American Notes for General Circulation is a travelogue by Charles Dickens detailing his trip to North America from January to June 1842. While there he acted as a critical observer of North American society, almost as if returning a status report on their progress. This can be compared to the style of his Pictures from Italy written four years later, where he wrote far more like a tourist. His American journey was also an inspiration for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Having arrived in Boston, he visited Lowell, New York, and Philadelphia, and travelled as far south as Richmond, as far west as St. Louis and as far north as Quebec. The American city he liked best was Boston – "the air was so clear, the houses were so bright and gay. [...] The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should imagine, to impress all strangers very favourably." Further, it was close to the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind where Dickens encountered Laura Bridgman, who impressed him greatly. In 1844, Dickens took a respite from writing novels and for several months traveled through France and Italy with his family. They visited the most famous sights: Genoa, Rome, Naples (with Vesuvius still smouldering), Florence and Venice. In his travelogue the author portrays a nation of great contrasts: grandiose buildings and urban desolation, and everyday life beside ancient monuments. But it is his encounters with Italy's colorful street life that capture the imagination. Dickens is particularly drawn to the costumes, cross-dressing, and sheer exuberance of the Roman carnival. From the book we learn that Dickens was an early riser and walker, and that he enjoyed touring the major attractions on foot. Redlaw is a teacher of chemistry who often broods over wrongs done him and grief from his past. He is haunted by a spirit, who is not so much a ghost as Redlaw's phantom twin and is "an awful likeness of himself...with his features, and his bright eyes, and his grizzled hair, and dressed in the gloomy shadow of his dress..." This spectre appears and proposes to Redlaw that he can allow him to "forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known...to cancel their remembrance..." Redlaw is hesitant at first, but finally agrees. As a consequence of the ghost's intervention, Redlaw is without memories of the painful incidents from his past. He experiences a universal anger that he cannot explain. His bitterness spreads to the Swidgers, the Tetterbys and his student. All become as wrathful as Redlaw himself. The only one who is able to avoid the bitterness is Milly. With this realization, the novel concludes with everyone back to normal and Redlaw, like Ebenezer Scrooge, a changed, more loving man. Now a whole person, Redlaw learns to be humble at Christmas.
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