Dickens’s London by Peter Clark (Armchair Traveller at the bookHaus) London is a vile place. Peter Clark thus quotes Charles Dickens in a letter to Bulwer Lytton in 1850. While this new and highly entertaining guide cum literary companion cum history of nineteenth century London does something to contradict this opinion, there is plenty in this beautifully produced pocket book to support it. Armed with a phenomenal knowledge of Dickens and all his works, including letters, journalism, and criticism, Peter Clark sets out to marshal the parts of London Dickens knew or wrote about into a series of five walks in central London together with other expeditions into what he describes as the first suburbs (Camden Town, Chelsea, Greenwich, Hampstead, Highgate, and Limehouse). Clark’s format is a novel combination of the descriptive and the quotation. Both Clark and Dickens (whose words are in bold throughout) tell us about the streets and buildings of London, what happens in them, and who was there, in fact or fiction. Clark, for example, tells us about the house at number 58 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, home of one of Dickens’s friends and one of his biographers, John Forster, and says that it was here in 1844 that Dickens gave his first reading of The Chimes. Dickens describes it as the house of the lawyer, Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House: It is a large house, formerly a house of state...It is let off in sets of chambers now: and in those shrunken fragments of its greatness, lawyers lie, like maggots in nuts. This methodology gives us a splendidly clear and illuminating view, not only of the streets and the architecture, but of the sounds, smells, and intense human activity that both Dickens and Clark enjoy about London. It is a wonderful illustration of Samuel Johnson’s gobbet about London: everything happens there, you can’t tire of it, though it may exhaust you. Peter Clark sometimes fights to restrain himself from yet another story in trying to keep us on his chosen routes. The five walks are helped by a map each, though we are advised to take a proper atlas with us, and they weave between fact and fiction as we follow them. You see the streets, the houses, the slums, the great buildings of state and you also meet the people in them, you recognise them, Dickens and Clark almost make them talk to you. Some of it is indeed vile, Dickens sometimes seems obsessed with the worst aspects of poverty and degradation, but the overall picture is constantly fascinating and rewarding. (New Horizons
'More restricted in scope, but all the better for its narrower emphasis is Dickens's London by Peter Clark (Haus 130pp £9.99). This is a small, delightful book, handsomely produced and shaped to fit an overcoat pocket, describing walks around parts of London associated with Dickens's life and writings. Five walks in central London are described in detail, with well-chosen black-and-white photographs and maps which mark the Dickens associations en route. Six peripheral areas are covered more briefly. A neat device is the use of bold type for quotations from Dickens. The book is dedicated to Clark's grandson, and it would be fun to do these walks with a teenager reading Dickens for the first time.' (Literary Review
"Clark, an expert on Middle East studies and a notable translator of Arabic literature, packs years of learning and lore on Dickens into this slender book. Rather than prune much that is anecdotally a remove or two from the titular subject, the publishers have elected to diminish the font size of the text (quotes from Dickens appear in bold); many of you will need magnifiers to appreciate this rich and wondrously informative book. Begin it as an armchair traveler. Don’t be irked by the lack of conventional walking-guide graphics and details or by the small maps that don’t include street names. Should you end up in London with a yearning to follow Clark’s guidance, simply add a good London map to your kit. VERDICT Hidden here are riches beyond what more conventional London guides to Dickens cover. It’s like having your own bluff and delightfully expert British walking companion." (Library Journal
So it is the bicentenary of that pillar of English letters, Charles Dickens. Or rather, it was, on the 7th of February, to be exact. This has given rise to a flurry of publications including three biographies and a new edition of letters. The TLS and the LRB have never been so excited. Everyone wants a piece of the Dickens pie: the BFI are screening films on Dickens, even the Cultural Olympiad (so-called) got involved. One of my favourite little gems to come out of this Dickensolatry is Peter Clark’s charming book, Dickens’s London. The concept is simple. Dickens loved London. He loved writing about London and he loved walking around London. Combine a few of his novels and you get texts that are to London what Ulysses was to Dublin – sensitive studies of the city, some of it long lost, carefully copied but imaginatively rendered. Clark has re-created five Dickensian walks around modern London for you to follow. Dickens’s London has been cleverly put together. Designed to fit in a pocket (unless, of course, you are a woman), it gives a step by step guide along the route you have chosen as well as a map for each walk. Direct quotations from Dickens’s writings are printed in bold; a very neat idea. Each walk is attributed to a particular novel or two, making it an excellent companion to reading one of his books (although be prepared for spoilers). Clark’s knowledge is astoundingly broad and the book is woven with fascinating pieces of information: babies abandoned by the Lincoln’s Inn Chapel were “looked after by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and usually given the name Lincoln”, for example. There is a short introduction that charts the “massive transformations” that took place in the city during Dickens’s life and situates the walks nicely in a wider understanding of the London’s constantly shifting structure and appearance. There are some lovely metaphors for change: “Sometimes an old working man’s pub has survived, looking like a man in overalls who has strayed into a smart reception.” The most compelling thought to come out of this book is the idea of walking, and how the very act of walking in the city has diminished. Clark is a self-professed psycho-geographer, of the Ian Sinclair/Will Self ilk, albeit with his psychology fascinatingly caught between the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries. We hear how public transport only became widely available, and indeed affordable, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Before that people would walk. Dickens himself “as a boy…walked the three miles from Camden Town to the Strand every day. This was not unusual.” The thought of living in London without the Tube and a system of shiny red buses seems insane now. I spend about thirty pounds on my oyster card a week. But sometimes you find that a journey taken underground is actually relatively short and manageable above. The city may have physically expanded, but in terms of time spent travelling, advances in technology mean it has shrunk too. There is something quite sad about this. It is unlikely that from now on I am going to be walking the three or so miles to the library every day in psycho-geographic protest. But I might consider doing a little bit more walking in London, and if I find a coat that can actually hold a book, I’ll be taking Dickens’s London with me. (Cordelia Lynn 2012-03-08)
"As surely as Hardy follows Laurel, the most attractive books that cross my desk year after year come from Haus Publishing’s The Armchair Traveller series. It’s not just their beautiful endpaper maps, Claude Garamond’s elegant typeset, or the fine writing, no, it’s also their distinctive size and colors: always a slim-and-trim 8 1/2 x 4 ½ inches, bound in red linen cloth with white titles above and below prints of the painted subjects. If I still wore a suit, each would fit snugly in my inside jacket pocket. “The format for the red books came from one of our authors, Klaus Wagenbach (the author of Kafka: A Life in Prague) who himself publishes a series called Salto in Germany (though the “a” in their logo is upside down). We decided it would be perfect for this series, both as it would separate them from the rest of The Armchair Travellers, and because they would make beautiful books to hold and—we hope—a series to collect,” emailed editor Ed Gosling. And what luck! As you must know by now, February 7, was Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday and their latest offering is Peter Clark’s Dickens’s London, a brilliant walkabout guide based on Clark’s five walks about central London. You become familiar with the format in the first ramble—“From Trafalgar Square to Lincoln’s Inn Fields”—a map with the boldface route and throughout the text boldfaced words of Dickens or his characters. “Looking at Whitehall, sir—fine place—little window—somebody else’s head off there, eh, Sir?—he didn’t keep a sharp look out either—eh, Sir, eh?” That’s the signature telegraphese spoken in “The Pickwick Papers” by Mr. Jingle, pointing out the room on the first floor of Whitehall Palace’s Banqueting Hall where King Charles stepped out for his execution. Mr. Clark, of course, takes you to the Charles Dickens Coffee House (26 Wellington St., Covent Garden); the infamous blacking factory where young Charles slaved with a colleague named Bob Fagin (corner of Bedford St. & Chandos Pl.); and around the corner to Rules, 35 Maiden Ln., London’s oldest restaurant (est. 1798) with its Dickens Room with playbills of great writer’s productions and other memorabilia. Above it, the office that was All The Year Round, the magazine published by Dickens from 1859-70. As you walk and discover the milieu of Dickens’s fiction and non-fiction, you’ll also discover your favorite Dickens’s quotes: …”Missus, I wants to make your flesh creep.” (Joe the fat boy, The Pickwick Papers). …”All is gas and gaiters.” (The gentleman in small clothes, the Nicklebys’ neighbor at Bow). …”My essential juice of pineapple.” (Mr. Mantalina, talking of his wife in Nicholas Nickleby). Dicken’s London, Peter Clark, The Armchair Traveller, 2012." (Richard West Everett Potter's Travel Report
'This is a book from which readers will learn a great deal about Dickens and Dickensian topography but also about the history of nineteenth century and that of the metropolis itself.'
'[D]etailed and knowledgeable... guide...'