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American Notes for General Circulation is a travelogue by Charles Dickens detailing his trip to North America from January to June, 1842. While there he acted as a critical observer of these societies almost as if returning a status report on their progress. This can be compared to the style of his Pictures from Italy written four years later, where he wrote far more like a tourist. His American journey was also an inspiration for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit.


On January 3, 1842, one month shy of his 30th birthday, Dickens sailed with his wife, Kate, and her maid, Anne Brown, from Liverpoolmarker on board the steamship RMS Britannia bound for Americamarker.Arriving in Bostonmarker on January 22, 1842 the author was at once mobbed. Dickens at first reveled in the attention but soon the endless demand of his time began to wear on his enthusiasm. He complained in a letter to his friend John Forster:

"I can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere where I want to go, and see nothing that I want to see.
If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude."

He traveled mainly on the East Coast and the Great Lakesmarker area of both the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, primarily by steamship, but also by rail and coach. During his extensive itinerary he made a particular point of visiting prisons and mental institutions and even took a quick glimpse at the prairie. He was particularly critical of the American press and the sanitary conditions of American cities. He also wrote merciless parodies of the manners of the locals, including, but not limited to, their rural conversations and practice of spitting tobacco in public (Ch. 8 - Washington):

"As Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva, the time is come when I must confess, without any disguise, that the prevalence of those two odious practices of chewing and expectorating began about this time to be anything but agreeable, and soon became most offensive and sickening."

In Washington, D.C.marker, he called upon President John Tyler in the White Housemarker, writing that:

"...he looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable.
I thought that in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well."

Although generally impressed by what he found he could not forgive the continued existence of slavery in the United Statesmarker, and the final chapters of the book are devoted to a criticism of the practice. He was also unhappy about copyright issues. Dickens, by this time, had become an international celebrity, but owing to the lack of an international copyright law, bootleg copies of his works were freely available in North America and he could not abide losing money.

Dickens' letters home to his friends, including illustrator Daniel Maclise and John Forster, helped to form the basis of the book.

Documentary (2005)

The book formed the basis for Dickens in America (2005), an authored documentary series by Miriam Margolyes in which Margolyes followed Dickens' journey through the United States, visiting many of the places mentioned by the author in his book.

External links

Online editions

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