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Innocent Abroad

Innocent Abroad: Charles Dickens's American Engagements

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Innocent Abroad
    Book Description:

    In 1842, Victorian England's foremost novelist visited America, naively expecting both a return to Eden and an ideal republic that would demonstrate progress as a natural law. Instead, Charles Dickens suffered a traumatic disappointment that darkened his vision of society and human nature for the remainder of his career. His second tour, in 1867-68, ostensibly more successful, proved no antidote for the first.

    Using new materials -- letters, diaries, and publishers' records -- Jerome Meckier enumerates the reasons for the failure of Dickens's American tours. During the first, an informal conspiracy of newspaper editors frustrated his call for copyright protection. More important, he grew less equalitarian and more British daily, a disillusioned novelist discovering his true self. HisAmerican Notes(1842) andMartin Chuzzlewit(1843--44) repudiated travel books by Tocqueville, Mrs. Trollope, and Martineau that had either viewed America as civilization's new dawn or voiced insufficient reservations. Having plumbed man's tainted hear abroad, the creator of Mr. Pickwick saw everything more satirically at home: he became a radical pessimist, a dedicated reformer who nevertheless ruled out a utopian future.

    Dickens's return visit, the reading tour intended to make his fortune, was an ironic second coming. Thanks to poor planning and management, ticket scalpers benefited as greatly as the much-lionized performer. Meckier argues that Dickens's business dealings with his American publishers were neither as smooth nor as lucrative as legend holds, but that the novelist's health problems and his eagerness to bring along his mistress have been much exaggerated.

    In fascinating counterpoint, Meckier charts the ticket speculators' systematic successes, the ups and downs of Dickens's catarrh, and the steady inroads he made into the heart of Annie Fields, his American publisher's young wife. This critical/biographical study reshapes our view of the life and career of the giant of Victorian Literatures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6392-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Dickens Discovers Dickens
    (pp. 1-38)

    When Dickens discovered America in 1842, he was world famous, universally beloved, and profoundly unhappy with social conditions in the Old World. America had been haunting his dreams: did this democratic republic coincide with his utopian fantasies?¹ Not long after arriving, he began to realize that it did not and could not. In place of El Dorado, Dickens found a self-centered society that seemed militantly materialistic, many of its dollar-serving citizens not just brazen in their acquisitiveness but so unrefined and uncivil by British standards as to appear savage, without a trace or prospect of nobility.

    As grandiose expectations collided...

  6. 2 The Newspaper Conspiracy of 1842
    (pp. 39-74)

    At no point during the first visit ought one to perceive Dickens as a scalawag who mistakenly thought himself at large among the inexperienced. On both excursions he was more of an innocent abroad, a victim of what he himself called the national penchant for “ ‘smart’ dealing” (AN, 286).¹ America’s newspapers prejudiced public opinion against the novelist’s call for a copyright law in 1842; ticket speculators took unmerciful advantage of the public reader twenty-five years later.

    The two occasions have a common denominator: each time, persons not legitimately connected with Dickens—pirates in 1842, scalpers in 1867-68—refused to...

  7. 3 The Battle of the Travel Books
    (pp. 75-132)

    Captain Marryat, Mrs. Trollope, Isaac Fidler, Basil Hall—an unidentified American journalist, calling at Devonshire Terrace in December of 1841, found Dickens’s study “piled high” with books by these travelers who had preceded him to America (J, 1:360).’ Harriet Martineau’s travelogue is not mentioned, although Dickens supposedly considered it “the best book written on the United state.”² More surprisingly, the reporter’s short list omits Alexis de Tocqueville’sDemocracy in America, from which Sylvère Monod thinks it “not unlikely” that Dickens derived some of his sanguine expectations (SM, 36).

    What seems even likelier is that Dickens later repudiated his quondam hopefulness...

  8. 4 An Ironic Second Coming
    (pp. 133-182)

    Learning of Dickens’s inclination to perform in America, James Gordon Bennett referred to the proposed reading tour as “the second coming of Dickens” (RF, 107; D, 123). This editor-publisher was the novelist’s archenemy among newspapermen: throughout the copyright controversy of 1842, he had misused the New YorkHeraldas an Anglophobe’s trumpet. Not surprisingly, therefore, Bennett’s 1867 pleasantry contained nasty implications, even if likening Dickens’s return to the Messiah’s was an advance in subtlety over his customary billingsgate. Dickens had been welcomed as a god once already, Bennett wished to remind his countrymen, and he had repaid his worshipers with...

  9. 5 Health and Money
    (pp. 183-236)

    Dickens’s health is reported to have declined steadily in the winter-spring of 1867-68; it has continued to do so even more rapidly in scholarly accounts of the reading tour. The process began with Forster, who “never” saw Dickens during the summer of 1868 “without the impression that America had told heavily upon him. There was manifest abatement of his natural force, the elasticity of bearing was impaired, and the wonderful brightness of eye was dimmed at times” (F, 2:441).

    One should pause here to italicize the phrase “at times”; or to suggest that Forster, observing Dickens after a five-month absence,...

  10. 6 Last Words
    (pp. 237-242)

    “How unchanging national characteristics are! I have been re-readingMartin Chuzzlewitand the letters from America reprinted in theLife of Dickens; the people—at any rate to judge from the specimens one meets here and from what they write—are just the same; the same interminable canting balderdash about high moral principles and ideals, couched in the same verbose, pseudo-philosophic, sham-scientific, meaningless language, the same pretentiousness then as now.” Thus in 1925 Aldous Huxley summarized for his brother Julian the handful of Americans he had met in Europe.¹

    No American going to Europe ever primed himself by reading Twain’s...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 243-263)
  12. Index
    (pp. 264-272)