Charles Dickens. American Notes

By Meckier, Jerome | Dickens Quarterly, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Charles Dickens. American Notes


Meckier, Jerome, Dickens Quarterly


Charles Dickens. American Notes. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 2 Volumes. $ 39.00

George Dolby. Charles Dickens As I Knew Him: The Story of the Reading Tours in Great Britain and America 1866-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. 466. $35.99

John Forster. The Life of Charles Dickens. Volume 1: 1812-1842. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. 398;

--. The Life of Charles Dickens. Volume 2: 1842-1852 Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. 462;

--. The Life of Charles Dickens. Volume 3: 1852-1870. Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. 552 $112.00

Georgina Hogarth and Mary Dickens, eds. Letters of Charles Dickens 1833-1870. Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. 763. $50

The seven volumes listed above amount to a multi-page bicentennial birthday present to Dickens and Dickensians. The books are attractively packaged, reasonably priced. Unfortunately, none has a modern-day editor, introduction, note on the text, or other scholarly apparatus. Reprinted as they first appeared, these texts are welcome nonetheless--readable editions adequate for research and citation. They exhibit Dickens as the Victorians knew him and as he probably wished to be known. American Notes aside, this is how friends and relatives contrived to have Dickens perceived by posterity. The fabrication lasted well into the twentieth century, that is, until revelations about Ellen Ternan in Thomas Wright's 1936 biography triggered the still-ongoing process, often painful, of revising simpler views of a complicated genius's life and relationships.

Forster enjoys an insurmountable advantage over subsequent biographers: an intimate private and professional relationship with his subject. For over twenty years, Dickens groomed his friend and advisor to present the novelist's life-story favorably. Forster delivered one of English literature's finest critical biographies, authoritative in its analyses of the novels if discreet concerning Dickens's domestic difficulties. Cambridge reprints the biography in its original three-volume format. Possessed of a serialises bravado, Forster had already issued the first two installments, volumes one (1872) and two (1873), by the time volume three was published (1874); revisions were out of the question. Amazingly, he completed his task within four years of Dickens's death, an attempt to have both first say and the last word.

Dickens's first biographer imitated the three-decker Victorian novel, such as Great Expectations, wherein each volume covers a stage in the hero's progress. Forster divided Dickens's life into three unequal parts: events leading up to and including the first visit to America (398 pages), ten years from American Notes and Chuzzlewit through the start-up of Household Words (461), and eighteen years of increasing mastery from the writing of Copperfield and Bleak House to "the End" (552). Clearly, Forster regarded the trip to America as a watershed event. A maturity comprised of eight of fifteen novels is surely a record for staying on top of one's game.

George Dolby managed Dickens's reading tours throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland (1866-67, 1868-70); they bracketed his management of the American tour in 1867-68. He also supervised the London readings over five years, including ten Farewells in 1870. During these times, especially the six months in America, no one was closer to Dickens, and no one has ever admired him more. Charles Dickens As I Knew Him (1885) is the story of a love affair; Dolby recalls his engagements as Dickens's ticket agent, public relations man, traveling companion, and close friend as the brightest chapter of his life. He extols his hero's manliness, congeniality, consideration for others, genius as a performer and, most of all, stamina. …

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