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

American Journeys

Upon his return to England, he produced his first travel book, AMERICAN NOTES. In it, he criticizes America and Americans strongly. Some of his criticisms, concerning poor table manners, overheated interiors, and the ubiquitous use of chewing tobacco (with its concomitant spitting), are relatively insubstantial. But others are more significant: he devotes a great deal of energy and attention to slavery, and carefully considers the matters of greed and sharp business practice.

Two and a half years before his death, he gave a series of farewell readings that took him back to America.

Frontispiece from AMERICAN NOTES
Catherine and Charles Dickens crossed the Atlantic on the steamship Britannia in January 1842.
All these themes return in his next novel, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT (1843-44). Though it takes place primarily in England, several key scenes are set in America, and young Martin feels much the same distaste and disillusionment as Dickens did when confronted with American selfishness, insensitivity, and greed. A turning point in young Chuzzlewit's life takes place in Eden, an American property in which Martin invests his savings; when he arrives at the site, he finds he has been deceived by a sharp businessman. Eden proves to be no more than a pestilential swamp, and Martin nearly dies of fever.

Dickens did not return to America until late in his life. In 1858, he began his second career reading his works (that is, performing them) for paying audiences. Two and a half years before his death, he gave a series of farewell readings that took him back to America.

Arriving in Boston in mid-November 1867, Dickens toured the major eastern cities, giving performances adapted from A CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE PICKWICK PAPERS in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Hartford, Providence, New Haven, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Utica, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, and New Bedford. The readings drew enormous publicity and crowds, and proved immensely profitable for Dickens; he earned 19,000 British pounds.

The readings were physically exhausting, however, and the pace of the work took a heavy toll on Dickens' health and on his spirits. He was no doubt relieved when the tour, which included a return visit to Canada, ended, and he departed for England on April 22, 1868.

In a farewell speech Dickens delivered in New York shortly before he left the country, he claimed to have found "gigantic changes" for the better in America: "changes moral, changes physical, changes in the amount of land subdued and peopled, changes in the rise of vast new cities, changes in the growth of older cities almost out of recognition, changes in the graces and amenities of life, changes in the Press, without whose advancement no advancement can take place anywhere." He directed that this statement be appended "to every copy of those two books [AMERICAN NOTES and MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT] of mine in which I have referred to America."

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Photo Credits:
Library of Congress (left and top right); Robert D. Fellman Collection (middle right), used by permission of George C. Gordon Library, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; National Archives (bottom right).
Dickens' Contemporaries

George Eliot

Pseudonym of author Mary Ann Evans, who wrote ADAM BEDE and THE MILL ON THE FLOSS.
George Eliot
Dickens Biography
Portrait of Charles Dickens
A profile from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD BIOGRAPHY.

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Photograph of Charles Dickens
Famed American photographer Mathew Brady's portrait of Charles Dickens, ca. 1860-1865.
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