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American Notes: for General Circulation by…

American Notes: for General Circulation (1842)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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An enjoyable travelogue of Dickens' experiences in the US and Canada during the six months he and his wife spent there in 1842. As you'd expect from Dickens it's full of his humour and his views on social issues including detailed descriptions of the hospitals, prisons and provision for the poor in almost every town he visits. Whilst the book starts in quite a jolly manner, Dickens slowly sounds more weary and bitter as the journey progresses. This may partly have been due to the effects of being almost constantly on the road (or river) for 6 months (I know I would have hated it) but it may also be the disillusionment Dickens suffered on finding that the New World was not the Republican utopia he had hoped to find.

At the end of the book Dickens launches into a blistering attack on slavery and the other perceived vices of North America which needless to say, didn't win him any friends in the US and lost him some of the friends he'd made upon his travels:

"Shall we whimper over legends of the tortures practised on each other by the Pagan Indians, and smile upon the cruelties of Christian men! Shall we, so long as these things last, exult above the scattered remnants of that race, and triumph in the white enjoyment of their possessions? Rather, for me, restore the forest and the Indian village; in lieu of stars and stripes, let some poor feather flutter in the breeze; replace the streets and squares by wigwams; and though the death-song of a hundred haughty warriors fill the air, it will be music to the shriek of one unhappy slave.

On one theme, which is commonly before our eyes, and in respect of which our national character is changing fast, let the plain Truth be spoken, and let us not, like dastards, beat about the bush by hinting at the Spaniard and the fierce Italian. When knives are drawn by Englishmen in conflict let it be said and known: 'We owe this change to Republican Slavery. These are the weapons of Freedom. With sharp points and edges such as these, Liberty in America hews and hacks her slaves; or, failing that pursuit, her sons devote them to a better use, and turn them on each other.' "

And to balance that, my favourite humourous quotation from the passage to North America from England:

"About midnight we shipped a sea, which forced its way through the skylights, burst open the doors above, and came raging and roaring down into the ladies' cabin, to the unspeakable consternation of my wife and a little Scotch lady - who, by the way, had previously sent a message to the captain by the stewardess, requesting him, with her compliments, to have a steel conductor immediately attached to the top of every mast, and to the chimney, in order that the ship might not be struck by lightning. They and the handmaid before mentioned, being in such ecstasies of fear that I scarcely knew what to do with them, I naturally bethought myself of some restorative or comfortable cordial; and nothing better occurring to me, at the moment, than hot brandy-and-water, I procured a tumbler full without delay. It being impossible to stand or sit without holding on, they were all heaped together in one corner of a long sofa - a fixture extending entirely across the cabin - where they clung to each other in momentary expectation of being drowned. When I approached this place with my specific, and was about to administer it with many consolatory expressions to the nearest sufferer, what was my dismay to see them all roll slowly down to the other end! And when I staggered to that end, and held out the glass once more, how immensely baffled were my good intentions by the ship giving another lurch, and their all rolling back again! I suppose I dodged them up and down this sofa for at least a quarter of an hour, without reaching them once; and by the time I did catch them, the brandy-and-water was diminished, by constant spilling, to a teaspoonful." ( )
  souloftherose | Jan 28, 2016 |
Apparently the 2010s are not the most disgusting period in Washington politics-in the antebellum period acrimonious politics combined with chewing tobacco to make the Capitol a disgusting place
  ritaer | Apr 6, 2015 |
Not as brutal as I thought it might be. Ironically, Mark Twain is much rougher on Americans than Dickens was in this book. Perhaps because Twain was picking on his own ... perhaps because Twain spoke the truth. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 17, 2014 |
I both read and listened to the LibriVox and Gutenberg versions, retreating to Gutenberg when the fake Enlgish accent of one reader grated on my nerves. I kept comparing this to Domestic Manners of the Americans, wherein Fanny Trollope worked herself into a state about the dreadfulness of America, and thought how much more thoroughly enjoyable it was to read Dickens on America. He loved some things, didn't plenty others, but the prose was so enjoyable and the contrasting wit and seriousness made for a far better impression than Mrs. Trollope's diatribe. I was very much taken with his in depth visits and descriptions of American prisons, which I didn't expect. The depth of feeling against the solitary confinement prison was powerfully expressed. Overall, very very enjoyable.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Fascinating narrative of Dickens' trip to America. This travel book gives all the delicious historical details usually missing from similar works and from novels. You get all the spit, filth, and tortuous travel details (the story of the canal travel is particularly entertaining) as well as his impressions of various American Institutions. This is both an interesting tale in and of itself as well as a treasure trove of historical information. ( )
1 vote grundlecat | Nov 14, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionscalculated
Houlihan, Raymond F.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingham, PatriciaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingham, PatriciaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wall, StephenChronologysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I dedicate this book to those friends of mine in America who, giving me a welcome I must ever gratefully and proudly remember, left my judgement free; and who, loving their country, can bear the truth, when it is told good humouredly, and in a kind spirit.
First words
I shall never forget the one-fourth serious and three-fourths comical astonishment, with which, on the morning of the third of January eighteen-hundred-and-forty-two, I opened the door of, and put my head into, a 'state-room' on board the Britannia steam-packet, twelve hundred tons burthen per register, bound for Halifax and Boston, and carrying her Majesty's mails.
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This is the single work American Notes. Please do not combine with other collections that contain this work.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140436499, Paperback)

Charles Dickens was the most famous of many travelers of his time who journeyed to America, curious about the revolutionary new civilization that had captured the English imagination. His frank, often humorous descriptions in his 1842 account cover everything from his uncomfortable sea voyage to an ecstatic narrative of his visit to Niagara Falls. Yet Dickens is also critical of American society, its preoccupation with money, and reliance on slavery, as well as the rude, unsavory manners of Americans and their corrupt press. Above all, American Notes is a lively chronicle of what was for Dickens an illuminating encounter with the New World.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:22 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"'I have made up my mind (with God's leave) to go to America - and to start as soon after Christmas as it will be safe'" "So wrote an exuberant Dickens shortly before his voyage to America in 1842. He was the most famous of many travellers of his time who journeyed to the New World, curious to find out about the revolutionary new civilization which had captured the English imagination. His frank, often humorous descriptions cover everything from his comically uncomfortable sea voyage to his wonder at the Niagara Falls. In general Dickens is critical of what he saw as a society ruled by money and partly built on slavery, with unsavoury manners and a corrupt press. His unfavourable account provoked a hostile response in America and Britain, although he was to change his opinion later."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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