Feeling sorrowful, as my delectable trip with Mr Dickens has just come to an inevitable end. Not surprisingly Italy turned out to be splendid but I have some observations to share about my travel companion also. Everything you always wanted to know about my trip to Italy with Charles Dickens and his family* (*but were afraid to ask) Frequently Unasked Questions Why Italy? Charles Dickens sums up my awe concisely: 'Let us part from Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs, affectionately, in our admiration of the beauties, natural and artificial, of which it is full to overflowing, and in our tenderness towards a people, naturally well-disposed, and patient, and sweet-tempered. Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Modern Rome Campo Vaccino' (1839) Image source 'Pictures from Italy', a travelogue written by Dickens in 1846, will presumably disappoint the readers who fancy a bath in a fountain of knowledge, 'full to overflowing' with dates and names. But if you feel like inhaling sparkling loveliness effortlessly, you will enjoy this book a lot. Dickens travelogue is a love letter to Italy but his infatuation isnt blind. However, he sees positive effects of this: 'In another place, there was a gallery of pictures: so abominably bad, that it was quite delightful to see them mouldering away.' Jorge Luis Borges wasn't fond of Dickens' travelogue: 'he traveled to France, to Italy, but without trying to understand those countries. I didnt find 'Pictures from Italy' as enchanting as 'Great Expectations' but I was pleasantly impressed by the writing style, the labyrinthine sentences, the onomatopoeia, the loose composition. Dickens wants to share some glimpses of a trip he enjoyed immensely. Most of his observations and descriptions were written on the spot and come from the letters he sent to his family. If he published the book today, it would be probably 'Selfies from Italy'. Come on, when you explore a divine country with an entertaining companion, you dont pay attention to prosaic things like the weather, do you? If you read any novels by Dickens, you wouldnt be surprised, that he was much more interested in people he met on the way than in the monuments. I know its irrational but it felt as if Dickens was smiling all the time, while writing his travelogue.
"It is miserable to see great works of art - something of the Souls of Painters - perishing and fading away" This is a different Dickens than in his novels, and yet the same.
and while that clearly brings something to the book and makes the way it is written different its not really how i personally enjoy travel writing. and anyway is there really a wrong way to travel or share that experience?
Dickens wrote Pictures of Italy during his year there in 1844, two years after his first tour of America, and about 7 years after he lived on Doughty Street, London, and wrote both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby there. (Garibaldi, during his first attempt to free Rome in 1849, lived in the same place I did at the American Academy, the Villa on the Gianicolo hill; part of our residence was the Ancient Roman wall built by Aurelius.) All over Italy, Dickens finds some doubtful inns, your own horses being stabled under the bed, that every time a horse coughs, he wakes you but even the worst Italian inn will entertain you, Especially, when you get such wine in flasks as the Orvieto, and the Monte Pulciano(103). Before Italy, in Avignon, Dickens saw the cell where Rienzi was held, and the instruments of Inquisition torture. When I lived there a couple weeks translating Brunos hilarious Candelaio, I loved the huge Meschi sculpture to Union workers, and the small Cathedral, my favorite in Italy along with San Marco Venice, Dickens favorite, a much greater sense of mystery and wonder than at St Peters (107). When Dickens went up to the caves he rode a pony, and he learned some of the mines went back to Roman times (95). He sees many processions, such as a Roman one after dusk, a great many priests, walking two and two, and carryingthe good-looking priests at leasttheir lighted tapers, so as to throw the light with a good effect upon their faces(143). He tells of ladies being carried down Vesuvius on litters, until the litter-bearers slipped, of Leghorn / Livorno being famous for knifing, with an assassins club recently jailed, and visits to Herculaneum (which the British largely unearthed a century before) as well as Paestum, where three of the finest Greek temples, built hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and standing yet, erect in lonely majesty, upon the wild, malaria-blighted plain (161).
This was a pleasant read.
Dickens spent a year touring Italy including getting there and back and managed to see a great deal of it, in spite of the difficulty of travel in those days. As a habitual visitor to Italy myself, I really enjoyed his insights into the people and their heritage that he managed to capture in his travels. He also managed to notice the games that people played in the various towns. It was apparent that he had little time for the rituals of the Catholic Church, but he managed to apologize for his comments in his preface ahead of time.
It's funny to see your country through the eyes of an English author of the XIX century. Dickens has always written like that, and it's really interesting to read something of his that is not a novel and that contains the main features of a real, autobiographical logbook.
Charles John Huffam Dickens was a writer and social critic who created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years.