This is a lovely little book, literally. Although hardback and lacking a dustjacket, it is covered in crimson cloth with smart, white embossed lettering, used sparingly. Set in the centre is a glossy image of a very young Dickens. The inside front and back covers are decorated with 19th Century Ordnance Survey mappage from Putney in the West to Greenwich in the East. The book is four inches by eight inches, perfect for the coat or jacket pocket. This is important, because Dickens’s London is essentially a guidebook, with five Dickens-related walks in Central London, minutely described.
But that’s not all. The book has an impressive Introduction and – after the descriptions of the walks – a chapter on London suburbs and how they relate to Dickens and his life and works: Camden Town, Chelsea, Greenwich, Hampstead, Highgate and Limehouse.
Dickens’s London tells us all about the houses, factories, inns, streets, churches and offices that existed in the novelist’s lifetime and what exists in these places today. Sometimes they relate directly to Dickens’s life, but mostly they reference in scholarly detail the part played by these sites in the novels, how they affected and were populated by the dramatis personae of the books: there is hardly a character from the canon who doesn’t get a mention. The author quotes the relevant passages by Dickens, which are set in bold type. It is worth mentioning here that the content pages of the book, like the cover, are very nicely laid: simply designed and set (in Garamond, for those interested in typography).
It is clear that author Peter Clark is no Dickens bandwagon-jumper. His knowledge of the works and how they relate to London geography is immense. But he wears his scholarship lightly, making the book both a joyful and easy read. It can be used as a reference work in its own right or – as intended – a book one can use on one’s own Dickens voyage of discovery. And it really doesn’t matter if, like me, you are a bit of a Dickens dunce: it makes you want to learn more about the great man. So for aficianados and L-plate drivers alike, I warmly recommend Dickens’s London as a fabulous companion guide.
Dickens’s London (130 pp) is published on 16 February by The Armchair Traveller at bookHaus, cover price £9.99, although available at around £7.00.
Free Dickens Walk
Author Peter Clark is conducting a free guided walk on 21 February at 2pm, starting at Lincoln’s Inn.
The above-mentioned guided walk is done, and it was delightful. There were about 20 of us, great turn-out. Peter showed us around Lincoln’s Inn and Inner and Middle Temple. All the legal stuff, so plenty of Bleak House references. His guiding style, like his prose, is relaxed, accessible and engaging. Afterwards, we went to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street for a bit of a social. Peter’s publisher presented him with a handsome bust of Charles Dickens. It was a pleasure getting to know the author. Turns out among other things Peter is an Arabic translator and an expert on Byzantium and the Near East, in particular Syria, where he lived for five years in the 1990s.