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LoraM

Lora's Rants and Reviews

My own unapologetic opinions on books and writing.

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American Notes

American Notes for General Circulation - Charles Dickens, John S. Whitley, Arnold Goldman

by Charles Dickens

 

Reading Dickens can be tedious at times and this has its moments, but overall I found it interesting to read the nineteenth century author's impressions of his trip to America.

 

His experience of the long voyage across the Atlantic and the differences in culture when he lands in America are known to have contributed to his background knowledge for writing his novel, Martin Chuzzelwitt, which describes shipboard life and the discovery of American culture in similar terms.

 

One of the observations that stands out is his experience of train travel in America and the way that women are treated politely when traveling alone, even having women only coaches. He contrasts the clean dress and polite mannerisms of poorer women in America with the grottier poorer classes at home, perceiving a vast difference.

 

Not all of his observations of America are complimentary though. His commentaries about slavery and chewing tobacco paint Americans as little more than savages in a civilized world and his reaction to what he found in those early, inhumane prisons was scandalous. Towards the end, he quotes some newspaper ads for help in capturing runaway slaves that highlight just how badly these slaves had been treated.

 

The contrast between American culture and Dickens' British experience is interesting in view of the fact that it had only been an independent country for a little over 50 years at the time, yet some of what he described sounds like a Western novel.

 

This is not the most riveting read, but it's interesting in a historical context.