Dickens In America

| March 19, 2011

When one thinks of Charles Dickens, probably the last country he might be associated with is America. The seminal author is undeniably English, and one of England’s greatest treasured authors- he is after all buried with a very elite crowd in “Poet’s Corner” at Westminster Abbey.
And yet, Dickens took what must have been a journey of great self-discovery and definition in his early twenties, in 1842, to America. His rarely discussed book, “American Notes”, chronicled his impressions and understanding of the long time he spent in America and part of Canada. English actress Miriam Margolyes, probably best known for her small role in the Harry Potter films, is a Charles Dickens enthusiast- though that term is probably a euphemism- as by all appearances throughout this mini-series, aptly titled “Dickens in America”, Ms. Margolyes demonstrates an obsessive knowledge of all things Charles Dickens.
Margolyes spends each episode of the ten-part series in one of the cities Mr. Dickens went to, going to many of the same places and seeing most of the same sights as he might have. She meets an incredible host of people along the way, and sees many of America’s most beautiful- and some of its more depressing- sights. Landmarks visited include everything from Lincoln Center in New York City to St. Louis, MO, and much in between.
The series, though interesting, perhaps did not merit all ten parts, and there are pieces of each episode- particularly the first three or four- that stretch a little long. Margolyes herself is at times an off-putting host. Her knowledge of Dickens seems to be unparalleled, but she is difficult to watch when she is at her most obsessive. Her eyes have a strange glare… she looks slightly crazy. It’s hard to tell what impression she gives to her many hosts along the journey but every encounter is so heavily edited, it’s hard to tell how much time really passed in any one place. The beautiful photography of the locations is a great commercial for cities like Philadelphia, St. Louis, etc. There are times when it feels like one gigantic National Geographic issue.
In the end, there is a great deal that can be learned about Mr. Dickens and these cities. Margolyes, in her final speech at Lincoln Center, speaks about her impression of the culture of America and its people, and her perspective is sharp and insightful, and well-cushioned with a pleasant sense of humor. She clearly enjoyed her time here, and it’s enjoyable enough to watch, especially for someone who might not have traveled to these particular locations and could glean some interesting sightseeing ideas.

About the Author:

Heather Trow is a nursing assistant and part-time writer. When she is not writing, she is listening to the popular podcast "NEVER NOT FUNNY". Actually, at any given time, most likely, she is listening to the podcast. It's pretty much all she does besides work. It is her favorite thing.
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