Innocent Abroad: Charles Dickens's American Engagements

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In 1842, Victorian England's foremost novelist visited America, naively expecting both a return to Eden and an ideal republic that would demonstrate progress as a natural law. Instead, Charles Dickens suffered a traumatic disappointment that darkened his vision of society and human nature for the remainder of his career. His second tour, in 1867-68, ostensibly more successful, proved no antidote for the first. Using new materials--letters, diaries, and publishers' records--Jerome Meckier enumerates the reasons for the failure of Dickens's American tours. During the first, an informal conspiracy of newspaper editors frustrated his call for copyright protection. More important, he grew less equalitarian and more British daily, a disillusioned novelist discovering his true self. His American Notes (1842) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44) repudiated travel books by Tocqueville, Mrs. Trollope, and Martineau that had either viewed America as civilization's new dawn or voiced insufficient reservations. Having plumbed man's tainted hear abroad, the creator of Mr. Pickwick saw everything more satirically at home: he became a radical pessimist, a dedicated reformer who nevertheless ruled out a utopian future. Dickens's return visit, the reading tour intended to make his fortune, was an ironic second coming. Thanks to poor planning and management, ticket scalpers benefited as greatly as the much-lionized performer. Meckier argues that Dickens's business dealings with his American publishers were neither as smooth nor as lucrative as legend holds, but that the novelist's health problems and his eagerness to bring along his mistress have been much exaggerated. In fascinating counterpoint, Meckier charts the ticket speculators' systematic successes, the ups and downs of Dickens's catarrh, and the steady inroads he made into the heart of Annie Fields, his American publisher's young wife. This critical/biographical study reshapes our view of the life and career of the giant of Victorian Literatures.