This volume contains a series of lightly fictionalised but sharply observed and often polemical observational sketches published in Dickens’s periodical “All the Year Round” based on an authorial persona of a traveller at leisure.
Not the most thrilling of blurbs ever, I grant you but I couldn’t find anything more substantial which for a book like this, written by such a fantastic author is something that really needs to be addressed.
The Uncommercial Traveller is one of the Dickens books that doesn’t get mentioned very often. Taking a diversion from his usual fiction, he shows his diversity with a range of essays from the comedic to serious social issues.
This collection of articles was written for the author’s own journal, All the Year Round in which he takes on the persona of the Uncommercial Traveller who journeys about and observes, giving insights into community and historical matters.
I read this book on and off over a number of months and have been intrigued by Dickens’ style. His enquiring mind is at its best here, showing that even in his later years financial success had not dulled his need to take on the inequalities of the Victorian society or hold back with his incisive observances.
A mixture of hard-hitting journalism and observational pieces, it is the former that sticks in the mind the longest, looking at the terrible conditions people lived in – most especially in the workhouses – the lack of education and the closed class system of Britain at that time.
Although the book is not all doom and gloom by any means, Dickens’ trademark humour comes through and his joviality often belies sharp scrutiny on his surroundings. Whether observing people in a theatre or the habits of children in church, his words are always alive with the love of experiencing things, whether good or bad, it is this insatiable curiosity that kept me coming back.
As ever with a variety of different subjects, some are more successful than others in terms of quality, that is a personal preference though but there are no real disappointments in this book. The short nature of the chapters keep things snappy and it is impressive how much emotion and consideration the author manages to squeeze into each piece.
This is a welcome change from his novels, there is plenty in here that mirror his stories, including prose that can change from light-hearted to heartfelt very quickly, uncovering a wide range of things hidden in plain sight and giving a judgement on his era and culture. It’s fascinating to see how society was back in the day and how the towns and places overseas are described,
It is saying something of the quality of the man that this is one of his lesser known works, when it has so much to offer in terms of insight into his era and also gives a gripping read with the dark side of society offset by stories of courage in adversity and of the feeling that things must change. For anybody with a Kindle or the free app for phone and PC, etc you can acquire this for free and enjoy such subjects as Birthday Celebrations, Tramps, Two Views of a Cheap Theatre and the Wapping workhouse to name a few.