The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely related adventures written for serialization in a periodical. The action is given as occurring 1827–28, though critics have noted some seeming anachronisms. For example, Dickens satirized the case of George Norton suing Lord Melbourne in 1836.
The novel's protagonist Samuel Pickwick, Esquire is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. He suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief subject matter of the novel. A romantic misunderstanding with his landlady, the widow Mrs Bardell, results in one of the most famous legal cases in English literature, Bardell v. Pickwick, leading to them both being incarcerated in the Fleet Prison for debt.
Pickwick learns that the only way he can relieve the suffering of Mrs Bardell is by paying her costs in the action against himself, thus at the same time releasing himself from the prison.