hroughout his writings in 1836, as Deborah A. Thomas notes, Dickens "seems to have been fascinated with the idea of using short stories to examine the mentally abnormal" (21). In an episodic novel filled with rollicking farce and humorous characters Dickens uses the oral tales of incidental characters to introduce the kind of material commonly found in Gothic novels: murder, mayhem, sadistic violence, wicked fathers, and implacable avengers. However, such realistic backdrops as the Marshalsea Prison here (all too familiar to Dickens from the days of his own father's incarceration there) point to such contemporary and realistic materials as police procedurals, the Newgate novel, and sensational stories crime-and-detection. The stark illustration suggests Dickens's chief inspiration for the tale of depravity and vengeance: the contemporary melodrama.
To break up the picaresque narrative and provide tonal variety, Dickens deploys nine interpolated oral tales in The Pickwick Papers. The picaresque writers whom Dickens had read and was emulating — Cervantes, Tobas Smollett, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne — had provided him with precedent. However, these earlier writers of the picaresque had not had to concern themselves with how their illustrators would interpret this interpolated material, or how to integrate the resulting illustrations into the instalment. In fact, Dickens's original illustrators, acting under his suggestion, provided serial plates for only three of these stories. Although there are four major programs of illustration by nineteenth-century artists, the interpolated tales in the episodic novel have only been infrequently illustrated. The stories are as follows:
- "The Stroller's Tale" (May 1836)
- "The Convict's Return" — originally June 1836
- "A Madman's Manuscript" — originally July 1836
- "The Bagman's Story" (August 1836)
- "The Parish Clerk: A Tale of True Love" (September 1836)
- "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client" (November 1836)
- "The Story of the Goblins who stole a Sexton" (January 1837)
- "The True Legend of Prince Bladud" — originally April 1837
- "The Story of the Bagman's Uncle" (September 1837), aka "the Ghost of a Mail"
Last modified 5 November 2019