlewit


Martin Chuzzlewit

      Like his grandfather, Young Martin Chuzzlewit is head-strong. He is quick and bright but his callowness and short-sighted self-concern make him unlikable. When his grandfather bars him from seeing Mary Graham, Young Martin sails with the plucky Mark Tapley for America. This trek becomes both the making and assaying of their characters. The “Eden” their ambitions find is a malarial swamp – a kind of Hell on earth – which grips Young Martin in a near-fatal fever. With Tapley's help, Young Martin recovers and returns like a Phoenix reborn to England and the Old Martin Chuzzlewit.

 Just as the Martin Chuzzlewit of the novel's title may refer to the Old or the Young, it is an eponymous dialectic of both. The similarity not only of namesake but of mise-en-scène between the 2 and 3 of Fire cards plays on the interrelationship between a scheme brought to life and that scheme lived - grandfather to grandson. It may also play on an ambiguity arising from the visual similarity in the corresponding Rider/Waite/Smith cards, itself suggestive of how exponential change can appear at first to be negligible, as illustrated in the Wheat & Chessboard problem.


 When Charles Dickens began Martin Chuzzlewit, he thought it the best work of his career to date. Early sales of the monthly installments, however, were poor and Dickens' faith in his original scheme wavered. Selling as little as a third of what Barnaby Rudge sold, Martin Chuzzlewit caused a rift between Dickens and his publishers Chapman & Hall, who invoked a clause in Dickens' contract compelling him to recompense for the shortfall. This series of events compelled Dickens to undertake a new direction in the novel, sending Young Martin Chuzzlewit to the land he himself had visited not a year before: America.

 The about-face of shipping Young Martin off to the United States in pursuit of fortune and fame echoes not only Dicken's first speaking tour of America, but also Dickens' commandeering of the novel's trajectory specifically and his career path in general. Like Young Chuzzlewit, whose experiences in the New World broaden his mind and strengthen his character, Dickens' view of his own position in the world grew after his American tour. Charles Dickens was not only a commodity, he was a force which he himself could harness and redirect for the greater good. This new maturity and awareness is seen in the Christmas story he wrote during the writing of Martin Chuzzlewit: A Christmas Carol. This rebirth A Christmas Carol encapsulates was born of a trial by fire – Dickens' tour of America had been disabusing and disagreeable, he received many abusive letters from Americans complaining of their country's portrayal in Martin Chuzzlewit and American Notes, he changed publishers acrimoniously, and Martin Chuzzlewit became the last of his picaresque novels. As such, it has a disjointed and deflated quality to it, and even with the shot of energy the American episode injects, the novel remains one of Dickens' least loved.

 Taken further, an allegory of England and America can be seen in the way Dickens sent Young Martin to America for both the character's fictional and the author's real-life prosperity. Old Martin represents the Old World, where financial chicanery, power politics, and personal prohibitions compel Europe's "Young Martins" to pioneer a new land and way of life for themselves. Like the character of Young Martin and what was to become his story, Dickens changed direction and grew as both man and writer. Just as the American Revolution broke paternal ties, something greater and irrepressible was born of the ashes. And just as today America and England share a special relationship, Dickens himself later returned to America to find it changed for the better.



Shorthand : Manifest destiny - accomplishment - an exponential germ - originality fumbles and finds expression - inspiration well rewarded - perspirational baptism - momentum begets momentum - calls to mind the lone inventor - the queer artist - the one who realizes stewardship of a calling - dangers implied - too much, too soon - disillusionment threatens - sickness, ensues - internecine strife - polarizing rancour - spare the rod, spoil the real - hubris occluding such promise - dreadful waste - a goal made a gaol - hard-head - thrall of fantastic notions - real evolution over-looked.

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