Night Walks by Charles Dickens – London by Night – A Post a Day in May

Today’s post is very short. We have the most delicious reading weather and I want to make the most of it. Yesterday the thermometer on my shady balcony showed 30°. It was hot and humid, so, as was to be expected, we have rain today. Not just a drizzle, a downpour. The back garden is full of very old trees with dense foliage that is now dripping with rain. It’s wonderful. The best reading weather ever.

Night Walks, one of the titles from the Penguin Great Ideas series, contains several journalistic texts Charles Dickens wrote between 1850 – 1870. I’ve only read the first short piece so far, the one that has given the book it’s title – Night Walks.

During a certain period of his life, Dickens suffered from insomnia. It was due to a “distressing impression” and led to his wandering the streets of London all night during a series of several nights. He never says what distressing impression caused his insomnia, only speaks about the cure. Since he couldn’t sleep, he decided, it would be best to go for long walks. He must have left the house around midnight and only returned after sunrise to, finally, fall into an exhausted sleep.

This is a very short piece but it’s immensely enjoyable. Dickens describes his nightly London so well, creates such an uncanny atmosphere, touches on so many themes like homelessness, social injustice, poverty, mental health, in a mere 15 pages.

But the river had an awful look, the buildings on the bans were muffled in black shrouds, and the reflected lights seemed to originate deep in the water, as if the spectres of suicides were holding them to show where they went down. The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of the immensity of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river

He starts his walk close to Waterloo Bridge, at the time, a toll bridge, and walks on in the direction of London Bridge, Westminster, and ends at Covent Garden. He passes prisons, asylums, and theatres. After two in the morning, when the last pub closes, it gets very quiet. Only very few people are out and about and he cherishes what little contact he has, with the man on the toll bridge for example. His favourite parts seem to be having a light breakfast at Covent Garden or watching the mail come in at a railway terminus.

I tried to find out what caused Dickens’ insomnia and came across this interesting blog post

10 thoughts on “Night Walks by Charles Dickens – London by Night – A Post a Day in May

  1. I’m a lifelong Londoner and I much prefer the city at night, even though I’m not really a night owl. I’ll be really interested to read this and see what has changed and what is still the same.

    • In that case, you’d enjoy this. I love London too or walking in big cities anyway. I think I have some of those Woolf pieces. I was never too tempted to read more Dickens after Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol but this has put me in the mood. And to read more about his biography.

  2. This looks very fascinating, Caroline! Thanks for sharing that blog post too. It was very eye-opening. Enjoy the wonderful reading weather! I’m wondering whether there is a word for the beautiful scene you described – water dripping from the trees. Happy reading!

    • If anyone has a word for it it would be the Japanese. It was wonderful weather and the book I chose was the perfect match.
      I found this blog post very interesting. Dickens writes such evocative prose.

  3. Are these pieces fiction, non-fiction or a mixture of both? He’s always so readablen isn’t he?

    Your post title ‘Nighty Walks’ conjured up a different image. ☺

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