chapter  8
14 Pages

Intertextuality in Charles Dickens’s American Notes and Basil Hall’s Travels in North America

ByNathalie Vanfasse

Most travel narratives written by British travelers in America during the first half of the nineteenth century tend to dwell on the same themes and locations.1 One of the reasons for this was simply that sights visited by foreigners were not unlimited. Another, more important reason was that travelers not only prepared their trip by reading travel literature written by former visitors but also traditionally vied with their predecessors to give a more accurate account of each spot, a process that Jerome Meckier has called the battle of the travel books.2 Dickens’s American Notes (1842) and his friend Captain Basil Hall’s Travels in North America (1829) are a case in point. For one thing, Hall influenced Dickens’s decision to turn the letters he wrote during his trip into a continuous narrative published as American Notes.3 The Captain himself had resorted to this strategy to write his own Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828, released in three volumes in 1829. Though Dickens also read many other, often more recent, travel narratives about North America before he embarked on his transatlantic trip,4 similarities between

1 New York, the Sing Sing penitentiary, West Point, the Shakers of Lebanon, Niagara Falls, emigrants, a presidential election, Boston, Harvard College, the Boston Hospital and the Manufactories at Lowell, American women, the effects of money-making habits, the American judicial system, Washington, and Richmond and slavery are some of the topics common to such travel accounts. Other common topics included the Dismal Swamp, American prisons, the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the prairies of Illinois, and Cincinnati.