Law and Conversation

July 8, 2013

Progress report: Dickens down and articles published

Recently, after a couple of years of spending way too much time thinking and talking about it, I finally buckled down and read another Dickens novel. The reason it took me so long to get around to it is that most novels by Dickens are SOOOOO long – editing was a lot different in the 19th century, if there even was any – and I knew it would take me a few weeks before I’d be able to finish it and add it to my list of books read, so I would not get the quick (though superficial) gratification that would come with finishing several shorter books and watching my numbers grow. My lovely Folio Society edition of “Little Dorrit” weighed in at 2 or 3 pounds, I’m guessing, and over 800 pages. But it was such a pleasure to read, both for the story and for the attractive edition, that I toted it along on long and short trips while I was in the middle of it. Definitely more satisfying than reading 800 pages of several not-so-great novels!

Reading a Dickens novel was on my list of New Year’s resolutions, so I feel especially pleased about finishing it. And because I enjoyed it so much, I’ve decided to reread “The Pickwick Papers,” which is a total delight, and also, finally, make headway in Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, which I’ve had on my nightstand for a couple of years. Learning more about the real-life details of Dickens’ life that inspired his plots, themes, and characters brings even more meaning into the novels for me. And, of course, it’s neat to learn a bit about the law offices where he worked briefly. Proving Nora Ephron’s observation that everything is copy, Dickens put his experiences and observations there to excellent use in his fiction.

I have more thoughts on Dickens and “Little Dorrit” that I’ll post another day. In the meantime, you can read 2 articles that I wrote last month for the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual On Professional Conduct on the ABA website, one on a blogging lawyer and the other on the death and dissolution of law firms.


  1. Hello Helen (if I may) I am glad that you enjoyed The Pickwick Papers. I wonder whether that is particularly the case because of your legal background? Traditionally, lawyers have loved Pickwick. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in a piece of Pickwick-news: I have actually written a novel about the origins and subsequent history of The Pickwick Papers. This isn’t a prequel, nor a sequel, but a fictional treatment of how Pickwick came to be, and what happened afterwards. In my view, Pickwick is not only a great book – it also has the most fascinating backstory of any work of literature I have encountered. Anyway, my novel is called Death and Mr Pickwick, and it will be published in May by Random House (in the UK) and in June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). You can find out more at: One of the techniques I use is to go back to the real events that inspired episodes of Pickwick – so, for instance, Bardell V Pickwick was partly inspired by the British Prime Minister’s trial for adultery, so that Prime Minister (Lord Melbourne) appears as a character in my novel. One thing I should perhaps warn you about, though, as you refer to Dickens’s novels as SOOOOO long, is that my novel is very long too. It is deliberately the same length as The Pickwick Papers. Anyway, I do hope you will take a look at it. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis

    Comment by Stephen Jarvis — March 1, 2015 @ 4:54 am | Reply

    • How very interesting, Stephen. Congratulations on the publication of your forthcoming novel–what an accomplishment! I looked at your website and am looking forward to checking it out. Your comment had me going back to my copies of Dickens biographies by Tomalin and Kaplan. Neither has much about Seymour, but I gathered that Dickens pretty quickly moved to upstage Seymour and turn Pickwick into his showcase instead of Seymour’s, as it had been intended, and also–deliberately?–perhaps made it very difficult for Seymour to complete drawings in time for publication by convincing the publisher to let him submit his copy 5 weeks instead of 8 weeks before printing. Do I have that right, or not? Dickens was undeniably a towering literary figure and worked very hard to support a LOT of dependents, but he also treated so many people badly and in so many ways did not live a good life.

      I know many lawyers who do not love Dickens, so I am not sure that my being a lawyer has anything to do with my own preferences. I do love 19th century literature and art and find the period fascinating, though I am very glad not to be living then. Have you read Ruth Goodman’s fascinating “How To Be A Victorian,” which provides marvelous details about the everyday life of common ordinary people in Victorian England? I highly recommend it to anyone with any sort of interest in that era.

      I became sidetracked in the middle of my reread of “Pickwick” last year and have been thinking that I must return to it, especially since I now have so much more background than when I first read it almost a decade ago. I also hope to post more this year–I really enjoy writing essays. Thanks for finding my blog and leaving your interesting comment!

      Comment by Helen Gunnarsson — March 1, 2015 @ 9:15 am | Reply

      • Hello Helen – Thank you very much for your reply! Yes, it is true that most biographies of Dickens say very little about Seymour, and I suspect the reason is that the traditional account of Pickwick’s origin, in which Seymour is sidelined, has tended to make him appear as an unimportant figure. However, I now know that the traditional account simply isn’t true, and that Seymour had a much more important role than Dickens claimed. One also has to look at the sheer power of illustrations in this period – Pickwick was almost certainly the most-illustrated work of fiction that had appeared up to that point in history…and that was even after Seymour’s death, when the number of illustrations was halved. Pictures had a huge effect on sales.

        I haven’t read “How to be Victorian”, but from what you say, it would have been of great use to me. But I did find all sorts of details elsewhere, to add authenticity to my novel.

        By the way, the first pre-publication review has just appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, which you can see here:

        I have also set up a facebook page, at where I regularly post bits and pieces of Pickwickiana…indeed, I am going to update it now!

        Thanks once again. If you ever feel like exchanging emails, I would be delighted to hear from you. I hope that I will make many new friendships by writing the novel. I can be contacted via the website.

        Best wishes


        Comment by Stephen Jarvis — March 1, 2015 @ 9:42 am

      • I just popped on over to “like” your book’s Facebook page, Stephen, and look forward to updates. I may take you up on your kind email offer since I do love talking about books.

        It is not entirely clear to me why you term “Pickwick” a “hoax” on your website–forgive me if it ought to be obvious and I have missed it, but that is a strong word and it has piqued my curiosity. Certainly Dickens, supported by his intensely loyal friends, was capable of a lot, as Claire Tomalin demonstrated through her hard work in researching and writing “The Invisible Woman.” Must I wait for your book to find out?

        Comment by Helen Gunnarsson — March 1, 2015 @ 10:55 am

      • Hi Helen – I was deliberately holding back, on the website, the precise nature of the “hoax” to arouse people’s curiosity. The details will come out in my book. This could have come to light in the 1920s, when an American called Dr Samuel Lambert came over to London to investigate Seymour’s life – he found the Dickens Fellowship most unwilling to talk to him, and shortly afterwards an attack on Lambert appeared in the Fellowship’s journal saying that the idea that Seymour contributed anything substantial to Pickwick was “exploded long ago” and was “not worthy of serious consideration”. I think the Fellowship knew that Dickens’s account of the origin of Pickwick was false, and tried to cover it up.

        Comment by Stephen Jarvis — March 1, 2015 @ 11:06 am

  2. Strangely enough, these sort of things have happened on other occasions when artists and writers have collaborated. A good example is the creation of Batman: only one person got the credit for that, the artist Bob Kane, but actually Batman was really a co-creation, with the writer Bill Finger contributing at least as much as Kane.

    Comment by Stephen Jarvis — March 1, 2015 @ 11:21 am | Reply

    • Fascinating stuff, and not limited to writers and artists. Looking forward to your book!

      Comment by Helen Gunnarsson — March 1, 2015 @ 11:29 am | Reply

      • Actually, yes, similar things happen in the music industry. Anyway, many thanks for your kind remarks, Helen, and like I said, if you feel like getting in touch anytime please do so.

        Comment by Stephen Jarvis — March 1, 2015 @ 11:33 am

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