Chapter 2

Photograph Photograph Photograph

Thackeray. Three drawings for Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, 1836. MS Eng 1669.

“Mr Pickwick’s lucky escape”: Thackeray’s sketches for Dickens

After the success of his first work, Sketches by Boz, in 1836, Charles Dickens was preparing a new series of stories to appear as monthly serials, featuring a Mr. Pickwick. After two issues had appeared, the illustrator killed himself; Dickens and his publisher were dissatisfied with his replacement, who was promptly fired in June. Among the new potential illustrators interviewed by Dickens was Thackeray. Both he and Dickens were 24 years old, and this was their first meeting. Thackeray prepared three sketches of what presumably would have been an illustrated title page.

Ultimately, Dickens chose Thackeray’s friend Hablot Knight Browne, whose pseudonym “Phiz” would be synonymous with many of Dickens’s future works. Dickens’s rejection of Thackeray’s drawings marked a turning point in Thackeray’s career. He abandoned his artistic aspirations and settled on a literary career. He later referred to the event as “Mr. Pickwick’s lucky escape.”

MS Eng 1669. Purchased with the Louis J. Appell Jr. Fund for British Civilization in HCL and the Class of 1952 Fund, 2008.