The editors of the Penguin edition of American Notes suggest that Dickens ‘underwent a form of psychic collapse in America’ (p. 35). On the evidence of Barnaby Rudge the collapse would seem to have happened earlier. American Notes reads like the bulletin of a convalescent. Apart from The Battle of Life it is the most disorientated book Dickens ever wrote. Its best chapter has nothing to do with America but sums up Dickens’s imaginative condition in the interregnum before Martin Chuzzlewit. Its ostensible subject is sea-sickness but Dickens’s illness seems closer to la nausée: ‘I lay there, all the day long… with no sense of weariness, with no desire to get up, or get better… with no curiosity, or care, or regret…. Once… I found myself on deck…. I found myself standing, when a gleam of consciousness came upon me, holding on to something. I don’t know what. I think it was the boatswain: or it may have been the pump: or possibly the cow’ (ch. 2).
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.