Dickens’ “American” novel (1843-44) shares close affinities with the novelist’s earlier picaresque tales, The Pickwick Papers (1836-37), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Its publication followed American Notes, Dickens’ account of his 1842 journey to the United States. Dickens spent six months in America, visiting Boston, Lowell, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. (where he called on President John Tyler at the White House), and Richmond, before winding up his journey with a brief stop in Montreal. Though Americans intrigued him, Dickens could not square the institution of slavery with notions of individual liberty, and it did not help matters that his novels were regularly pirated by American publishers who neglected to pay royalties. In fact, might we suggest reading American Notes before going on to the novel? It would enrich our discussion and deepen our understanding of Dickens’ “take” on American culture.
We will propose dates for our spring meeting soon. In the meantime, please enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season.