A Curate’s Egg

I spent much of the day completing my reading of my Folio Society edition of Charles Dickens’s ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’. Much dogged determination and the illustrations of Charles Keeping were required to see me through it.

Christopher Hibbert’s informative introduction was helpful, and indicated that the author was pleased with his work.

The book was written in Dickens’s usual literary style with customary humour and descriptive powers. Somehow or other it failed to engage me, and the first section of almost two hundred pages was frankly boring. Perhaps it was that the characters introduced during this period were unlikeable, even though they were well delineated. Maybe it was the focus on scams and deception at home and abroad that was not to my liking. Although the trip to America and the unwholesome descriptions of the land and its representatives was more engaging, they were not at all flattering. Indeed they must have prompted Dickens, some quarter of a century later, to write a postscript which he insisted should be included with any future publication, as adhered to by The Folio Society, which can only be regarded as an apology, or at least a declaration of a change of heart. It seemed to me that, despite the lively narrative that interval added nothing to the story.

The creation of Mrs Gamp is comic genius, and the schemingly, smarmy, dishonest Mr Pecksniff is memorable, but it was difficult for me to raise much interest in the large number of others who were nevertheless tidily wrapped up in the final few chapters.

‘He sat quite still and silent’

‘Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation’

‘A figure came upon the landing, and stopped and gazed at him’ shows Keeping’s mastery of perspective.

‘He sank down in a heap against the wall, and never hoped again from that moment’

‘Mr Tapley stuck him up on the floor, with his back against the opposite wall’

‘ ‘Dear Ruth! Sweet Ruth!’ ‘ – now it can be acknowledged.

‘Miss Pecksniff dashed in so suddenly, that she was placed in an embarrassing position’ displays the artist’s idea of the lady’s mortification. Dickens was not so graphic.

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!” “True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895. A “curate’s egg” describes something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good. (From Wikipedia).

This evening we dined on more of Jackie’s sausages and mushrooms casserole ; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Malbec.


  1. I like Dicken’s but I’ve not yet read Martin Chuzzlewit, but hopefully I’ll manage it this year. I’ve heard a lot of opinions about it ranging from very good to very bad! I’d like to read it so I can form my own opinion, and really enjoyed this post. It was very much whetted my appetite 🙂

  2. “Martin Chuzzlewit” is not a favourite of mine. I read it during a three-day train trip between ‘varsity in the now KwaZulu-Natal and Nelspruit in the now Mpumalanga, ticked it off and have never returned to it. Mind you, my copy of the novel was not illustrated.

  3. Dickens had a way of making people of his time in fictional stories fit into personalities we see today. Great writing style.

  4. Thanks for sharing with us, Derrick. The illustrations are always a pleasure to see. No Chinese takeaway tonight? For some reason, I thought maybe that would be your meal. 🙂

  5. Derrick, loved your critique even though I know nothing of the story. Nevertheless , this line struck me because there are days when I feel this way:

    ‘He sank down in a heap against the wall, and never hoped again from that moment

    But, mostly, I loved your dinner menu. I turned 75 yesterday and a tradition we started us to give the birthday person the restaurant of choice, within reason, of course. For the second consecutive year I chose a restaurant for its delicious blueberry pancakes. We did ‘take out’ and I ordered a large stack, 3 big pancakes with warm maple syrup. No, no, no accolades required for my bday or the pancakes. The occasion and savory flavors are enough. ?

  6. Charles Keeping has certainly managed to keep you from abandoning that book, whose illustrations have been richly presented to us by you. I doubt if I will ever bring myself around to engage with Martin Chuzzlewit. That clip about the egg is a gem.

  7. Jackie’s menu for last night sounds like the classic warming choice: perfectly matched for such an unseasonably chilly, wet day. Let’s hope today will ring a firm change in the Great British Weather!!

  8. Of course you know I love Mr. Keeping’s illustrations! The details he gives really tells the story! 🙂 Mrs. Gamp’s expression made me giggle! 😀
    The explanation of the curate’s egg is great! 🙂
    The name du Maurier is familiar to me.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  9. I’m quite taken with the expression “curate’s egg.” I hadn’t heard it before. I’ll have to find a way to work it into conversation.

  10. I have enjoyed this set of Keeping superb illustrations, and I am sorry to hear that this is the last one. Du Maurier’s excellent illustration demonstrates a marked style difference.

  11. Keeping’s illustrations are superb! I know I have read Martin Chuzzlewit but can’t remember what I thought of it at the time (which was a long time ago); perhaps I ought to read it again. I have seen and enjoyed the BBC production from 1994 with Tom Wilkinson as a suitably slimy Mr Pecksniff. I know how much Dickens disliked his first tour of the States – it started well but he soon became tired of people following him about wherever he went and then trying to make money out of him. Once an installment of the book was published in a magazine there was no going back on what he wrote – no chance for a re-edit. But I’m sure you know all this!

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