I have the usual love-hate relationship with Dickens, felt by most of us who’d rather be reading Sherlock Holmes. But I’ve recently discovered a great little library book that I think will be of interest both for avid fans, and for reluctant readers in search of a useful resource for making sense of Dickens’ literary world.
Walking Dickens’ London opens with some background information about the life and work of Charles Dickens. Then author Lee Jackson proposes a series of walking tours that lead you through the London of both Dickens and his characters. While the guide is presumably written for tourists, you can take the tours via Google Maps, or just using the pictures in the book and your imagination.
At the end of each chapter is a reading from one of Dickens’ novels. For me the selected passages not only gave me insight into Dickens’ writing, but also confirmed that there were reasons he’s not always my favorite author. That’s okay. One can grow up to be a responsible, virtuous citizen, without ever cultivating a passion for expanses of detailed description.
What I loved: The history. The book is a treasure trove of information for those who want a glimpse into life in Victorian England. What was it like to make a living on the trash heaps (literally) at the edge of town? What kind of goods were imported on the docks of London, and was it more likely you’d eat them, or they’d eat you? Just as our parents’ and grandparents’ lives set the stage for our own, a clear picture of Victorian life illuminates the sources of the economic, political, and social movements that followed. You want to understand Rerum Novarum? Start with Dickens.
Verdict: I’d happily stock this in my home library as a resource for both history and literature. I’ll definitely be using it with my own students when it’s their turn to study Dickens in high school. And I wouldn’t complain if I got a chance to use it on the ground in London as well. Nice title, very well done.