Since I have belonged to LibraryThing I have been lucky to win surprisingly often one of their Early Reviewers free books. The only obligation is to post a review on their website, so when I finally got round to posting it there I am adding it here.
On Travel by Charles Dickens is published by by Hesperus Books.
"I had been half afraid to go to Verona lest it at all put me out of conceit with Romeo and Juliet".
Reading the book had the contrary effect on me.
My acquaintance with Dickens began at school, at the impressionable age of 12 or 13. The impression created was not good.
While his books may have been created in excerpts suitable for periodicals, a chapter once a week was not a satisfactory method to engage my interest. Either I bolted through the whole book and endured boredom while reading the book in class continued for months, or I suspended my interest and was satisfied by a weekly reading aloud (under protest), with the teenager’s inability to appreciate the humour of adults, or anything roughly labelled “good for you”.
To this common experience was added my refusal to read more or less anything with an English author. I worked my way through the well-stocked shelves of the local public library, endowed by some cotton magnate in the Victorian era. Babel, Ehrenburg, Hesse, Maupassant, Turgenev … you get the picture. Eclectic but exclusive. The one exception was Somerset Maugham, partly because I had developed a liking for short stories and partly because he wrote about the Far East and not England.
But to get back to Dickens. Despite this it seems I survived reading a Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol, probably because the first was about Paris and I was in one of my knitting phases at the time. A Christmas Carol, well what is there not to like, and the Muppet Christmas Carol has a regular showing at family Christmases.
In my 30s, I returned to Dickens by chance. Somehow I acquired a book of short stories (since vanished) which I was always reading in bed in our lonely Welsh cottage, while hoping that the Plaid Cymru arsonists would not visit. The Signalman (which turns up in more than one anthology) was the scariest thing I read for a long time. From this I realised that Dickens had more to offer, but I remained daunted by longer works.
By now I had allowed English authors to enter my reading (it was in my assimilation period) but was more interested in the present than the past. I promised myself to read Dickens when I was retired, had exhausted everything else and had time to read long books at my leisure. Time for a third read of War and Peace as well.
By now this review is almost as long as the book itself.
Dickens’ “On Travel” is a short collection of extracts (only six). The introduction says that his first accounts of his travels in the US offended the natives, who apparently did not appreciate having their customs described with humour, so his later travels were expressed in more moderate language. I looked forward to reading the offensive passages, but it seems they are not included.
Now these extracts are much more about the actual travelling (carriage, boat, sledge) than so much of what he sees when he gets there. But the descriptions of the people are marvellous and funny, and the discomfort puts in perspective my own grumbles about budget airlines. Come to think of it, Dickens could do a wonderful job of describing a journey with Ryanair.
My only complaint is that the book is too short. Surely more could have been included?
It seems for me I can easily enjoy and appreciate Dickens in small chunks. Perhaps I can graduate to the books finally.