Well, this has to be one of my all-time favourite “Pickwick Papers” and Patrick Malahide scenes. After nine episodes of somewhat dogged pursuit, Mr. Pickwick finally meets up with Alfred Jingle again, in what some might describe as either the likeliest or unlikeliest of places (depending on how they feel about Jingle), Fleet Prison. How Pickwick ends up there is described in the recap for episodes 8, 9, and 10 of “The Pickwick Papers“.
Fleet Prison: Not a Nice Place to Visit
RF: The action begins with Mr. Pickwick going into “the poor side” of the Fleet to find a certain “poor devil” (a free man living there voluntarily with an incarcerated friend) to act as an errand runner. The “poor devil” turns out to be Job Trotter, manservant to Pickwick’s nemesis, Alfred Jingle. Jingle’s there, too, but so greatly changed that Pickwick doesn’t even recognize him at first. However, it’s not exactly a joyous reunion. The atmosphere is bleak and disturbing: there’s a weird undercurrent of whispering from other inmates, intermittent water dripping sounds, and a rather obviously unhinged man shouting “Hip, hip, hip!” at intervals. The detail is pretty incredible, though; the opening tableau is a near-exact duplicate of the original “Phiz” illustration for this scene as it appeared in the novel.
Admin: The “Hip, hip, hip!” man is very stressful character, yet everyone ignores him. It is very impressive how neatly the set matches the Phiz illustration. (Note: The Victorian Web article linked above is a very good read.)
A Greatly Changed Jingle
Job [surprised]: Mr. Pickwick. [to filthy, tattered-looking Jingle] Sir, sir, it’s Mr. Pickwick. It’s Mr. Pickwick.
RF: There are already a number of really interesting things going on. Firstly, Jingle looks far different than he did the last time we saw him. He’s scruffy, dirty, and wearing rags; I seriously didn’t recognize him the first time I saw this scene. Secondly, he’s so unaware (very unlike his usual alert, con man self) that he doesn’t even notice when Pickwick comes in. His body language suggests he’s completely subdued and withdrawn. In fact, he’s so totally sunk into his own world that Job has to rouse him to what’s going on.
Admin: Yes, that’s right, totally sunk into his own world. It is interesting how Jingle is separate from everyone in the scene by secluding himself in his thoughts. All the others seem engaged in sort of (possibly futile) activity, but not poor Jingle.
And what a far cry he is from the man who was able to divine the personalities of the Pickwickians within moments of meeting them.
Jingle [belatedly noticing Pickwick]: So it is. Queer place, strange thing. Serves me right, very.
RF: Jingle actually brightens a bit at the sight of Pickwick. Even though he says their meeting is a “strange thing”, he doesn’t seem all that surprised, rather more cynically amused that the universe has chosen to have this happen to him. I think it’s also significant that among his first words to Pickwick (after some truly masterful pranking that he wasn’t at all sorry about previously) are an instant acceptance of blame. Clearly he’s had some time to ponder on this – a lot of time.
Admin: The prankster is now being pranked. You’re right, he does seem cynically amused. Of course, one thing about Jingle is that he always seemed to handle meeting Pickwick rather well. In the past, though, his usual tactic was to just smile and leave, sometimes with a sassy comment or two. No sassy comments now.
RF: Although I’ve just gotta say at this point… I’d dearly love to know how Jingle got caught. Let’s face it, under most normal circumstances there’s no way anyone would catch him. He always has a plan and is at least a couple of steps ahead, even if he has to depart in a hurry, so something truly extraordinary must have happened to nab him. Dickens doesn’t bother to tell us how he got caught, he just has been. Seems just a wee bit too convenient to me.
Admin: Too convenient by far. I say that Dickens created a character far too sly for even him to figure out how he got trapped!
Pickwick [momentarily stunned]: I would like to speak with you in private.
Jingle: Certainly! Can’t step far. No danger of overwalking yourself here. Spike Park! [laughs]
RF: Jingle sounds alllllmost like his old self here (we get that familiar epigrammatic speech style), but he has none of his old energy. He moves slowly and needs Job to help him to his feet – in fact, he extends an arm to be helped up as if it’s something he’s become used to. He’s still making cynical jokes with a sort of graveyard humour. I had to google “Spike Park“; apparently it’s Victorian slang for the grounds of a prison. We also get a better look at just how tattered his clothes are (very).
Jingle: Grounds pretty, but not extensive. Family always in town. Housekeeper desperately careful, very.
RF: Lovely bit of dark humour! Our Jingle’s spirit has not been entirely quashed…
Admin: Perhaps meeting Pickwick again has given Jingle a little bit of a rev up. It is not quite the same thing as seeing an old friend, but I do feel he was always rather fond of that antagonist in gaiters. Actually, I suppose meeting someone as moral and upstanding as Mr. Pickwick might be even better than meeting an old friend. Jingle wouldn’t expect pity from him, but he probably wants a chance to share the feelings of guilt and remorse with someone who would agree that his behavior was very bad. He can’t really do that with his partner in crime Job who is now showing him amazing love by sticking with him to the bitter end. So, Mr. Pickwick makes an excellent confessor.
RF: Good point! This is indeed very like a confessional scene, and Jingle does seem to want to unburden himself to the person he’s most wronged. Interesting that he doesn’t even ask how Pickwick ended up in the Fleet, though.
Admin: There is something about the fact that Jingle doesn’t ask Pickwick how he got there that shows how resigned he is to his fate or his comeuppance. It is kind of like something from a mythological tale where a god or demi-god character just keeps randomly showing up in the hero’s (or anti-hero in Jingle’s case) life. I know it is probably not meant this way at all, but, it gives Pickwick a semi-divine feel when it comes to Jingle and Jingle pretty much accepts it.
Life on “the Poor Side” of the Fleet
Pickwick: You have forgotten your coat.
Jingle: Come, my dear sir. Must eat, you know. Last coat. Can’t help it. Lived on a pair of boots, whole fortnight. Silk umbrella, ivory handle. Week, fact, honour. Ask Job. Knows it.
RF: We get more and more hints that Jingle’s not a well man. He’s painfully slow, unsteady, and swaying a bit on his feet; even walking a short distance is tiring enough for him to have to lean on a door jamb. He’s still joking about his situation, but becoming gradually more and more emotional as he describes having to pawn all of his clothes, and Job pawning his clothes as well just to keep the two of them alive.
Pickwick: You have pawned your wardrobe?
Jingle: Everything. Job’s, too. Never mind. Saves washing. Nothing soon. Lie in bed. Starve, die. Inquest — natural death. Coroner’s order — workhouse funeral. [becoming more emotional] Serve him right. All over. Drop the curtain. [pats Pickwick’s shoulder] Good fellow! Ungrateful dog… Oh, it’s boyish to cry… [sobbing] Can’t help it… Bad fever. Weak, ill, hungry… Deserved it all, but… suffered much. Very.
RF: If possible, Jingle looks even more pale and hollow-eyed here than he did before. He starts off almost matter-of-fact about his likely fate, but begins to become more emotional (there’s a heartwrenching tremor in his voice) as he describes the details of his death and funeral. He even makes an offhanded reference to his previous acting occupation (“Drop the curtain.”) with a definite sense of finality. Since Dickens wants to emphasize his suffering and remorse in this scene, he castigates himself some more for his current situation. He’s accepting his guilt and having his comeuppance, after all, and Mr. Pickwick is finally getting his revenge – or is he?? 😉 He actually seems more concerned than anything else. Jingle’s genuinely friendly pat on the shoulder also lets Pickwick know that he doesn’t blame him in any way; I think he’s acknowledging that Pickwick might be one of the last (relatively) friendly faces he ever sees.
RF: Then Mr. Malahide truly tears our hearts out when Jingle describes how much he’s suffering (and still is), and how dire his situation really is, all in very simple terms. Jingle is so weak and vulnerable that he’s completely stripped of artifice and even breaks down in tears (it’s kind of interesting and touching that he describes it as “boyish to cry”) in front of Pickwick, gradually becoming more overwrought. I felt so incredibly sorry for him that I wanted to whisk him out of the Fleet right away and give him a hot bath (sorry, but the hot bath would definitely be a priority item) and a hot dinner.
Admin: He seems genuinely ashamed when he says Job’s wardrobe, presumably his mulberry livery, was pawned. I agree the “boyish to cry” line is striking, and it lets us know that Jingle has been living by his wits for a very long time, and now he believes it is all over.
RF: It’s an amazing line. It also makes me wonder what sort of childhood Jingle might have had. You’re right that he’s been living by his wits – okay, this is a bit off-topic, but just think… he must have been sort of Artful Dodger-ish as a boy. How else would he have ended up an itinerant actor and con man?
Admin: And about that shoulder pat, he follows it up by referring to himself as an “ungrateful dog.” I suppose that means he knows very well that if he had been good to the Pickwickians, using his streetwise nature to protect them rather than betray them, that Mr. Pickwick would have been a very good friend and mentor to him. He knows he threw away a good thing when betrayed Mr. Pickwick, but there isn’t an ounce of resentment in him.
RF: Very true, and we get a repetition of the “serve[s] him right” idea. He realizes that the Pickwickians showed him nothing but kindness up until the whole Miss Rachel debacle, but he isn’t railing against his karmic retribution.
A Helping Hand from an Unlikely Source
Pickwick: Come, come. We’ll see what can be done, when I know all about the matter. [goes to find Job]
Pickwick: Here, Job. Where is that fellow?
Job: Here, sir.
Pickwick: Come here. [Job hesitates] Come here. Take that, sir. [puts coin into Job’s hand]
RF: Pickwick is one of Dickens’ virtuous characters, so rather than gloating over Jingle’s situation – which he very well might have done, only a short time ago – he shows compassion for his former enemy. He’s soft-spoken and gentle in reassuring Jingle that he’ll “see what can be done” and offers immediate help. Job’s initial suspicious reaction is rather delightful; obviously he well remembers what happened the last couple of times and is still very protective of his master, but Pickwick’s gentleness seems to convince him. He appears wordlessly stunned (granted, it’s a lot like his usual expression so it’s hard to tell) over the coin Pickwick gives him.
Admin: Have to smile about that being Job’s usual expression 🙂 I do like the way Pickwick notices how fearful Job is. You’re right, he is very gentle and soft spoken, but he doesn’t patronize at any point either. He wants them to keep as much dignity as possible, even though their very survival is now dependent on his charity.
Job: [shows Jingle the coin, and Jingle starts sobbing afresh, turning his face to the wall.]
RF: Jingle’s too worn out to react much as Pickwick leaves; he’s at his lowest ebb, so tired and ill that he’s sitting on a top step and leaning against a wall. However, when Job shows him the coin – all without saying a word – he’s overcome with emotion again, though he tries to preserve some last shreds of dignity by turning his face to the wall. We get a lot of things in this scene: we see Jingle realize that not only is his former enemy not gloating over his advantages, he’s taking pity on a man who’s accepted full blame for everything he’s done and its results. It’s a marvelous bit of absolutely heart-tearing acting by Mr. Malahide. Okay, I went a bit against the grain by sympathizing with Jingle all through this series (and the book) when perhaps I wasn’t meant to (I don’t think Dickens intended us to find his nominal villain quite so appealing), but if it was possible, I sympathized with him even more.
Harsh Punishment and… a Little Bit of Hope
RF: Personally, I thought it was rather harsh of Dickens to chuck Jingle into the Fleet to atone for some relatively innocuous pranking; really, the worst we ever saw Jingle do was extort £120 out of Mr. Wardle and break Miss Rachel’s heart for it. He never had time to get any other schemes off the ground! And speaking of harsh punishments, I think it’s also worth noting that the incredibly scruffy-looking Job (who was scruffy-looking long before they got to the Fleet) is actually there voluntarily. He’s living in one of the worst debtors’ prisons in London by choice. It’s a level of devotion that we’ll only see in one other person: Mr. Pickwick’s manservant, Sam Weller. So, now that our villain has suffered, expressed remorse, and atoned… the next step will be his redemption. Or will it?? 😉
Admin: The parallel of Pickwick/Sam and Jingle/Job is one of my favorite elements of The Pickwick Papers. Oh, the way Jingle cries when he sees that coin is absolutely heartbreaking. All that built up guilt and remorse are let out from that one act of kindness.
Admin: You’re right about Jingle not really being such a terrible villain. He would play his cons and would then leave. Obviously Miss Rachel and Mr. Tupman would consider him to be quite the bad guy, but they do have their own little share in the blame. Actually, when you think about it, everything can be pinned on that fat kid who ratted them out to old Mrs. Wardle while Jingle was secretly enjoying a cigar 😉
RF: It’s all Joe the Houesboy’s fault! If only he’d kept his mouth shut none of this would’ve happened! 😀
Admin: Levity aside, the Fleet Prison scene is superb. We really get to appreciate the Jingle/Job relationship and fully understand the depths of Pickwick’s compassion and Jingle’s atonement. And, of course, we get to see the true horrors of debtors prison through Dickens’ writing. It isn’t just an important scene in a story; it is also an element of how Dickens was a force of social change for the Victorians.
RF: That’s an excellent point about Dickens acting as a force for social change. It really is an amazing scene. Nigel Stock and Pip Donaghy are wonderful, and we get to see Mr. Malahide’s masterful portrayal of a changed Jingle, expressing everything from darkly amused cynicism, to resignation, emotional regret, and desperation in his very last extremity, wringing our hearts as he does so.