Help end world hunger

« 'Great Expectations' in 12 words and 12 pictures | Main | Charles Dickens investigates again »

August 10, 2015

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Dear reviewer, I absolutely disagree with your review saying Stephen Jarvis was driven by hatred against Dickens in writing this book. In the first paragraph is your first significant error "In particularly minute detail, he recounts everything in Jarvis's life and work" and this obviously biased writing against Stephen goes through your whole treatise like a red thread. Stephen Jarvis clearly shows that Seymour invented the Pickwickian concept and presents Dickens in his novel as an almost tragic character. You feel for Dickens reading the story of "Chatham Charlie" and you do not want to believe as a reader that he gives in to his advisors, especially Forster, for claiming credentials for Pickwick alone on his own. The characterisation of Dickens is very well done by Stephen Jarvis like all the other characters of the novel, e.g. Moses Pickwick. It's a great novel on Seymour, the background of Pickwick Papers, marvelous inset stories (George & Vulture, Chunee) and Stephen Jarvis delivers a never read before portrait of the Victorian Era (in one novel). To achive this alone is a masterly achievement. In a convincing way the author solidifies his thesis that Seymour invented the Pickwick Papers. The novel isn't vociferous. It simply brings the "Shakespear of Caricature" back to life. It's one of the best books I ever read and one of the most thoroughly researched. Best wishes, Peter

Peter, you were right about my error (though it was actually in the second paragraph), and I've corrected it. Thank you very much for pointing that out.

Well...of course a bias against Jarvis is going to run through the review! She didn't like the book. Should someone never review a book they didn't enjoy? (I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm trying to pick a fight. I'm not.)

I respectfully disagree with Peter; I think Gina's review is thoughtful and balanced and, frankly, I agree with her. The book is neither Dickensian in tone or scope, and Jarvis's digressions, while somewhat similar to Pickwick's "Interpolated Tales," don't do much more than demonstrate his "scholarship," but he fails to attribute his sources.

I completely agree with Gina that this doesn't work as a novel with a premise that we should feel for the main character's being robbed of his fame. Jarvis "proves" his point with a blend of facts and fictional recreations of meetings that may or may not have taken place, not primary material like letters, memoirs, or legal documents (which for Jarvis Mr. Seymour somewhat conveniently destroyed).

To answer Cody's question: I know Gina well enough to know that she is a true Dickens lover, and bought the book for the same reason I did, which is to read and absorb all things Dickens, giving her every right to submit a review of it after plowing through its 800 pages (as I did).

But Mr. Jarvis's odd take on the situation (assuming that he actually DOES love Pickwick Papers) increases the strangeness of his approach. I think this book, while pitched to a general audience, is strictly for people like Gina and me who are on the edge of the Dickens spectrum. But Jarvis, as I see it, has slipped off the edge of the spectrum into pure speculation, and I don't think his experiment works. This is no "Quincunx" or "Crimson Petal and the White" (books I did not love).

Thanks, Gina, for an honest review.

This was one of the finest novels I have ever read, gripping from start to finish. I should also declare that I enjoy Dickens immensely having read Pickwick and Bleak House as well as biographies of the writer by Tomalin, Slater, Ackroyd and others. The initial scene between Dickens and Seymour is painful to read because we have spent several hundred pages getting to know Seymour insofar as this mysterious figure will ever allow himself to be known to us. This is a novel not a scholarly work so the need to footnote everything is not required. I find the argument painstakingly developed in the novel that Dickens deliberately hid the true origins of Pickwick quite compelling. But the beauty of this work is that you don't need to accept the argument in order to enjoy the novel. Beautifully delivered stories, richly drawn characters, and vividly painted scenes combine to create a superb book for everyone who enjoys good writing.

I have read several reviews of Death and Mr Pickwick, but Gina's is the first review I have read by a dedicated Dickensian.
I read Jarvis's novel and enjoyed it very much. But it is a novel and not a work of non-fiction. It is filled with historical facts that I didn't know, and as Gina points out, Jarvis spent 14 years researching, but I can't tell what is research and what is fiction. I wish Jarvis had written an afterward explaining what is true and what is his own invention.

Jarvis makes a good case that Seymour first drew the Pickwick Club members and then Dickens fleshed them out, giving them the personalities that we know and love. But Pickwick Papers didn't become a runaway success until Dickens introduced Sam Weller, and by that point Seymour was long dead.
Seymour was paid for his original sketches. The verbal agreement that Seymour get paid more if the series was a success depended on the assumption that Seymour would continue to draw the illustrations. Since he did not, I see no reason, legal or moral, for Chapman and Hall to pay his widow any more.

Hello - Stephen Jarvis here. There are many, many, many things I could say here, but the advice I have been given is that an author should never respond to reviews. But just looking at Herb Moskovitz's comment now I would say three things: 1) Sam Weller was at least partly Seymour's creation. 2) There was no stipulation that Seymour had to continue the illustrations to receive more money - the Chapman and Hall increased remuneration to Dickens was based upon the success of the publication, and no one could doubt Pickwick's success. 3) I think anyone could see that Death and Mr Pickwick is a very rich text, which can be the starting point for many further investigations and discussions, including the extent to which the things I have written were invented or not. In the case of the 'grog' meeting between Dickens and Seymour, for instance, the specifics of the meeting are of course unknown, and so were invented by me. HOWEVER, one fact is known: that Seymour was reduced to an emotional wreck after this meeting, and burnt all his papers about Pickwick. So, one invents SUBJECT TO THE CONSTRAINT that the meeting must reduce him to this state. There are infinitely many ways in which the specifics of the meeting could have been constructed, subject to that constraint - the way I chose was to make it reflect the underlying 'battle' between words and pictures.

As I have said, I am bound by the advice that a writer should not respond to reviews. But I hope that people will communicate with me privately (and the offer extends to Gina) to discuss these matters. I hope too that people will take a look at the facebook page www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick where I post every day about the novel.

I would stress that Death and Mr Pickwick should be seen as the starting point for a great many debates and further investigations...and indeed the stimulus for many visits to locations featured in the novel. (Including pubs!) Play this right, and Death and Mr Pickwick could completely transform public response to this part of Dickens's career, and re-awaken the 'sleeping giant' that is Pickwick. Death and Mr Pickwick offers a huge opportunity for Dickensians. But I also fear that Dickensians are going to miss that opportunity - an opportunity which is staring them in the face.

Let me finish by saying that the other day someone sent me an illustration which was inspired by a scene in Death and Mr Pickwick. I was deeply touched by that. It almost felt like an historic moment, showing the potential of the novel. Prior to this, there had been a photo competition on the facebook page, and one entry was a remarkable picture which captured the tragedy of the Seymour family spread over three generations in a single image. These are just a couple of examples of what Death and Mr Pickwick can do. It is not an 'ordinary' book.
Best wishes Stephen

I ought to say that I am a member of the Dickens Fellowship (London Central - though I have never been to a meeting) and am not of the view that Dickens was some kind of saint - far from it.

I did enjoy reading 'Death and Mr Pickwick' in so far as the era was evoked in great detail. I also enjoyed the information about publishing, Seymour's background, and the stories of so many diverse people, some of whom were previously just names to me.

I note that the central ground Jarvis covers has been covered before, albeit nowhere near as exhaustively. For example, in Joseph Grego's "Pictorial Pickwickiana - Charles Dickens and his illustrators" (1899), Grego discussed some of the core issues that Jarvis raises. Grego says, for example, that Seymour had drawn prototypes of Pickwick-like characters, and that Seymour's 'last design goes further into the progress of Pickwick than the author (Dickens) himself has mentioned'. Grego concludes that 'it must be conceded that Seymour had practically originated the scheme of the Pickwick Club'. (Incidentally, Grego's book includes fascimilies of all of Seymour's surviving Pickwick sketches that the Seymour family sold to Augustin Daly in 1889 - Jarvis' book would have benefitted from these).

I believe there is something to Joseph Grego's comment that 'Seymour was responsible for the familiar outward man but Dickens quickened these externals with vital characteristics which endeared Pickwick to myriads of readers'. Pickwick's evolving personality, and the situations he found himself in, was created by Dickens over nineteen long months, and through his nearly three hundred thousand words. Dickens clearly made much of the story and characterisation up as he went along, and this is self evident from the way Dickens worked, producing monthly parts, on the hoof, without number plans ('mems') at this early stage of his career.

At the heart of Stephen Jarvis's novel is the concept of plagiarism. At one point, Jarvis touches on Shakespeare using Geoffrey of Monmouth as a source, but a character states 'it is one thing to select a dead chronicler as one's source, and quite another to write up a living man's ideas'. An odd statement given that Seymour was dead before the bulk of Pickwick had been written.

Jarvis fails to mention that one of Shakespeare's most often used sources was Raphael Holinshed's 'Chronicles' (published in 1577 and 1587), and that Shakespeare 'borrowed' more than the plot from Holinshed - he sometimes used Holinshed's actual words straight out of the 'Chronicles'. That is a far more direct case of plagiarism than we may have here (where, at best, Pickwick's entire character and behaviour through nearly three hundred thousand words was supposedly 'stolen' from a handful of illustrations and a meeting).

Aside from Mr Inbelicate's failure to be objective where Dickens is concerned, as set out in Gina's review, I also note the attempt to dehumanize Dickens. For example, Mr Inbelicate imagines that Dickens reacts to hearing about Seymour's death not by being sad or shocked, but by thinking of Seymour being hacked to pieces by a butcher and made into sausages. That says more to me about Mr Inbelicate/Jarvis than it does about Dickens.

Turning to Mrs Seymour, I can understand her frustration and sense of injustice as she struggled in poverty whilst her husband's project catapulted Dickens and his publishers to enormous success and rewards. However, as Mrs Seymour published lies about Dickens (which Jarvis accepts), why should we believe her statement - as Jarvis readily does - that Dickens met Seymour twice, not the once that Dickens claims?

Nowhere does Jarvis's 802 page book mention the Seymour family's public statement, nearly two decades after Seymour's suicide and the inquest into it (so hardly likely to affect their inheritance by a 'felo de se' finding by that time) that 'it is not our wish to connect that event [Seymour's suicide] in an inviduous manner with the Pickwick vexation' (page 40, Grego). The Seymour family instead blame overwork for the suicide.

Regarding Seymour's homosexuality, I can hardly believe that Jarvis drops this bombshell in his novel and then totally fails to contextualise it or consider the effect this may have had on Seymour's mental well being if it was true. Up until 1861, sodomy was punishable by death. Between 1806 - 1861, 8,921 men had been prosecuted for sodomy, with 404 sentenced to death and 56 executed.

On 27 November 1835, five months before Seymour's suicide, James Pratt and John Smith were publicly executed for the 'crime' of sodomy. James Pratt had a wife and children and although a number of witnesses came forward to testify to his good character, the Judge did not exercise his power to commute the sentence to imprisonment.

On 5 November 1835, Dickens visited Newgate Prison and wrote a powerful account of this in 'A Visit to Newgate', published in 'Sketches By Boz'. Dickens sympathetically described seeing James Pratt and John Smith in their cell, without mentioning their names or 'crime' in his piece. Dickens tone here is a far cry from the rather distasteful and derogatory thought that Jarvis puts in Dickens' head about Seymour's homosexuality ('Boz thought of Seymour. He knew what Seymour had been - the look of the artist screamed sod(omite)' pg 590).

I cannot begin to consider how awful it must have been for a 'married' homosexual living a double life in Victorian times, with the very real threat of blackmail, arrest, ostracisation, vilification, the pilliory, imprisonment and execution.

I understand that Seymour was a melancholic and sensitive man, prone to depression, mental breakdown and with 3 attempted suicide attempts behind him before he sadly succeeded in 1836. I can well believe that if he was homosexual, the resulting intolerable stress of being so at that time, may well have been one of the central factors in his mental decline. This would make sense of his suicide note refusing to blame anyone; and his families insistence years after the event, that the Pickwick matter had nothing to do with his death. Perhaps Seymour was being threatened or blackmailed? Certainly he was in no financial difficulties, had an abundance of work, and had seemingly good relations with his wife and family. In the final analysis, I don't think we will ever know what actually happened and why. But given Seymour's history, Jarvis' version of events, laying the blame for Seymour's suicide on the Pickwick 'vexation' and at Dickens' hands, is highly unlikely.
Regards, John.

Although I have been advised that an author should not respond to reviews, there are many points in John K’s statement which need a response. Let's take the points in turn.

1) John refers to my mentioning only Geoffrey of Monmouth and not Holinshed. There are very good reasons why I mention Geoffrey – he was the originator of the Bladud legend, which is featured in both Death and Mr Pickwick and The Pickwick Papers, and I wanted little allusions to Bladud to recur in the book. (Bladud was also the father of King Lear, and that is why there are several Lear references.)

2) The “living man” obviously refers to the fact that Seymour WAS alive when Dickens was working with him, and in that scene Forster makes it clear that even if only ten per cent of Pickwick was originated by Seymour, that is the ten per cent that bothers him. However, Seymour’s influence continued after his death, and so the ten per cent is an underestimate.

3) Regarding Dickens imagining Seymour being turned into sausages: the fact is that later in the Pickwick Papers Dickens DOES imagine a man committing suicide, and being turned into sausages, and what’s more there is even a reference to the man’s “temporary insanity”. This is not just an idle phrase – “temporary insanity” was the very judgment which was reached by the inquest into Seymour’s death. I find it difficult to believe that Dickens used that phrase without thinking of Seymour, and therefore it is entirely plausible that Dickens had the disturbing fantasy of Seymour being turned into sausages.

4) I don’t “readily accept” Mrs Seymour’s statement that Dickens and Seymour met more than once. Later in the book I give good reasons for believing that Seymour and Dickens had two meetings. What’s more, the only lie that Mrs Seymour published was in connection with the dying clown – the available evidence vindicates the rest of her statement. And even this lie occurred after Dickens had published lies, so there may be an element of tit-for-tat here.

5) It was absolutely crucial to avoid a felo de se verdict, because otherwise Mrs Seymour and her children would have been reduced to instant destitution, so temporary insanity via overwork was the verdict that HAD to be reached at the inquest. Once that verdict had been obtained, the Seymour family would be likely to stick to the story – to do otherwise would be to imply be that witnesses committed perjury at the inquest, which would be a very serious matter even after the passage of time.

6) Regarding Seymour’s homosexuality: I DO bring in the mental stresses that this would cause, when Seymour thinks about the carnal acts he had committed with men, and I also mention the fact it was a capital offence. At the same time, Seymour's public use of the "Shortshanks" pseudonym, which had homosexual associations, suggests that he took on board the risks associated with gay behaviour, and was even prepared to "advertise" his gayness, and so I don't think one can over-emphasise homosexuality as a cause of mental stress in him. There is no evidence at all that he was being blackmailed or threatened. And yes, I knew about Pratt and Smith, and their mention in one of Dickens’s sketches, and that Dickens takes a fairly sympathetic line to them. Indeed, there seem to be homosexual allusions in Pickwick, not only in the relationship between Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller, but also in the relationship between Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, which suggest that Dickens was rather liberal in his views. But I don’t see this liberal attitude to be at all incompatible with Dickens thinking that something about Seymour “screamed sod." We often use private language which is “naughtier” than the things we say in public.

7) Above all, John K’s statement totally fails to point out that the most extensive academic analysis of Seymour’s suicide, by the suicidologist Fred Cutter, DOES put the blame on the “Pickwick vexation.” Cutter concluded that Seymour had a long-term “willingness to die”, but that this willingness was low-level. Something happened immediately prior to the death to make that willingness soar. (Some of Cutter’s arguments are incorporated in the section of Death and Mr Pickwick which deal with Seymour’s son.) The obvious candidate for this “something” was the second meeting with Dickens. Various things may have contributed to Seymour’s long-term willingness to die, including stresses about homosexuality, but it would be utterly perverse to ignore that meeting with Dickens when analysing the suicide – a meeting from which Seymour returned as an emotional wreck. Furthermore, after that meeting, Seymour burnt his papers and correspondence dealing with Pickwick. Note that – his papers and correspondence concerning PICKWICK – not his papers overall. Something happened at that meeting to convert a pet idea - a thing that had deep personal significance to Seymour - into something that disgusted him.

8) Let me that stress that I am not saying that Seymour came up with everything connected with Pickwick – that would be absurd. The point is that Dickens, Forster and Chapman lied through their teeth about Seymour, and that Seymour did much more than Dickens claimed.

I am happy to discuss any aspect of Death and Mr Pickwick with anyone, including with Gina, so if you have any questions or points you wish to make, do get in touch with me.

Best wishes

Stephen Jarvis

I am grateful to Stephen Jarvis for taking the time to respond to my thoughts. I have further comments as follows:

1. I note Jarvis's explanation about why he mentioned Geoffrey of Monmouth instead of Holinshed, but he completely misses my point, which is that Jarvis goes to great lengths to intricately set out Dickens' supposed 'plagiarism', but he excuses Shakespeare's stealing both plot and actual text from Holinshed in one short sentence. This stark difference in treatment reflects the anti-Dickens bias that runs through his book.

2. Dickens may have had the disturbing fantasy of Seymour being turned into sausages that Jarvis describes, I don't know, but my point was that he places that thought in Dickens' head at the moment where Dickens finds out about Seymour's suicide. There is no room in Jarvis's World for Dickens to feel any sorrow, anxiety or compassion upon hearing of Seymour's death, which is why I still believe Jarvis dehumanises him.

3. Mrs Seymour did in fact say quite a few lies about Dickens, for example, that he was hired out of pity, and she even made the bizarre accusation that someone else was responsible for his works - 'a Mr Morris'. Jane R Cohen, in her book 'Dickens and his original illustrators' (which Jarvis considers 'an extremely important work of scholarship') states that Mrs Seymour's statement was on the whole a 'gross distortion of fact'.

4. I find it really sad that Jarvis admits that he is aware that Dickens took a 'fairly sympathetic line' to Pratt and Smith when he saw them in Newgate, but instead of reflecting that seeming compassion and understanding about homosexuality, he chooses instead to invent Dickens' horribly derogatory thought about Seymour's homosexuality ('Boz knew what Seymour had been - the look of the artist screamed sod').

5. As I am about to comment on Fred Cutter's analysis of Seymour's suicide, I ought to provide a brief personal note. One of the primary disciplines involved with Suicidology is Sociology. My background is in Sociology, and my degree dissertation was about Durkheim's concept of 'anomie' in his famous study of suicide. Among other relevant posts I have had since leaving university (decades ago), I worked for five years on Medical Appeal Tribunals, where the tribunal regularly had to sift through conflicting medical evidence to determine the causes of mental and physical debility and the degree of disablement. This was a complex process, even with the appellant before us, and two medical experts (Consultants) questioning and examining the appellant.

6. I am familiar with Fred Cutter's academic analysis of Seymour's suicide. I don't believe his conclusions are anywhere near as simplistic as Jarvis states. I note Cutter wrote his paper in 1971 - some 135 years after Seymour's suicide. Thinking of my own experience in considering mental health cases, I cannot begin to think how difficult it would be to determine cause and effect in someone long dead, with all interested parties also dead, and no objective medical evidence whatsoever to consider. The restrictions seem almost insurmountable.

7. Cutter admits he is impeded by the fact that 'psychological autopsies' are usually conducted with survivors whereas he had to rely on what he calls the 'biased' statements by Dickens, Mrs Seymour, Buss and A Beckett to reach his conclusions. Furthermore, Cutter accepts that the background biographical information on Seymour is 'meagre'. In the absence of details, there are many 'inferences' in the paper. Seymour's supposed homosexuality is not mentioned at all. There is scant information about the severity of Seymour's mental health, or how serious his 3 attempted suicides were (we do not even know exactly when the attempts were made, although inferences are made).

8. I cannot see anywhere in Cutter's paper that Seymour's "willingness to die" was "low level" prior to Dickens involvement with him, as Jarvis claims. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to describe someone who had attempted suicide three times in such a way. There isn't anywhere near enough information about Seymour's mental health history for anyone to make informed conclusions about that issue one way or another.

9.Jarvis is right that Cutter's summary does say that Dickens was the 'final' precipitant of Seymour's self-injuries, but critically, Cutter also says in his summary, for example, that 'suicide is not caused by any one person', and that Mrs Seymour contributed to Seymour's 'self-injuries'.

10. My over-riding view of Cutter's paper is that it is an opinion based on Cutter's expertise, and also on the extremely limited information available to him. Cutter himself says at the outset of the paper that the questions around Seymour's suicide 'are not easily answered', and, in his summary at the end, that his review 'approximates' an answer to the questions Seymour's suicide raises. Jarvis on the other hand regards Cutter's paper and his summary - so far as Dickens is concerned at the least - as irrefutable fact.

11. I expect I will be criticised for having the gall to provide a view of an academic paper. I am not on facebook but I did glance at Jarvis's facebook page which has alot of Dickens Fellowship bashing on it, including of me, with Jarvis, without knowing anything about me, infering my understanding is 'superficial' and that I haven't heard of Cutter's paper (wrong); and another post accusing me and all Fellowship members of being 'pseudo-religious' nutcases where Dickens is concerned. I don't think such attacks are in any way helpful. They are in fact disrespectful, and they certainly won't encourage people to step forward to discuss the issues as Jarvis claims he wants them to. Also, I have to point out (again) that I have never been to a Fellowship meeting, never met any of my fellow Dickensians, and do not in any way speak on behalf of the Fellowship. I doubt the Fellowship would want to be associated with my ramblings anyway. I hope that's clear to anyone who wants to bash my thoughts.

Regards
John K

First of all, let me thank John heartily for his reply. I truly appreciate that at last someone is prepared to spend time looking into the Seymour affair. Indeed, I think his post could even be considered groundbreaking. Having said that, let me respond to the points he makes.

Regarding Holinshed – the point is that I have never, ever accused Dickens of plagiarism in the sense that Shakespeare plagiarised Holinshed. The essence of my claim – as I clearly state at the end of my previous contribution – is that Dickens lied about Seymour’s contribution, and that Seymour did far more than Dickens claimed. It is in that sense that Dickens is passing off Seymour’s ideas as his own. There is no anti-Dickens bias here. However, there is a history to this part of Death and Mr Pickwick which is perhaps worth mentioning – it arose from a conversation with the late Dr David Parker, who was then embarking on the detailed line-by-line analysis of Pickwick, and he had himself discovered a number of lies by Dickens in Pickwick’s prefaces.

It is not true that I place that thought in Dickens’s head at the moment that he hears about Seymour’s death, it is part of a sequence. But that is a minor point. The main point is that it is not dehumanising at all to suggest that Dickens’s mind may have gone in unusual directions. And the cannibalistic tendencies of the conversion-to-sausages idea are obviously related to a crucial part of Dickens’s past: the gruesome stories which his nurse Mary Weller told him, which included people being turned into food.

Yes, I do consider Jane Cohen’s book an extremely important work of scholarship, and it remains so, for getting to grips with all the illustrators who worked with Dickens. But I have also come to realise that Cohen was wrong on Seymour. You can see all the things she missed: the contradictions in Dickens’s account, the John Foster fraud and so on. But regarding Mrs Seymour in particular: I make it perfectly clear in Death and Mr Pickwick that she was prone to exaggeration. This could take various forms, including passing on hearsay about “Mr Morris”, or distorting the circumstances under which Dickens was employed. But there is nothing comparable to the whopping lies that Dickens, Forster and Chapman concocted about the origins of Pickwick. And even the exaggerations of Mrs Seymour are not so bad when you consider the circumstances of what she knew. It was the case that Dickens was paid nothing for his early stories, and so one can understand how Mrs Seymour could believe he was taken on as a matter of pity, or that his early works were unsaleable. You can understand too that she could believe that people flocked to Pickwick because of her husband, because Dickens himself had tried to “talk up” the early success of Pickwick in one of the inserted notices in the early issues. And her lie about the dying clown does not materially affect the dispute over the origin of Pickwick, because she admits that this tale was imposed by Dickens. What IS interesting, however, is a supplementary piece of information which the Seymour family gave about the dying clown: that there was an earlier version of The Stroller’s Tale, in which the main character was a writer, not a clown. That DOES materially affect the origin of The Pickwick Papers. And one can indeed find in Seymour’s works things which make this entirely plausible, as I show in Death and Mr Pickwick.

Regarding Smith and Pratt. You may find it “sad” that I chose to have Dickens use the language about the “sod”, but the point is I am writing a novel, not a political tract. Characters portrayed as saints rarely work in novels, and as I said in my previous reply, people frequently use “naughty” language in private. At one point I did indeed consider having Smith and Pratt as characters in the novel: the novel is very long as it is, but it could have been much longer, and I cut out many things in the final manuscript.
Regarding Cutter: I am not being “simplistic” –
however I am not going to give the whole of his argument on a blog. (I couldn’t, even if I wanted to - I don’t have a copy of the paper to hand, and it’s a long time since I read it.) But there is a general principle here, which affects all historical research, not just research into historical suicides: you never get the evidence you want, but the evidence that history leaves behind, and evidence that reflects individual biases and prejudices. This doesn’t mean that you throw up your hands and say that a problem is “insurmountable”. Equally, I do not for one moment believe that Cutter’s paper is “irrefutable fact”. But clearly Cutter is working out his willingness to die calculations on the basis of the limited information that was available, and that is not a disreputable thing. As I recall, Cutter takes the Seymour picture “Better luck next time”, which shows a failed suicide by hanging, and using a “projective hypothesis” that this is indicative of Seymour’s state of mind, shows that this has a low willingness to die – the willingness to die is there, but it is not high. By contrast, the willingness to die calculation for Seymour’s actual suicide is much higher. Something caused that difference between the two values. And, as I said in my previous reply, it would be perverse not to look at the meeting with Dickens as a candidate for the cause, when there is no evidence at all of anything else being a proximate cause – no evidence of blackmail, or threats, for instance. Incidentally, Cutter doesn’t mention homosexuality, because in Death and Mr Pickwick that assertion about Seymour is made for the first time. As I have said before, there are indications that Seymour was gay – but it is unlikely that there will be proof, because Seymour was not going to confess to something which was a capital offence.

I TOTALLY agree that suicide is not caused by one person. It is obviously the result of many factors, and you can see very clearly in Death and Mr Pickwick that I set out these factors over several hundred pages, including some which Cutter had no knowledge of – for instance, the suicide of Edward Dayes, which as far as I am aware nobody has ever mentioned before in the context of Seymour’s life. But the proximate cause of Seymour’s suicide – the thing which would make a willingness to die function jump – has only one obvious candidate unless further evidence turns up: the meeting with Dickens. And until someone writes another paper about Seymour’s suicide in a peer-reviewed journal the fact remains that Cutter’s analysis is the most extensive analysis there is. Hardly any Dickensians even know about the paper’s existence, and that is appalling. And regarding your own knowledge of Cutter’s paper – I did not say that you did not know of Cutter’s paper, but I did say that you totally failed to point it out. But I am very glad to hear that you do know of the paper, and applaud you for it.

And it is not Dickens Fellowship “bashing” to point out the sad truth that very few Dickensians have even heard of Cutter. Furthermore, I don’t believe it is fair at all to say that there is a “lot” of Fellowship “bashing” on the facebook page – but I will certainly criticise Fellowship members like JWT Ley of the 1920s, and with good reason. Incidentally, I used to be a member of the Fellowship, a very active one, but resigned under circumstances which I shall not mention here, but many people know why I resigned, and my good reasons for leaving.

I would be happy to continue this conversation with you, if you want to do so, but as I have said on two previous occasions on this thread I am very aware that I have been advised that an author should not respond to reviews, so I would prefer to talk about this outside the blog. I would be happy to exchange emails with you or anyone else on any aspect of Death and Mr Pickwick.

Best wishes

Stephen Jarvis

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

WELCOME

  • A blog for all things Dickens -- quotes, reflections, adaptations, references and tributes from other authors, and more.

Happy 200th, Mr. Dickens!

Blog powered by Typepad