This time of year, if you take the Charles Dickens walk, you will probably sing Christmas carols. “Joy to the World, the Lord is come”? “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? You will remember some of the words but not all.
The truth is, you never took the Dickens walk. You were supposed to meet in front of a tube stop. The docent would wear 19th-century clothes, a living Phiz illustration. But you never got beyond the Dickens Museum, at 48 Doughty Street, which is not far from Lamb’s Conduit, a charming street known for its pubs, restaurants, and shops.
Still, you would see Dickensian sights if you took the literary walk. Walk in the City, and you would see the Courts of Chancery, the scene of the endlessly-argued lawsuits in Bleak House. Perhaps you would walk past the prison where Little Dorrit and her family lived. Then on to the Old Curiosity Shop in Holborn, which you dreaded because it would be too touristy. And of course the docent would take you on one of Dickens’ favorite walks, because Dickens walked 10 or 20 miles a day.
What living writer is the the modern Dickens? You can only think of John Irving, whose sprawling, comical novels of the 20th century, The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Widow for One Year, had a similar vitality. In an interview, Irving said Dickens was his favorite writer, and that he had read all of his books but one, which he was saving for old age. On the TV show, Lost, Desmond had the same philosophy: in a ziplock bag, he carried the one Dickens book he had not read. So on Lost, a homage to Irving!
You will not take the Dickens walk this December – it might rain or snow. And even 48 Doughty Street might be a little crazy around Christmas, because of the Christmas books.
So Happy Christmas in November! Perhaps you’ll take the walk.