Published as a book in 1844 (prior to this, the story was serialized), Martin Chuzzlewit
is a classic fiction novel by Charles Dickens. Dickens' sixth novel and the last of his picaresque works, the story follows the greedy members of the Chuzzlewit family as they pursue wealth and status; it is a comedic satire of 19th century American culture. Although the novel was one of Dickens' least popular titles, he considered it to be "immeasurably the best of my stories." It was adapted into a silent film in 1912 and a television miniseries in 1994.
Martin Chuzzlewit was raised by his grandfather, whom he is named after. Old Martin is distrustful of the world and always suspects that someone is scheming to take his fortune. Unwittingly he has passed on this same sense of selfishness to his grandson. Old Martin's brother Anthony has not done much better in the parenting department. He has raised his son Jonas to believe money is the most important thing in life, and as a result, Jonas grows impatient for his father to die so he can gain his inheritance.
The one kind thing Old Martin has ever done is to adopt an orphan girl named Mary Graham. The girl works as the old man's nursemaid, and he has impressed upon her the warning that she will be provided for only as long as he lives. By doing this, he hopes that she will prioritize his well-being above all else. However, when young Martin and Mary fall in love, the old man believes they are conspiring against him. He disowns his grandson and kicks him out of the house.
Now on his own, young Martin travels to a Wiltshire village to visit an architect by the name of Mr. Pecksniff, who is old Martin's cousin. Mr. Pecksniff loves to quote maxims and think of himself as a just man, yet he spends his students' tuition money on himself while working them to the bone and passing their work off as his own. Mr. Pecksniff has two spoiled daughters, Cherry and Merry, and he accepts young Martin as a pro-bono student in the hopes that he will marry one of them.
In the Pecksniff household, young Martin is his usual condescending self. He mocks Mr. Pecksniff's former pupil, the draftsman Tom Pinch, but the simple man is too good-hearted to retaliate, and soon Martin and Tom become friends. Before long, however, Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters go to London, having been summoned by Old Martin. The old man speaks ill of his grandson and accuses him of deceiving Mr. Pecksniff. He convinces his cousin to turn young Martin out onto the street.
Homeless yet again, young Martin decides to try his luck in America. He visits Mary Graham one last time and promises to send her letters in the care of Tom Pinch. The journey is arduous, made all the worse by the crude, tobacco-chewing Americans onboard. However, he does meet a group of landowners with stories of hope and fortune to be made out West.
Meanwhile, Anthony Chuzzlewit suspiciously dies, leaving his fortune to Jonas. Upon hearing that Mr. Pecksniff is offering a dowry of 4,000 pounds for his daughters, Jonas decides to court one of them. Initially he pursues Cherry, but abruptly changes his mind, and after demanding an additional 1,000 pounds dowry, he marries Merry. The couple return to Jonas' home in London, and before long, are abusing each other.
Jonas decides to invest in a life insurance company that scams its customers. However, he learns that the company's president, Montague Tigg, is a common thief he has known in the past. Jonas and Tigg are immediately distrustful of each other. Tigg hires an investigator named Nadgett to learn more about Jonas, and he discovers that before Anthony's death, Jonas secretly purchased poison to mix in his father's medicine. Although the old man didn't actually drink it, the evidence is still incriminating.
Old Martin and Mary Graham arrive at Wiltshire. Old Martin's health is poor, and he is seeking some country air. Tom Pinch meets Mary and falls in love with her, but out of respect for young Martin, he keeps it to himself. Mr. Pecksniff sees Mary as an opportunity, however. He thinks that if he marries her, he will be able to secure Old Martin's fortune. Mary refuses and tells Tom about the plan. Finally Tom realizes the true character of Mr. Pecksniff and leaves his employ. He goes to London to look for work and is offered a job cataloging a library by a mysterious Mr. Fips.
Meanwhile in America, young Martin does not find a promised land of opportunity, but rather a primitive existence in a swampy hovel. He soon comes down with a fever and spends this time in self-reflection, resolving to mend his character flaws. After a year, he is well enough to return to London.
Using the poison as evidence, Tigg blackmails Jonas into joining him in a scheme against Mr. Pecksniff, but later, Jonas disguises himself as a workman and murders Tigg. However, Nadgett sees Jonas disposing of the body.
Old Martin makes a remarkable recovery, and he and Mary return to London where the old man reconciles with his grandson. It is revealed that he is the mysterious Mr. Fips that hired Tom. He admits that he was testing young Martin and Mary, and now he knows them to be worthy. They hear the accusations against Jonas and go to confront him together, but as they arrive, they see Nadgett coming with the police. Realizing there is no escape, Jonas drinks the poison that was originally meant for his father.
Old Martin rejoices in seeing his family and friends living happily ever after. Mr. Pecksniff has been rewarded for his hypocrisy with financial ruin and lives out his remaining days as a drunk.