Charles Dickens (1812-70) was a political reporter and journalist whose popularity was established by the phenomenally successful PICKWICK PAPERS (1836-7). His novels captured and held the public imagination over a period of more than thirty years. He is considered one of the greatest novelists in the English language. Patricia Ingham is Fellow of St Anne's College, Reader in English, and The Times Lecturer in English at the University of Oxford.
This new edition of the early Dickens classic (1842) returns to the stores the first of his two long out-of-print travel books, the other being Pictures From Italy (1846). The editorial improvements are not great but do embody Dickens' own revisions (and restore his excisions). Written at 30, between Barnaby Rudge and The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, and based largely on letters home describing his American experiences, American Notes is not the vitriolic work many Americans first thought it was because of Dickens' opposition to slavery, his surprise at our more graceless habits and description of the widespread practice of spitting, of corruption in the House of Representatives, of the torture and agony of prolonged incarceration in Philadelphia's solitary prison and in Manhattan's stygian Tombs prison, and of the large sows and swine population trotting along Broadway and mingling with the best society, on an equal, if not superior footing. . . They are the city scavengers, these pigs. Ugly brutes they are; having. . .scanty, brown backs, like the lids of old horsehair trunks: spotted with unwholesome black blotches. . . They are never attended upon, or fed, or driven, or caught, but are thrown upon their own resources in early life, and become preternaturally knowing in consequence. . . At this hour, just as evening is closing in, you will see them roaming towards bed by scores, eating their way to the last. Dickens was also stony towards the American habit of pirating the works of English authors - he knew American Notes would be pirated massively, and called (quite unpopularly) for international copyright laws. And his comments on slavery, and the horrible advertisements identifying runaway slaves, which he reprints, verge on the gruesome and would madden any pro-slaver. He is more kinky about Boston, Hartford, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, about life on the Prairie, the physical beauties of travel by steamboat, and is stunned and rhapsodical about Niagara Falls. In a postscript added in 1868, after a return trip, he comments that he has been received with unsurpassable politeness, delicacy, sweet temper, hospitality, consideration, and with unsurpassable respect for the privacy daily enforced upon me by the nature of my avocation here, and the state of my health. It was the least we could do for such an invaluable and honest picture of ourselves. (Kirkus Reviews)