Monday, 9 November 2015

Portable Magic: Charles Dickens: the blogger.

Many of us will know the fiction of Charles Dickens. Whether through reading a novel or two, watching a TV adaptation, or simply singing along to "Food Glorious Food" whenever you hear the word 'pease pudding', a Dickensian character or story line will have touched your imagination at some point in your life.

But what about his journalism, his non-fiction, his [OK so I'm stretching it a little bit] blog posts? How many of us have read any of that?

Image of book taken from Book Depository

I've always been aware that Dickens founded his own magazines ['Household Words' and 'All the Year Round'] where he first published some of his well known novels in serial form. But, until recently, I hadn't  read any of the non-fiction he wrote for those same publications.

And goodness me have I been missing out. 

I picked up a copy of 'Night Walks' his collected writings by Penguin Books in the library and it was its slimness that first appealed [when you don't have an office at work, and you carry your life around with you in your bag, 500 page shoulder-straining tomes lose their appeal.].

But its appealing features multiplied with every line I read; and I believe the time is right for our blogging generation to rediscover these gems.
  • In this collection of articles he wanders around observing ...  then comes home, writes about it, and publishes it in his magazine. 
  • And what are we doing in this blogging culture [hello!] if not that?
  • We're all trying our hand at writing and sharing first-person narratives of our experiences and this particular kind of writing by Dickens is exactly that. 
  • Dickens was a blogger!
  • And as he wrote many of these observation pieces under the heading 'The Uncommercial Traveller' ... that is without doubt what he should have named his blog! [He definitely would have bought up the dot com domain for that one!]
**Before we move on ... if you're anything like me you read book reviews like this and think "Well, that's all very interesting but, I'm still probably not going to go and buy the book she's talking about." ... hang on there ... because you don't have to ...

I've been seeking out a way can all enjoy Dickens's non-fiction without having to leave the comfort of our WiFi! And I found one! 

Let me introduce you to the amazing resource of The Dickens Journal Online

  • Here you can dip into scanned copies of the original journals [alongside easily readable text versions and even audio]. 
  • You can search to find just those articles written by Dickens, or search by category etc, 
  • And you can generally lose yourself in Victorian Britain while you're there.
I've had a look through to find the articles which are featured in the Penguin Night Walks collection that I read.

And while I couldn't find them all I did find the first essay in the book - the title article 'Night Walks' here - it starts half way down under the heading 'The Uncommercial Traveller'.
  • It tracks a walk an insomniac Dickens took through London and features wonderfullly evocative descriptions of the people he meets. His stopping off for coffee and toast came as a complete eye-opener to me ... I had no idea there were Starbucks equivalents over 150 years ago!  
Other articles from the book which I've managed to find in the online journals include: Wapping WokhouseBetting -Shops and Trading in Death.

Regarding Trading in Death - if you thought merchandising, selling memorabilia [hello Ebay], or raising prices during special events [like when the Olympics is in town] was a relatively new phenomena ... then you'll enjoy Dicken's disapproval of what canny entrepreneurs were getting up to around the funeral of the Duke of Wellington! eg:
  • "TO be SOLD, SIX AUTOGRAPH LETTERS from F.M. the Duke of WELLINGTON, with envelopes and seals, which have been most generously given to aid a lady in distressed circumstances",
  • "THE DUKE'S FUNERAL.—To be LET, a SHOP WINDOW, with seats erected for about 30, for 25 guineas. Also a Furnished First Floor, with two large windows. One of the best views in the whole range from Temple-bar to St. Paul's. Price 35 guineas. A few single seats one guinea each." [For more examples read the full article here.]
But my favourite essay from the collection was "Gone Astray" [find it here].

Here Dickens regales us with a tale of getting lost in London as a child [I believe there are doubts as to whether it's 100% true but really, who cares when it's as entertaining as this is?!]. And there's lots to enjoy here.
  • Him thinking that, that's it, he's lost for good: "and then I walked,with a feeling of dismal dignity upon me, into a court, and sat down on a step to consider how to get through life";
  •  the life he envisions for himself now he's on his own, at 8! "I would ask my way to the barracks, knock at the gate, and tell them that I understood they were in want of drummers, and there I was".
  • as well as the dog and the children he meets along the way [the Artful Dodger?]
...  but these are my favourite lines:
  • "When I came to Temple Bar it took me half an hour to stare at it, and I left it unfinished even then. 
Isn't that a glorious idea?

"it took me half an hour to stare at it,and I left it unfinished even then."

That there are things that you never finish looking at, that you never tire of admiring, that you just can't take-in in one go?

I know just what he means - although not with Temple Bar - how about you? 
And finally ... another favourite line from Gone Astray and a comfort to all of us who've ever felt a little out of step with the crowd ... it didn't seem to do Dickens any harm ...

"People said I was an odd child. Perhaps I was. 
I'm an odd man perhaps."

For more book-related posts visit/follow the Portable Magic Pinterest board [or click to search for the 'Portable Magic' keywords here in my bog.]

  • If you do dip into Dickens's 'blog posts' via the Dickens Journal Online do drop by to let me know you enjoyed them! Especially if you find ones I haven't read [send me the journal /page numbers].
  • And if you feel like sharing whatever it was that has made you stop, stare, and still not feel like you'd finished looking at it ... I think that would make a fascinating list to read through. 
I'll 'see' you in the comments ... 



  1. How do you find these things? So interesting, I will definitely be clicking through the links. (Shame on you for finding an obscure excuse for mentioning your trip to see you know who!)
    The story of a lost young Dickens reminded me of a conversation I had with my son when he was about 5 and had run off and got lost in a shopping centre (this would be about the time I aged 10 years and grew my first grey hair). He looked at me in all innocence as I was listing all the dangers of going off on his own and then said 'but I'll never truly be lost Mum, because you love me so you'll always be looking for me.' I wonder if Mrs Dickens had the same conversation?

    1. An obscure excuse you say? As if I even need one ... ;-)

      I love that story - how is it kids manage to say things that absolutely strike to the heart of the situation? That was a very perceptive response!

  2. Oh Julie what have you done??!!! I have loved Dickens since I was a girl, and, you have found all this marvellous stuff!! haven't got time just right now (Christmas cakes to make) but when they're in the oven i'll have a couple of hours to come back and study all of this; see you then xx

    1. The scent of Christmas cakes baking away in the background seems like the perfect accompaniment to a spot of Dickensian indulgence! Enjoy!

  3. Julie, a very interesting read. I will need to re-read. Um I say, I am often described & told that I am an odd one, now I feel in good company. I would like to explore more about Mr Dicken's blogging although I would disagree with you that today's culture is observant about life & what goes on about us. I think, or at least I do right now until I gain some more insight & knowledge, that our society/culture is mostly the most distracted group of souls wandering this world. Streams of people walking with heads down, thumbs twisting, people glued to screens of any type, disengaged with life, the real stuff. Well anyway that's my observation for now. What could I stare at & not be finished with? Off the top of my head, it gets crammed with so many thoughts, horses, cats, water flowing, sunrises, sunsets, flowers ...

    1. I know what you're getting at there - I just think there are some wonderful bloggers/writers out there who have the ability to take their daily experiences and use them to shed light on what it is to be human. It worked for Dickens and his magazine/novels .. we might be using modern technology to share our stories .. but I like to think the message is the same. :-)

    2. absolutely & I do hope you include yourself in the mix of fantastic writers/bloggers. Ah the shared human experience, totally the best kind :-)

  4. FASCINATING read, thank you..... For me it is always historic places - England of course. We don't 'do' very old on Oz! Visited a walled in church garden wandering in Devon somewhere in Spring '95. Could have stayed there forever. Soooo peaceful - such beautiful flowers & the SCENT! Totally heavenly... Very peaceful...& of course, parish churches are great places to just 'be' :)

    1. That all sounds very peaceful Lizzy. And I love that you're remembering something from 20 years ago ... shows just how memorable it was!

  5. Have you read any biographies of him? He was a very odd man, by the sounds of it. Fascinating though. Funny, over the weekend TSO was talking about having read Great Expectations and what else should she try. I said Old Curiosity Shop and then quite out of the blue, she said..imagine if Dickens was sitting in the kitchen now listening to us discussing his books in the 21st century.

    1. I haven't Sian, only snippets or things over the years. And how funny that we're all talking about him all of a sudden ... ghosts of Christmases past???

      p.s: That's one of the things that really moved me about watching Hamlet ... that a man wrote it so so long ago ... and there I was still 100% connecting with it in 2015.

  6. I think Dickens would have not only blogged but tweeted too. And like the others I will be clicking those links and learning a little more about the man.

    1. OMG that would be one twitter feed I would have loved to see! Imagine his depictions of the characters he'd bump into day to day.

      p.s: have you seen looks great!

  7. There is so much in your lovely post, Julie, that it is like opening a magazine or book in itself! I am going to have to come back with a pot of tea and have a good, thorough read and follow your intriguing-looking links. I just love letters and accounts written contemporaneously ... See you again soon!

  8. I'm thinking Dickens walks of London day with the hubby over Christmas now. ittle bit of walking, little bit of reading about where you just walked as Dickens saw it - maybe a drop of gin. Inspired! Thanks Julie

  9. How fascinating! I think yes, he would have chosen that as his domain name! The adverts for the Duke's funeral are also incredible. I wonder what people will be blogging about us in a few hundred years time - or what blogging will have morphed into?

  10. You share such interesting ideas Julie - I like that Dickens would have been a blogger and you are so right! I've not read Dickens for years, you have made me want to pick up one of the books you mention so thank you for the links. This is a post i'll definately come back to with a cup of tea.

  11. I love this piece so much. As I was reading it I thought I would look up the book and then you provided this amazing resource. Thank you! I know lots of people don't get on with Dickens but I like his style. Maybe because of its conversational nature - I was told I was far too colloquial at school but it worked out well for Dickens, didn't it?!


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