Penguin : Great Ideas
Paperback : 26 Aug 2010
Charles Dickens describes in Night Walks his time as an insomniac, when he decided to cure himself by walking through London in the small hours, and discovered homelessness, drunkenness and vice on the streets. This collection of essays shows Dickens as one of the greatest visionaries of the city in all its variety and cruelty.
GREAT IDEAS. Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.
Student Review by Niamh Brown, Exeter University
Charles Dickens’ Night Walks certainly fits into the category of a ‘great idea’, being the renowned author’s reports on various aspects of London. From his insomniac’s-eye view of Victorian London’s nightlife to a report in a visit to a workhouse, it is clear to see the political agenda – Dickens’ great social ideas – throughout. The walks detailed are essentially non-fiction summaries of the views he propounded through his novels, and in some ways Night Walks is more readable for this.
Those who found Hard Times aptly named and were disappointed by Great Expectations might be refreshed by the more direct approach here. In Night Walks his disdain for organized religion; intent, personal interest in the fate of the poor, especially children; and general philanthropic bent manifest without recourse to satire or the other devices common to Dickens’ novels.
The book is genuinely interesting, providing a fascinating snapshot into the streets of Victorian Britain not often seen outside of official reports. It is also varied, not simply focusing on the negatives, such as the wretched gin addicts and the homeless reported in the first chapter, but also broader social change, seen in Dickens’ notes on his walk through a London shipyard which touches on industrialization, and also acts as a counterpoint to the first walk, revealing Dickens’ attitudes to the poor, fairly typical of Victorians of his class. The nighttime poor are suffering from ‘Dry Rot’, harming themselves and others with profligacy they cannot afford – in short, they are poor who are a social problem which must be solved, but who are of themselves undeserving of the aid of philanthropists. The poor in the workhouse and shipyard he visits, by contrast are clean and, though pitiful by dint of being poor, their attitudes and actions make them deserving of the help given to them by the likes of Dickens.
Views and observations such as Dickens makes means that Night Walks acts as an ideological guided tour of Victorian London. Informed, entertainingly written and utterly absorbing, Dickens’ book is worth a read for Dickens fans and skeptics alike, for those interested in Victorian history or politics, or those who have a yearning for a curious type of escapism, disappearing into a century-old version of London.
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Size : 111 x 181mm
Pages : 128
Published : 26 Aug 2010
Publisher : Penguin
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