The first time I read the Pickwick Papers I was on the cusp of adolescence and loved it.
The second time I read the Pickwick Papers I had the flu and hated it.
The third time...well that's now and ongoing- and I'm loving it again. Pickwick is a 19th century sit-com. It starts off- as sitcoms often do- uncertainly, with an opening chapter that's an exercise in heavy-handed facetiousness that Dickens really should have gone back and rewritten- but once he works out where he's going and who his characters are- he's on a roll. I'm several episodes in and Sam Weller- who is one of the great comic characters of any age or clime- has just been introduced...
The first two times I read the book I was unfamiliar with its landscape- but now I'm living somewhere in the vicinity of the fictitious Dingley Dell, just off one of those narrow country roads down which Mr Pickwick raced in his chaise at an eye-watering fifteen miles an hour, know Rochester well, have had tea in The Leather Bottle at Cobham, walked in Cobham churchyard- where Mr Pickwick took the lovelorn Mr Tupman aside for their serious talk- and if I haven't actually seen the antique stone with the indecipherable text that Mr Pickwick found nearby it's because the great man himself removed it, but I must certainly have walked past the cottage garden in which it originally lay. I wonder, by the way, where that stone is now- and whether any of our antiquarians has ever succeeded in cracking the riddle. In case anyone out there fancies a go, it looks something like this...
Could it contain an clue as the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant? I wonder...