Sunday, 12 February 2012

Charles Dickens's Networks

Despite the somewhat wonky title (I was always taught that if it was something 'owned' by Dickens, it should be rendered thus: Dickens') this is a extremely readable and very interesting book by Jonathan H. Grossman.

It is an innovative examination of the novels of Charles Dickens, their interesting, multilevel and criss-crossing plots and how the burgeoning transport networks of that time impacted on the novelists of the Victorian era.

It's an original work, which employs a novel approach to literary history with a thought-provoking look at the 19th century novel from the perspective of the transport networks of that time.

It theorises how passenger networks operate and how narrative forms a part of imagining public transport networks.

The author points out that at the same time as Dickens was writing his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, the first railway line in London opened for business.

Charles Dickens's Networks examines the rise of the global, high-speed passenger transport networks of the 19th century and the important impact they made on the works of Charles Dickens.

It looks at the advent of the stagecoach network, the railways and ocean-going steam liners and how they made transport easy for everyone, but also more affordable, too. Journeys that once seemed unattainable could be made in less than a day.  And the strict timetables of the railway companies made such travel predictable and reliable, in the main part.

The railway timetables also changed how time was looked at. Before the advent of the railway, each town had its own, separate time. If it was noon in Birmingham it might be 12.15 in London and 12.10 in Manchester. But to avoid railway accidents the whole rail network must run at precisely the same time, so the standardised railway time was introduced which very quickly became the same standardised time for the whole country. We were all synchronised and are to this very day.

Grossman takes a literary microscope to three of the so-called road novels of Charles Dickens and uses them as a sort of a lens to examine the history of how the public transport network changed how we perceive time and how this impacted on community and how the novelist played a key part in bringing this all together and helping us to have some understanding of it.

It is an extremely important book for Dickens lovers, people who enjoy finding out about how the Victorian era is still impacting on our lives today and students of transport history. 

The book will cost £25 in hardback and is published on 1 March.

In association with the Oxford University Press, readers of That's Books can have FREE access to the life of Charles Dickens in the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Just visit This free access will last for six months.

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