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Dickens went to America in 1842 expecting to find a brave new world whose institutions embodied his own political views. The Americans expected him to extol their new nation. Dickens, however, became deeply disturbed by American culture. American Notes attempts to portray fairly the young Republic's new cities, strange landscapes and bustling people, but is coloured by Dic Dickens went to America in 1842 expecting to find a brave new world whose institutions embodied his own political views. The Americans expected him to extol their new nation. Dickens, however, became deeply disturbed by American culture. American Notes attempts to portray fairly the young Republic's new cities, strange landscapes and bustling people, but is coloured by Dicken's doubts about the failings of democratic politics in an egalitarian society.


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Dickens went to America in 1842 expecting to find a brave new world whose institutions embodied his own political views. The Americans expected him to extol their new nation. Dickens, however, became deeply disturbed by American culture. American Notes attempts to portray fairly the young Republic's new cities, strange landscapes and bustling people, but is coloured by Dic Dickens went to America in 1842 expecting to find a brave new world whose institutions embodied his own political views. The Americans expected him to extol their new nation. Dickens, however, became deeply disturbed by American culture. American Notes attempts to portray fairly the young Republic's new cities, strange landscapes and bustling people, but is coloured by Dicken's doubts about the failings of democratic politics in an egalitarian society.

30 review for American Notes and Pictures from Italy

  1. 5 out of 5

    GoldGato

    Combining the trips Dickens took to Italy in 1844 and to the States/Canada in 1842 and 1868, this book brings a delightful look via the usual Dickens wit at travel in the 19th century. The view of America at that time is still one of innocence, with railways not as mainstream as England and travel still rather arduous via steamboats, barges, and stagecoach. His sojourn to Italy can be both hilarious and morose, as it's obvious he despises the poverty he sees in some towns and the papal obsession Combining the trips Dickens took to Italy in 1844 and to the States/Canada in 1842 and 1868, this book brings a delightful look via the usual Dickens wit at travel in the 19th century. The view of America at that time is still one of innocence, with railways not as mainstream as England and travel still rather arduous via steamboats, barges, and stagecoach. His sojourn to Italy can be both hilarious and morose, as it's obvious he despises the poverty he sees in some towns and the papal obsession of the natives. But he lightens up in the American section, and some of his comments are still dead-on in today's time ("it would be impossible to get on anywhere, in America, without a rocking-chair"). He assigns politics to the animals he sees on the street ("he is in every respect a republican pig...mingling with the best society"), and labels Philadelphia as it truly is ("distractingly regular"). With a sharp eye, he notes the immediate difference between his ancient English and the brash Americans, by noting that when an Englishman cries, "All right", an American will say, "Go ahead". Thus, one saying explains the national character of each land. Of course, the joy of Dickens is his passion for learning more and then translating the mundane into words that never fail to hit their mark (describing a rather tall gentleman as a "lighthouse walking among lamp-posts"). His Canada is still our Canada...steady and "advancing quietly". Love it, love Dickens. I can think of few things better than idling away on an Amtrak ride while reading this book. I even loved Dickens' moniker he assigned to those inquisitive travellers who are always bothering others and forever asking for personal information. "He was an embodied enquiry". Times haven't changed that much after all. Book Season = Year Round

  2. 4 out of 5

    SoulSurvivor

    Many of Dickens' books have stood the test of time and become classics; this one did not, and has not. Many of Dickens' books have stood the test of time and become classics; this one did not, and has not.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Neither of these travelogues are among Dickens' great works, but are worth reading if you like Dickens. American Notes, the longer, has more interest. It includes some funny passages (the scathing depiction of Washington political life, the hogs in New York streets), and shows what now seems a bizarre fascination with visiting prisons and asylums. The book concludes with one of Dickens' most heartfelt and fierce pieces of writing, a condemnation of the institution of slavery. Bolstered by a larg Neither of these travelogues are among Dickens' great works, but are worth reading if you like Dickens. American Notes, the longer, has more interest. It includes some funny passages (the scathing depiction of Washington political life, the hogs in New York streets), and shows what now seems a bizarre fascination with visiting prisons and asylums. The book concludes with one of Dickens' most heartfelt and fierce pieces of writing, a condemnation of the institution of slavery. Bolstered by a large number of extracts from actual documents he collected on his trip, he passionately attacks the the inhumanity of the treatment of slaves. This was quite a controversial thing to do - he notes that pro-slavery lobbying was strong enough that those opposed to it were drowned out in Washington if they dared raise the topic, and he adds a statement regretting that by attacking slavery he may lose friends made on the trip. Pictures From Italy is shorter and less interesting, but includes one of my favourite brief descriptions in Dickens' writing: a man carrying a large amount of firewood is like "Birnham Wood going for a winter walk".

  4. 4 out of 5

    Spiros

    Two of The Inimitable's travelogues for the price of one: his 1842 sojourn in the United States, with his long-suffering wife, and a collection of impressions from a year spent (mostly) in Italy, with most of his family. The American trip was the more purposeful of the two: he was there to investigate the culture, but also to crusade for copywrite laws. His was a peculiar sort of tourism; the most vivid accounts are of visits to prisons, schools for the blind, and poor-houses. He curtailed a pro Two of The Inimitable's travelogues for the price of one: his 1842 sojourn in the United States, with his long-suffering wife, and a collection of impressions from a year spent (mostly) in Italy, with most of his family. The American trip was the more purposeful of the two: he was there to investigate the culture, but also to crusade for copywrite laws. His was a peculiar sort of tourism; the most vivid accounts are of visits to prisons, schools for the blind, and poor-houses. He curtailed a projected trip to the Carolinas, because the spectacle of slavery so disgusted him, but he did manage to make it as far south and west as St. Louis, where he even ventured across the Mississippi to spend an afternoon on the prairie. Dickens found much that was positive in his experiences: he reported a population that was predominantly earnest (if a little too much so), polite, and hospitable. Our institutions were more of a mixed bag: some run on enlightened principles, some on more medieval models. Three things distressed him, almost in equal measure: the universal habit of spitting copious streams of tobacco juice in, or more often in the general vicinity of, spittoons; an ethos of "Universal Distrust", which caused Americans to undermine much that was worthwhile in society; and the unfortunate tendency we displayed to spend much of our time shooting one another. This violence he imputed to the baleful influence of slavery (he devotes a whole chapter toward the end of the book passionately denouncing the Peculiar Institution), without pausing to consider whether the prevalent gunplay and the existence of slavery might not be symptoms of a deeper, underlying cause. But then, Dickens was never a systematic thinker. He was a brilliant writer, and all of this book reflects that brilliance. His visit to Italy was a much more sedentary affair. His entourage set up house in Genoa, and made various trips south and east. Dickens found much to inspire and much to vex him in Italy. He loved the warmth and good nature of the people, and hated the way they were treated by the Church and the squalor in which they lived. His art criticism is a somewhat suspect; he didn't have much use for "Michael Angelo". He is at his glorious best in his descriptions a dreamy sojourn in Venice, of Carneval in Rome, and of a harebrained moonlight ascent of Vesuvius, during which he climbed to the rim of the caldera. On his trip from Rome to Naples, Dickens describes my grandfather's home town of Fondi: "The Neapolitan frontier crossed, after two hours' traveling; and the hungriest soldiers and custom-house officers appeased; we enter, by a gateless portal, into the first Neapolitan town - Fondi. Take note of Fondi, in the name of all that is wretched and beggarly. A filthy channel of mud and refuse meanders down the centre of the miserable streets, fed by obscene rivulets that trickle from abject houses. There is not a door, a window, or a shutter; not a roof, a wall, a post, or a pillar, in all Fondi, but is decayed, and crazy, and rotting away. The wretched history of the town, with all its sieges and pillages by Barbarossa and the rest, might have been acted last year. How the gaunt dogs that sneak around the miserable streets, come to be alive, and undevoured by the people, is one of the enigmas of the world. A hollow-cheeked and scowling people they are! All beggars; but that is nothing. Look at them as they gather round. Some, are too indolent to come downstairs, or are too wisely mistrustful of the stairs, perhaps, to venture: so stretch out their lean hands from upper windows, and howl; others, come flocking about us, fighting and jostling one another, and demanding, incessantly, charity for the love of God, charity for the love of the Blessed Virgin, charity for the love of all the Saints. A group of miserable children, almost naked, screaming forth the same petition, discover that they can see themselves reflected in the varnish of the carriage, and begin to dance and make grimaces, that they may have the pleasure of seeing their antics repeated in this mirror. A crippled idiot, in the act of striking one of them who drowns his clamorous demand for charity, observes his angry counterpart in the panel, stops short, and thrusting out his tongue, begins to wag his head and chatter. The shrill cry raised at this, awakens half-a-dozen wild creatures wrapped in frowsy brown cloaks, who are lying on the church-steps with pots and pans for sale. These, scrambling up, approach, and beg defiantly. "I am hungry. Give me something. Listen to me, Signor. I am hungry!" Then, a ghastly old woman, fearful of being too late, comes hobbling down the street, stretching out one hand, and scratching herself all the way with her other, and screaming, long before she can be heard, "Charity! Charity! I'll go and pray for you directly, beautiful lady, if you'll give me charity!" Lastly, the members of a brotherhood for burying the dead: hideously masked, and attired in shabby black robes, white at the skirts, with the splashes of many muddy winters: escorted by a dirty priest, and a congenial cross-bearer: come hurrying past. Surrounded by this motley concourse, we move out of Fondi: bad bright eyes glaring at us, out of the darkness of every crazy tenement, like glistening fragments of filth and putrefaction." Now if that won't engender a sense of civic pride in a fellow, I don't know what will.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Rolfe

    Four stars for American Notes, and two stars for Pictures From Italy, which Dickens didn't seem to like much. The squalor, begging, and medieval Catholicism really drew out his sour side. I enjoyed his doings in America-- bumping into a Choctaw chief (as well as the Kentucky Giant), visiting prisons, schools for the blind, legislatures, and lots of dangerous travel by steamboat. The things that did arouse his disgust were revelations to me as well: tobacco juice being spit everywhere at all time Four stars for American Notes, and two stars for Pictures From Italy, which Dickens didn't seem to like much. The squalor, begging, and medieval Catholicism really drew out his sour side. I enjoyed his doings in America-- bumping into a Choctaw chief (as well as the Kentucky Giant), visiting prisons, schools for the blind, legislatures, and lots of dangerous travel by steamboat. The things that did arouse his disgust were revelations to me as well: tobacco juice being spit everywhere at all times, filthy graffiti kept in books at Niagara Falls, northern newspapers full of ads for runaway slaves (which he quotes at length, and which are horrifying), and a licentious press.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    I only read the Italian one and I thoroughly enjoyed it. He is so funny and clever. Obviously I was always a fan of his work but here you feel as if he is speaking to you. It is so interesting to experience 1840s Italy along with him. It is also fascinating to see how people lived then. I loved how GE ended it talking about the beauty of the people and the sadness of how they had suffered as well as the belief they would rise again.

  7. 4 out of 5

    ashok

    These are a couple of lesser known books by Dickens. Pictures from Italy makes entertaining reading -- especially the chapter about visiting the puppet theatre in Napoli and the wine trade in Genoa (I used Pictures from Italy as my travel guide in Italy, which made it even more interesting). This is really a travelogue, so you get fleeting descriptions colored by opinion. American Notes is no less interesting (if a slightly more difficult read).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I'm sure it's a great book, but my reading schedule this year, at the moment, gives me no option but to set it aside, but a fourth finished. The language, for proper English, of course, is still pretty thick, & I do have some other short-term library loans that are well ahead in terms of what I want to be reading at the moment So sorry, Chuck, we'll get back to ya sometime. I'm sure it's a great book, but my reading schedule this year, at the moment, gives me no option but to set it aside, but a fourth finished. The language, for proper English, of course, is still pretty thick, & I do have some other short-term library loans that are well ahead in terms of what I want to be reading at the moment So sorry, Chuck, we'll get back to ya sometime.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alleycatfan

    This is really fun so far though the tours of prisons and asylums I could do without. However, the humanity that he brings to all his work is clearly evident in his everyday life.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Keira

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  12. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hermann

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tim Velegol

  16. 4 out of 5

    GRANT

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  18. 5 out of 5

    Monika

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Cohen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary K.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Monia Matteucci

  22. 4 out of 5

    Isabelle

  23. 4 out of 5

    Megan J

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  25. 4 out of 5

    Judi

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Dotson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leocadie R

  28. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nothing

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott

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