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Dickens
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Life & Career
Introduction Writings Serial Publication Social Critic American Journeys

President John Tyler
Received at the White House by President Tyler, Dickens described him thusly, "He looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might: being at war with everybody."

Anton Lesser as Charles Dickens at Niagara Falls
From AMERICAN NOTES: "Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever."
American Journeys

Dickens in America
by Joel J. Brattin

Charles Dickens traveled to America twice, recording his strong but finally mixed impressions in his letters, his travel book AMERICAN NOTES FOR GENERAL CIRCULATION (1842), and his fiction, especially MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT (1843-44).

At the time of his first visit in 1842, Dickens had finished his fifth novel, BARNABY RUDGE, and was a spectacularly famous novelist. He had heard and read extraordinary things about the United States of America, and wanted to see it and form his own judgments. He traveled by steamship with his wife Catherine, leaving their four children behind in England.

He found much of America charming and appealing, especially in his first weeks.

Video clip
Anton Lesser as Dickens
Dickens describes the welcome he received from Americans during his visit.

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The Atlantic crossing was extremely uncomfortable; Dickens found his stateroom small and cramped, and, like most of the passengers, he suffered from seasickness. Arriving in Boston on January 22, 1842, he spent most of the next two weeks there, then went on to explore more of New England, visiting Worcester, Hartford, and New Haven. He spent the latter half of February and the first week of March in New York City, and then proceeded to Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. In April he visited Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and New York, and in May he toured Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, returning to New York in June and departing for England on June 7, 1842.

While in the United States, Dickens was celebrated and feted, most extravagantly at a lavish ball held in his honor in New York City, attended by thousands. He met with many of the great writers of the day, including Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. He also met the President of the United States, John Tyler (who evidently had little to say).

Dickens was particularly interested in seeing public institutions, such as prisons, madhouses, and institutions for the blind, as well as factories and mills to examine working conditions. He found much of America charming and appealing, especially in his first weeks. But Dickens used the trip as an occasion to speak fervently on behalf of international copyright, since cheap pirated versions of his works were being sold in the United States, and he soon found himself embroiled in controversy when some Americans denounced his attitude as self-interested.

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Photo Credit:
National Archives and Records Administration (top left).
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