Night Walks

by Charles Dickens

Victorian essays.

Night Walks

Night Walks is vol. 88 in Penguin's Great Ideas series of little books by ‘great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilisation and helped make us who we are’. In the case of this particular book, I think that's stretching things a bit. Not that Night Walks isn't an enjoyable read. In fact, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. But it's hardly going to ‘shake civilisation’.

The individual articles—let's call them essays—in this book are taken from Charles Dickens's journalism for The Uncommercial Traveller and Household Words. I have to admit, even though I tend to read quite a lot of nineteenth-century literature, in the form (mostly) of Charles Darwin's correspondence, I initially found some of these essays hard-going. This was partly down to Dickens's more than occasional use of now-obsolete idioms, and partly down to his circuitous writing style, which I can only assume was very much in vogue in his day.

But don't let that put you off. There's some interesting stuff in this book. Reading these essays will give you a real feel for what it must have been like to go for a stroll around the streets, dockyards, and poor-houses of Victorian London. There are also occasional insights that give you unexpected pause for thought. For example, why is it that we treat people who (wrongly) believe that they are socialising with kings and queens as insane, whereas if someone dreams such royal associations, nobody bats an eyelid?

Dickens is also particularly good on the mawkish, ‘barbarous shows’ of Victorian funerals (for example, that of the Duke of Wellington)—a subject which will ring bells with anyone who remembers the funeral of Princess Diana.

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