Reading: Virtual Walks through the Life and Works of Charles Dickens
GUEST POST by Traveler’s Bro
“Those who pace these lanes and squares may yet hear the echoes of their footsteps on the surrounding stone.”
from Barnaby Rudge, in which Dickens describes the spectral generations of robed barristers in Middle Temple Lane
If you can’t go to “Merrie Olde” this year to catch the ghostly footsteps while celebrating the 200th anniversary of the nativity of Charles Dickens, you might want to check out one of the excellent virtual tours available through online sites like Walks of London or the online version of The Guardian . Many of these are also downloadable (with maps) in case you can’t personally join the happy mob of Dickens groupies making the pilgrimage.
The Guardian site’s tour gives in-depth information on the sociological, industrial, and architectural changes occurring before and during Dickens’ time as it leads you through London, offering biographical insights into the author’s reactions to the changes he witnessed.
Walks of London has dozens of “walking” tours you can take in the comfort of your home. These include frequent references to extant and replacements of buildings referenced in Dickens’ work.
Here, paraphrased, is a small sampling from the above site’s “A Journey through Dickens’ London.”
In the Lincoln’s Inn sits Old Hall dating from 1489. Here is where, in Bleak House, the eternal case of Jarndyce v. Jarnrdyce began its rambles through the English legal jungle. “This is the court of Chancery…suffer any wrong that can be done to you, rather than come here!”
- The latter-day Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on Portsmouth St. is cited as, in its original form, the model for the novel of the same title.
- Near this shop is the “George IV,” called the “Magpie and Stump” when visited by Mr. P in the Pickwick Papers.
- St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street with its famous clock dating from 1671 was visited in David Copperfield by David and his Aunt Betsy Trotwood on an excursion to see the giants strike the bells. The latest version of such machinery still operates. You might even be able to hear the bells above the traffic clamor.
- Near Shoe Lane at the Holburn Viaduct once festered Field Lane, Fagin’s lair of villainy in Oliver Twist. Perhaps with a little imagination, you can detect echoes of Fagin’s greedy cackle.
There are dozens more such tours on line and some are almost as rich in detail and variety as a Dickens novel.
In researching these I was reminded of the day twenty-two years ago when I conducted a taped tour for American college students around Chelsea. We stopped at St. Luke’s, site of Dickens’ ill-omened marriage. The taped “guide” noted that a man had been impaled on one of the spires of the church. I have never been able to confirm this claim, but I can recall that it permanently diverted the students from the literary significances of the tour. All they wanted to know from then on was the gruesome details of the supposed skewering. Had I been a better guide I would have made up some tabloid-sensational details, but I was determined to herd them over to appreciate Carlyle’s house. I trust the tours referenced here are better researched.
One source worth mentioning for its eccentric variety is the The Shady Old Lady’s Guide to London site . Besides Dickens-oriented tours, it provides imaginative walks like “Monty Python’s Tour of London,” “The London Rockstar Death Train,” “Pirates and Penthouses at the Old London Docks,” and the “Kate and William Wedding Tour.”
The quality and depth of these tours can vary greatly, but sampling several virtual tours like these provides a lot of information and entertainment while helping prepare us for a more meaningful experience when we finally getting around to hopping across the old “Herring Pond” to wander in person the fabled lanes and alleys of Dickens’ wonderful world.
Thanks so much for the literary tourism –to Traveler’s Bro, who insists on remaining anonymous, whether out of shame at being related to me, embarrassment at lowering himself to writing on a blog, or an attempt to maintain his mien as a master of letters is unknown. But perhaps some day we can prevail upon him to lift the curtain he has drawn over his identity.
As you can see, I have come under the influence of Dickens’ style–no wonder, having read and reported to you on his American Notes, and two days from now you will see a report at A Traveler’s Library on his travels in Italy. At that time, I’ll have some other reading material and movies to recommend to those of you who have not yet met the charming Mr. D.
Just as I was delving into Dickens, I received this information on upscale apartments for short rentals in London. I asked if One Fine Stay has some digs specifically located to please the Dickens tourist. They suggested several. No fusty Victorian parlours here. Check out Naoroji Street, with panoramic views and a private entrance, or Gloucester Crescent with a fireplace, a romantic garden and even a music room. There’s more, but I’ll let you explore. Although I like their offerings, I have not used One Fine Stay, but am a big fan of apartment rentals for vacation and have used VRBO and HomeAway with great success. They’re not paying me for this mention.
Disclaimers: The photos above come from Flickr and are used under a Creative Commons License. You can learn more about the photographer by clicking on the picture. No homeless orphans were harmed in the making of this post.