GoldGato's Reviews > American Notes and Pictures from Italy

American Notes and Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens
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's review
Sep 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: literature, year-round, non-fiction, travel
Read from September 21 to December 24, 2011

Combining the trips Dickens took to Italy in 1844 and to the States/Canada in 1842 and 1868, this book brings a delightful look via the usual Dickens wit at travel in the 19th century. The view of America at that time is still one of innocence, with railways not as mainstream as England and travel still rather arduous via steamboats, barges, and stagecoach.

His sojourn to Italy can be both hilarious and morose, as it's obvious he despises the poverty he sees in some towns and the papal obsession of the natives. But he lightens up in the American section, and some of his comments are still dead-on in today's time ("it would be impossible to get on anywhere, in America, without a rocking-chair").

He assigns politics to the animals he sees on the street ("he is in every respect a republican pig...mingling with the best society"), and labels Philadelphia as it truly is ("distractingly regular").

With a sharp eye, he notes the immediate difference between his ancient English and the brash Americans, by noting that when an Englishman cries, "All right", an American will say, "Go ahead". Thus, one saying explains the national character of each land.

Of course, the joy of Dickens is his passion for learning more and then translating the mundane into words that never fail to hit their mark (describing a rather tall gentleman as a "lighthouse walking among lamp-posts"). His Canada is still our Canada...steady and "advancing quietly". Love it, love Dickens.

I can think of few things better than idling away on an Amtrak ride while reading this book. I even loved Dickens' moniker he assigned to those inquisitive travellers who are always bothering others and forever asking for personal information. "He was an embodied enquiry". Times haven't changed that much after all.

Book Season = Year Round
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10/15/2011 page 179
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