High Street, Rochester by E. W. Haslehust. Pen-and-ink; wood-engraving. Source: Haslehust and Nicklin, Dickens-land, headpiece. Text and formatting by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
The Dickens pilgrim treads in the most palpable footsteps of "Boz" amongst the landmarks of a Victorian London, too rapidly disappearing, and through the "rich and varied landscape" on either side of the Medway, "covered with cornfields and pastures, with here and there a windmill or a distant church", which Dickens loved from boyhood, peopled with the creatures of his teeming fancy, and chose for his last and most-cherished habitation. [Dickens-land, 5]
Rochester has numerous Dickensian associations, ranging from "The Tale of Richard Doubledick" in The Seven Poor Travellers (1854) among the Christmas Stories in Household Words and All the Year Round, "Dullborough Town" in The Uncommercial Traveller, and even The Bull Hotel's many appearances in the fiction, whether in the early chapters of The Pickwick Papers or in a later novel such as Great Expectations as The Blue Boar. The High Street today remains little changed since Haslehust's 1911 study — although the thoroughly "un-Dickensey" electric tram no longer runs along the High Street.
From the Castle to the "Bull" in the High Street is a transition which seems almost an anachronism. It is but to follow in the traces of the Pickwick Club. The covered gateway, the staircase almost wide enough for a coach and four, the ballroom on the first floor landing, with card-room adjoining, and the bedroom which Mr. Winkle occupied . . . — all are there. . . . [Dickens-land, 15]
By transferring the name of one house [i. e., Satis House, formerly the residence of Richard Watts, 1529-79) and combining it with features of a second [i. e., Restoration House, c. 1580] . . . , Dickens makes a composite portrait. [Paroissien, 95]
The effect for those who know Rochester in Kent is to create a parallel world that combines features of the real city and the one imagined for artistic purposes, a world which J. A. Nicklin has termed "Dickens-land." The three books most informed by Dickens's intimate acquaintance as a boy (and later as a man well into middle age) with Rochester, Chatham, and the surrounding Kentish countryside are The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, and the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. il. Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Lynch, Tony. Dickens England: An A to Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller 's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.
Nicklin, J. A. Dickens-land. Il. E. W. Haslehust. Beautiful England series. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son, 1911.
Paroissien, David. The Companion to Great Expectations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
Last modified 25 February 2014