Book: Pictures From Italy by Charles Dickens (1846)
Reading Dickens’ descriptions of travel by coach and steamboat should put to a halt any modern grousing about minor inconveniences like Ziploc bags and barefoot security queues. It was such a chore to arrange for the travel of his party of twelve, that he hired a Frenchman as a Courier. This man smooths the way through customs, haggles with the landlords, and makes sure there will be meals to eat and horses to pull the coach.
Even so, in Pictures from Italy, (Free on Kindle) Dickens regales us with the condition of the roads–generally muddy and narrow; the sleeping arrangements–sometimes flea-ridden and generally drafty and the people he meets along the way–characters of a Dickensian quality, every one.
Perhaps it is the timeless rivalry between France and England that influences his carping about France. He dismisses Chalon as too flat. After taking an 8-hour trip by steamboat to Lyons, he describes that city in paragraphs packed with dreary adjectives, dissing even the cathedral, where he finds the stone walls as dirty as the pavement. But he admires Avignon…”The streets old and narrow, but tolerably clean…..quaint and lively.” His mood is unquestionably better because he is traveling in July through summer heat and in Avignon a breeze has come up. Continue reading Dickens in Italy→
When Dickens described the usefulness of a panorama show in London, he could as well have been talking about books:
Some of the best results of actual travel are suggested by such means to those whose lot it is to stay at home. New worlds open out to them, beyond their little worlds, and widen their range of reflection, information, sympathy, and interest. The more man knows of man, the better for the common brotherhood among us all.”
From “Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller” (1850)
Dickens is another of those writers dear to our (travelers who read) hearts because he understood the connection between books and travel. Although he only wrote two books specifically labelled “Travel Books”, his travel experiences enriched his fiction writing. And he, in turn, was inspired by reading about other people’s travels.
“When the wind is blowing and the sleet or rain is driving against the dark window I love to sit by the fire, thinking of what I have read in books of voyage and travel.”
A Dickens quote from the author’s introduction to Charles Dickens on Travel.
A small book, Charles Dickens On Travel, edited by Pete Orford, compiles snippets of Dickens writing that refer to travel, including some of his earliest newspaper writing, the Boz satires.
As we discussed earlier, Dickens traveled to America when he was barely 30. He had already pulled himself out of poverty and traveled as a celebrated writer. By 1842 when he made his first trip to America, he had made enough money to become accustomed to the life of the upper class with servants and a high style of living. His wife and her maid went to America with him. He already had planned his extensive trip to Europe for 1844, and he and his wife studied Italian on their way across the ocean to America. For the trip to Italy, he bought an enormous carriage, hired a French man to take care of all the daily needs of the trip and packed along his wife, five children, sister-in-law, three servants and a nursemaid. They traveled to France and Italy and the following year to Switzerland.
Moving on to general sources about Dickens himself, Rosemary Carstens publishers of the Internet magazine FEAST of Books, suggests Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (2008). Crown Publishers. The novel is based on Dicken’s life and marriage, told from the point of view of his wife.
BBC-TV and PBS Masterpiece Theater will be running a series based on one of Dickens’ best known novels, Great Expectations. The schedule says April 1, 2012. (Note: I was force-fed Great Expectations when I was in high school, and it took me a long time to get back to Dickens and delight in his wit and the detail of his observation of surroundings and characters.)
I have two chances to re-evaluate Great Expectations, because Ralph Fiennes(The English Patient) reportedly has a movie that will be released in the fall of 2012. Fiennes also bought the rights to produce The Invisible Woman, based on a novel about the other woman in Dickens life (after he had ten children with his wife). Fiennes is to play Dickens and the movie is to start filming in April this year. Given the uncertainties of movie production, we can only keep our fingers crossed that one will in fact get made and distributed.
Most of Dickens’ works are now available for free electronically, and you can find numerous websites with information about his life and works. I found some very interesting information (if you want to get beyond the Wikipedia biography) at Victorian Web.
So far to celebrate his bicentenerary we have had a drink with Charles Dickens in Ohio, taken a walk with Dickens in London, and looked for reading material and movies. Read on to see his Pictures from Italy. In this book he does what he does best: paint word pictures of the place he is in–in this case both France and Italy.
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 ofThe 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. Continue reading Walks Through the Life and Works of Dickens in London→