My thanks to Pen & Sword for a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Perhaps the most famous of Victorian writers, Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812–1870) was known for not only for the novels he wrote but also for the many wonderful, whimsical, inimitable and memorable characters he created, the love for Christmas he reinvigorated among the general public, and the many social issues he gave voice to through his writings. But his fiction was only one part of his work. Besides the magazines he edited and wrote in, short story collections, and plays he also wrote of his travels, most famously American Notes for General Circulation (1842), and Pictures from Italy (1846).

Dickens and Travel: The Start of Modern Travel Writing (2022) by Lucinda Hawksley, author, art historian, and a great great great (I hope I got that right) granddaughter of Dickens explores Dickens’ relationship with travel as well as the various forms in which the author gave expression to his experiences travelling, whether through letters written to friends and acquaintances, or more formal volumes (including indeed some such letters in collected form).

Before he took to writing full time, Dickens began his career as a journalist, and after a childhood where money was tight and circumstances often very difficult, it was with this work that he got a chance to actually travel. This mostly involved trips within the country, but once he became a writer and his financial circumstances were better, his travels took him abroad as well, whether pleasure trips or journeys taken to give his famed reading tours.

Dickens seemed to have a love–hate relationship with travel, or more so with London perhaps, for while he enjoyed travelling and getting away from grey, dreary, smoggy London, he also found himself less inspired to write when away. Yet, he enjoyed exploring the places he visited, and with his journalistic background always made it a point to visit institutions like prisons and mental asylums, recording his impressions of these as also looking into health, education and social welfare in the places he visited.    

The book is organised by place, and starting with England and the fast paced and hectic journeys for his journalistic work, we get glimpses of the holidays the family took and seaside places they visited; before moving onto Wales, Scotland and Ireland. His first American tour, taken when he has just turned thirty is covered extensively as is the year he and his family spent in Italy; experiences travelling and living in Switzerland and France, his second American tour where his health became of great concern, and unrealised plans to visit Australia to which two of his sons had emigrated.

With excerpts from his letters and books, we get to see in his own words how he felt about the different experiences he had, whether simply disappointing (or sometimes wonderful) weather to some more poignant experiences like the burial by two priest brothers of the victims of a ship that sank just off the coat of Wales, from beautiful landscapes and homes to more unsettling ones like public executions (still common at the time). While much of the time it was Dickens’ words that painted the pictures enabling readers to experience the places or events being described, he did at times also travel with some of his illustrators who went on to enrich his works with their impressions. Friends too, particularly Wilkie Collins, were invited to visit or even take a journey with him as Collins and he did which resulted in The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (1857).  And it was not only in travel writings and letters that these trips reflected, many of these experiences are echoed in Dickens’ fiction as well for instance, the Dorritt family journeying in Italy. Alongside Hawksley also brings up other travellers’ writings from the time or earlier enabling her to explore the development of travel writing, and how Dickens contributed to it.

And of course, in reading of these journeys at various times in his life, we also discover much about his life as well—the close bonds shared with his family, especially his children; happier times with Catherine earlier on and then cracks and the breakdown of his marriage, his career and the impact his writings had on people across the world.

In Dickens and Travel, Hawksley gives us a comprehensive picture of Dickens’ relationship with travel which any fan of his is sure to enjoy as I did. As I haven’t yet read any of his non-fiction travel writings, some aspects like the fact that he did have favourable impressions of several things in America were interesting to learn (since Martin Chuzzlewit had mostly the negatives). Perhaps for those who have read his travel writings, the larger excerpts might not appeal as much but I loved the flavour of his writing and impressions that these gave me. Also included are some illustrations and pictures (at the end in the Kindle edition I had).

A lovely volume which I certainly recommend to Dickens fans and also to those interested in travel writing in his time (or even indeed its evolution)!  


16 thoughts on “Book Review: Dickens and Travel: The Start of Modern Travel Writing by Lucinda Hawksley

    1. Thank you 🙂 Me too–I have American Notes somewhere, and was not looking forward to it as much with the critical aspects that came through in Martin Chuzzlewit, but from what I can see in this book, it presents a fairly balanced view and not all negatives.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I haven’t read any of Dickens’s travel writings, but just finished David Copperfield, in which the hero spends a significant amount of time in Switzerland. I hadn’t remembered that! It would be interesting to compare with his non-fiction writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read any of Dickens travel books, nor, yet, his biography (shame on me!) And I didn’t know he wrote a travel book with Wilkie Collins. I liked the title: The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, which promises a humorous read. I’ve found an audiobook of it, so maybe I’d read it sometime when I need a cheerful read. I know it’s not this book that you reviewed here, but it seems more interesting than Hawksley’s, sorry! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.