American Notes, Week 2 ~ and a Week 1 Wrap-Up

Wherein we revisit our first week’s reading of American Notes (Week 42 of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); with a summary and discussion wrap-up; and a look-ahead to Week Two.

Illustrations for American Notes by Joseph Clayton Clark (“Kyd”)

By the #DickensClub members, edited/compiled by Rach

Friends, a huge “thank you” to those joining in on the first week of our optional read of Dickens’s 1842 travelogue, American Notes!

Most of the chat was on twitter this week, and some were article shares, so for those “extra” resources and links, I’ll make a separate section here.

Feel free to chime in with any thoughts on your experience of reading American Notes so far…are we enjoying it? Or are we miffed–even, outraged–as we read our newspapers and chew our tobacco and use every floor as our spittoon…?

A few quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. Discussion Wrap-Up (Chapters 1-6)
  3. For Further Reading and Research…
  4. A Look-Ahead to Week Two of American Notes (25-31 Oct, 2022)

General Mems

Friends, I’m so excited to welcome a new member to our group, the extremely talented actor and audiobook reader, Rob Goll! Warmest welcome, Rob! Due to a busy schedule, he might be a little in and out, but we are excitedly anticipating a guest post next year on his adventures in preparing for and narrating unabridged Dickens novels for the Online Stage group. His work includes unabridged single-reader narrations, “duets,” and unabridged novels with a whole cast–such as the David Copperfield I recently started–like the best combination of unabridged reading and radio dramas! I hope you have time to check out his work.

Chris M. comment

The discussion portion of our readership is smaller this week, and one of our merry band is taking a cue from Dickens, and going on an international adventure!

If you’re counting, today is day 294 (and week 43) in our #DickensClub! It will be Week Two of American Notes, our eighth read of the group–one of the “extra” or “optional” reads. (All are “optional,” of course, and we’re thrilled for anyone joining in at any point!) Please feel free to comment below this post for the second week’s chapters, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship, The Dickens Society, and the Charles Dickens Letters Project for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Gina Dalfonzo, Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvelous online resource for us.

And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. Boze’s introduction to American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit can be found here; Chris’s supplement of Peter Ackroyd’s introductions can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.

Discussion Wrap-Up (Chapters 1-6)

Miscellaneous: Adapting Dickens for Narration; Thomas Nast

Unrelated to American Notes but on one of our previous reads, Rob Goll discussed the challenge of preparing the unabridged Nicholas Nickleby for audio recording, with its nearly-150 characters! He’s hoping to do a post on the experience of adapting David Copperfield when we get there:

Thomas Nast (1840-1902) illustrated American Notes and Pictures from Italy in the 1870s, and for the former we have delightful images of a British Lion and an American Eagle. Kendall noted that the British Lion has exactly the shape of Nast’s illustration of Pickwick earlier! (Perhaps this makes sense, as Mr. Pickwick must surely be the ideal Englishman!)

What We Loved–or, Our “Enthoosymoosy”: Boze’s Introduction; Reading Dickens Aloud

Daniel got us off to a great start, praising Boze’s intro and listing some of the portions that struck him most, including Dickens’s condemnation of slavery and the critique of the American obsession with trade and commerce to the detriment of fancy and idealism:

Daniel M. comment

On another note, Boze and I have started reading Dickens aloud to one another, and we read the whole of American Notes in this way and are finding the experience unique, delightful, and inspiring! I was responding to Rob Goll on the difficulty, however, of reading aloud for recording–especially with different accents and a multitude of characters to keep straight:

Dickens’s Fascinations: Lowell “Mill Girls”

I thoroughly enjoyed the reference to Mr. Willet, as we’ve just finished Barnaby Rudge, and also Dickens’s passages on his strange seasickness. But I fell down the rabbit hole somewhat in looking into The Lowell Offering, a publication written by the fascinating “Lowell mill girls” who worked 12-hr days in a textile factory in order to–yes–further their education:

Rach M. comment
The Boott cotton mills, 1850s

The Preacher Who Inspired Melville, Dickens, Whitman, and Emerson

Orson Welles as Fr. Mapple (1956). Click on image to see a clip.

Boze and I recently did a “buddy read” of one of his favorite books, Moby-Dick, and so we were floored by Dickens’s passage on the New England preacher who used nautical metaphors and idioms reminiscent of Melville’s Father Mapple:

Boze H. comment
Rev Edward Thompson Taylor

And sure enough, Virginia-born sailor-turned-pastor Edward Thompson Taylor (1793-1871) was one of the inspirations behind Melville’s Father Mapple! “A significant portion of his parishioners were sailors or maritime workers…By 1828, he had earned a reputation as a skillful and eloquent sailors’ minister and temperance speaker.” (See “Edward Thompson Taylor.”) Methodist trained, he ended up being pastor at Seamen’s Bethel, a non-denominational congregation in Boston, and was appreciative of and influenced by the Unitarians. Reverend Taylor always promoted religious tolerance. He was beloved of Whitman and Emerson, and clearly well-known enough that Dickens made a point of going to hear him preach.

“The notable Unitarian minister Henry W. Bellows said of Taylor: ‘There was no pulpit in Boston around which the lovers of genius and eloquence gathered so often, or from such different quarters, as that in the Bethel at the remote North End, where Father Taylor preached. … He was, perhaps, the most original preacher, and one of the most effective pulpit and platform orators, America has produced.'”

(See “Edward Thompson Taylor”)

A Special Treat: Dr. Christian at Niagara…

Though we gotten to Dickens’s passage on Niagara yet, here’s a sense of what’s to come, as Dr. Christian, while at the falls, shared a passage of a letter from Dickens to Forster:

For Further Reading and Research…

On twitter this week, I shared a couple of articles relating to American Notes which might be of interest:

Chris shares with us another fantastic resource from the Charles Dickens Page, featuring newspaper accounts of Dickens’s American tour:

Below, Dr. Christian shares with us a fantastic-looking resource: a series called Dickens in America, hosted by Miriam Margolyes, a great actress and Dickensian!

Has anyone been able to track down a place to stream it?

And on that note, friends, keep up the “enthoosymoosy”!

A Look-Ahead to Week Two of American Notes (25-31 October, 2022)

This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 7-12 of American Notes.

If you’d like to read it online, here’s a link to The Circumlocution Office.


  1. I know you’ve been really hoping that more people would read this seldom read work of Dickens, but I’m afraid I’ve got a lot of other books I want to read right now. Sorry. (I am making good progress on them, so maybe I’ll be able to participate in some of the upcoming weeks.)

    In the spirit of penitence, I did skim the reading for this week, and I got a kick out of the part where someone is offended that Dickens wasn’t impressed by the American lawmakers’ hairdos. Does anyone else want to google them in an attempt to figure out why people were so proud of them?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, now worries, Stationmaster!! I figured we wouldn’t have a full turnout for the Notes, but I just wanted to include all of his larger non-novel works…Boze and I have been chatting about it so, if nothing else, maybe we’ll do a post of our dialogues about it! 😂

      But speaking of that, I’m thinking of asking everyone about whether we should postpone our next online chat until the break following Chuzzlewit, because then we can chat about *both* “American” works, since I don’t honestly know how many folks are reading the notes. So…I might add this question to our next wrap-up…but if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear!


      1. It’s funny you should mention that. I was thinking of messaging you and saying that while I really enjoyed the last online chat, I might want to sit the one on November 5 out. Not only have I not been really reading the American Notes, but I imagine that since they’re about a specific country, the discussion would gravitate toward the extent to which they’re still true and I don’t really like discussing politics much. I know that sounds crazy since I was the one who brought up the modern applicability of Barnaby Rudge and to the same country. I guess sometimes I like discussing politics and sometimes I don’t.

        It might be that I’m not sure I agree with you and Boze on the extent to which Dickens’s critique of America is still true. (I definitely wouldn’t say it’s all untrue now. Plenty of his criticisms about the culture being violent, hypocritical, full of piracy, etc. are still totally reasonable. But, having lived in America all my life, I feel like either it’s become more nuanced in modern times or Dickens wasn’t able to pick up on all the nuances. Of course, being an outsider, he was doubtless able to pick up on things that a native wouldn’t/couldn’t.) So I’m scared I’d either just politely refrain from saying anything, which can be a pain after a while, or I’d come across as an annoying contrarian or maybe as the kind of overly defensive American Dickens satirizes so well. LOL.

        On the other hand, I really, really wouldn’t want people in the chat to avoid talking about politics because they’re worried about offending me or anyone else. At least half of what Dickens wrote included political/social commentary. Not talking about it would be a waste! I’d personally rather participate in the discussion if it after Martin Chuzzlewit because then the discussion would be about politics plus other things. (And contrary to what you might assume from the above paragraph, I actually remember the satire of America in that book as being the most entertaining part of it.)

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you two. Postponing the chat until after MC is a great idea, as we’d have so much more to talk about.

    Yep, he (Mr. D.) has nailed it. The tobacco chewing and spitting habit is most obnoxious to read about, and I can’t even begin to understand how anyone could tolerate it! What the heck are people thinking at that time in America? That terrible blight, literally on the landscape, in public rooms, even on the floors of Congress is just so totally gross. 1840’s America is still, in many way, a backwoods, hardly “modernized,” “civilized” Country. I think that our dear Charles–who seemingly had such high expectations about this “New World”– was terribly disappointed by the primitive, unsophisticated society that he is introduced to. And the Tobacco chewing and spitting is a symbol of the primitive manners and psychology that he witnessed and was so turned off by.

    And then there is the Slavery issue! Ugh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Lenny! Ugh, indeed…

      And I think that’s wise, about the postponing until after *both* “American” works, for the group chat. I need to send out a new link anyway, as I think Zoom will work better in the long run than google meet.


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