A Look at Charles Dickens’ Thoughts on America


This being his birth month, we couldn’t possibly let the month go by without a blog on our main man – Charles Dickens. Our Victorian celebrity gifted the world with timeless tales of love, loss, and, of course, the occasional ghostly visitation (what happy, holiday story would be the same without one?). Did you know though, that when it came to his adventures touring in America, Charles was full of wit and humor… and dismay, at our strange American customs? If not, buckle up – you’re in for a ride! (Yet another American idiom he probably would have hated!)

First on Dickens’ list of American annoyances was the peculiar trait of what he called “Yankee Doodle Dandies” – who chewed tobacco with (apparently) all the grace of a cow chewing cud. Dickens was disgusted at the sight of fully grown men spitting wads of brown gunk on the sidewalks like it was going out of fashion. He wrote about this disturbing habit, “One wonders if they mistake the streets for spittoons or simply enjoy adding a dash of rustic charm to the pavements.” Honestly? Yuck – he’s not wrong. 

Dickens also couldn’t help but poke fun at what he perceived as a showy nature of American hospitality. “In England we’re content with a pot of tea and a biscuit, but in America, one must navigate a veritable maze of gilded mirrors and chandeliers just to find the water closet!” How difficult it must have been for him, trying to find his way through lavish mazes of American excess! (I have seen Downton Abbey… who is he calling excessive?!)

And of course, one can not forget Dickens’ abhorrence for general American cuisine! The man who wrote descriptions of an amazing amount of delectable Christmas feasts found himself absolutely disconcerted by our culinary creations. From “chili con carne” (delicious – did he even try it?) to an apparently confounding combination of turkey and cranberry sauce, Dickens found his stomach not in agreement with American cooking. Not to mention our sheer nerve: “One can only wonder at the audacity of a nation that serves pie without custard!”


Despite all of his reservations at our strange customs and interesting inventions (I would consider turkey with cranberry sauce an invention, after all), Dickens nevertheless had moments of true admiration for the people of the United States. He appeared impressed by the spirit of democracy that seemed openly expected and understood by all the people he met here on his travels, and he found the general optimism of our nation delightful. I suppose his final conclusion was that “America may be a land of eccentricities and culinary calamities, but it is also a land of opportunity and innovation – a place where even the most unlikely of dreams can take flight.” Hear, hear!


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