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Charles “Carlo” Dickens In and Out of Italy in 1844: The Chimes

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Residing in the Villa Bagnerello at Albaro, near Genoa, in the summer of 1844, Dickens began the not-so-grand portion of his year-long Italian Grand Tour. Despite the losses involved in prosecuting Peter Parley's Illuminated Library for pirating A Christmas Carol, the young Dickens had regularly been called upon by his relatives—especially his father—for financial assistance. Moreover, having ground out so many full-length novels over the past eight years, Dickens must have been both exhausted and in need of emotional and artistic renewal. What he experienced is in part reflected in the prose he wrote in Italy: the novella The Chimes and the letters he later used as a source for the travelogue Pictures from Italy. These writings reflect his yearning for home and his sense of London as his defining context as a writer. As he attempted to master a new language while isolated in his lofty studies in his leased villas, separated from the Genoese by nationality, language, class, and culture, Dickens, to an extent, was practicing unwittingly the “solitary system” of recently constructed Pentonville Prison. Although Dickens's biographers from Forster to Ackroyd have considered the impact of that Italian sojourn upon the writer's social vision and particularly upon his Liberal attitudes towards the Italian states' national aspirations, little of a substantive nature has been offered in otherwise comprehensive analyses of the novella. The chimes that Dickens heard were Italian, but the train of thought this objective correlative set in motion was almost entirely English in terms of the plights of Meggy Veck, her fiancĂ© Richard, the agricultural laborer Will Fern, and his niece Lilian, and the moral impostures of their heartless, self-important oppressors, Alderman Cute and Sir Joseph Bowley. Having moved from the sleepy suburb into a Renaissance palazzo in the heart of Genoa, Dickens saw more clearly the “Condition of England” question, the ever-increasing gulf between the indigent and the privileged. An informing context for The Chimes overlooked until now is the frescoes in the Villa Peschiere, particularly those in his study and bedroom, as inspiring both various elements of his novella and his letter to Forster describing the book's inception. Frescoes by Luca Cambiaso and his colleague Giovanni Battista Castello in particular influenced Dickens's vision and imagery.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-06-01

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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