On the heels of the holiday season, writing about Charles Dickens seems appropriate, since he is a man who epitomizes Christmas with his well-known story, THE CHRISTMAS CAROL.
He made his first visit to the United States in 1842 when he was barely 30 years old. Bringing his wife and her maid and some very staunch opinions–not all of them flattering–of how Americans lived their lives, he soon immersed himself in a tightly-scheduled reading and lecture tour. He was already famous throughout the world for OLIVER TWIST and THE PICKWICK PAPERS, though his novella A CHRISTMAS CAROL wouldn’t be published until the next year.
His work reflected his own oppressive childhood and vividly described England’s povery and injustices. It’s little wonder that he despised slavery, a practice that flourished in America at the time, and used his influence at the pulpit and his avid audiences to denounce human bondage.
He also expostulated on how Americans pirated his books (and other European writers, too) by paying nothing to the authors, calling it a ‘monstrous injustice’. Hmmm. Something we authors struggle with even today.
Still, his audiences idolized him, and the press treated him like royalty. President John Tyler invited him to a reception at the White House and was rewarded with 2,000 Dickens’ fans who hovered on his every move, “like hounds, horses and riders in pursuit of a fox.” One newspaper likened it to “throwing corn to hungry chickens.”
His tour took in major cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Richmond, but eventually, the enthusiastic audiences began to wane. As did the author’s impression of America when he left the Atlantic seaboard and took a stagecoach from Kentucky to Illinois, then a riverboat across the Mississippi to St. Louis.
He described St. Louis as “a dismal swamp upon which half-built houses rot away,” stunted trees, unwholesome vegetation, where there are “no bird songs, no pleasant scents,” and only “the changeless glare of the hot, unwinking sky.”
His criticism didn’t stop there. He went on to describe those who lived along the Mississippi banks as “wretched wanderers, destined to “droop and die”, and lay their bones in the “ugly sepulcher of the hateful Mississippi, a slimy monster hideous to behold . . . running liquid mud six miles an hour.”
Well. He certainly didn’t mince words, did he?
After returning home, he wrote of his experiences in depressing detail and prospered by them, and it was another 25 years later before he came back to the United States for his second visit.
By then, he was in poor health and did not travel west, preferring to stay along the Atlantic coast. Mark Twain took the time to attend one of his readings and described his performance as “rather monotonous . . . there is no heart, no feeling in it–it is glittering frostwork.”
Even so, Dickens scheduled 76 readings in five months and took home a $100,000 fortune. Not too shabby.
Have you ever gone somewhere, only to leave disappointed? Or mad?
Now that Christmas is over, was the experience happy? All you hoped and planned for it to be?
What was the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
I’ll start by telling about a trip that ended up being a real dud. Several years ago, Doug and I went to Cape Cod for our 30th wedding anniversary. Both of us timed our trip verrry carefully to coincide with the fall foliage. Everyone we talked to said the colors should be gorgeous, and I was so excited. I’d never seen the Atlantic or travelled so far east.
We drove down from Boston, but all we saw was green. And gray clouds. And lots of rain. TONS of rain. We stayed in Hyannis of Kennedy fame, and that part of it was neat. But our trips to the beach were cold and windy, and I have a picture of me on the National Beach hanging onto an umbrella with both hands because the wind and rain were blowing so hard.
sigh . . . we never saw a single colored leaf. The locals explained it was because there’d been so much rain. We stayed 4 days and never once saw the sun. To make the trip even more miserable, our flight out of Boston was delayed until the next day, and we were forced to spend the night at the airport. On horrible, creaking cots a few of the staff mustered up for us.
Honestly, Cape Cod is a wonderful place. Just our luck we experienced the worst of it.
Share with us your stories!