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A Tale Of (More Than Two) Italian Cities

Kanak Seshadri

By Charles Dickens
2012, pp. 126, Rs. 750.00


The year gone by was the bicentenary of two Eminent Victorians—Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Edward Lear (1812-1888). Interestingly both travelled in Italy at around the same time. Lear moved to Italy at the age of 25, in the year 1837, the year of the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria, (to whom, incidentally, Lear gave drawing ‘lessons’)—died at San Remo in Italy in 1888. Lear’s Illustrated Excursions in Italy was published in 1846, based on his travels from 26 July 1843 to around September of the year. Dickens’s Pictures from Italy was originally published in volume form by Bradbury & Evans, London in May 1846, after appearing intermittently in the Daily News, London from 21 January to 11 March 1846.   ‘On a fine Sunday morning in the Midsummer time and weather of eighteen hundred and forty-four .......’ Dickens set off from Paris to Genoa via Chalons, Avignon, Marseilles. In other words, within a year of each other, the two gentlemen of London not only travelled in Italy but left for posterity, their impressions in the form of a travelogue, publishing their accounts in the same year. In Lear’s case the text was enlivened by the lithographic drawings from his own sketches. In fact, the raison d’être for his travels was the illustrations. In his preface to Volume 1 of Illustrated Excursions in Italy, Lear writes: ‘the drawings with which the following pages are illustrated are, I believe, the first hitherto given of a part of central Italy as romantic as it is unfrequented’. Lear was, in point of fact the very first ‘Crazy old Englishman Oh!’ to visit some of those places. He went on to say that the literary portions (the text, so to speak) were published with little alterations from the journals that he kept during his ‘rambles’. Dickens’s travelogues have the same freshness and immediacy: Lear’s ‘pictures’ are not just those of a greatly gifted landscape artist but really and truly act as an aide-memoires ‘referencing sounds, feelings and weather’.   The artwork in the book under review by Livia Signorini, while purporting to be ‘in the nature of a dialogue with the text of Charles Dickens,’ (a dialogue, we submit, is a two way process/communication. Is it really possible with a dead author or even a live text?) using collage to ‘create images that resonate from his words’ are, we feel, finally, more layered, as the artist herself, puts it, ...

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