I bought this book about Dickens and London in Manchester when I was there in 2010 and thought I would be spending several months in London on a followup assignment. When that assignment fell through and I returned to the US, I was disappointed that I couldn't walk London with Tambling in hand.
In retrospect, now that I have had time to read the book from distant shores, I realize it wouldn't have been much help to me as a casual traveler. Tambling's book is more serious literary criticism of Dickens' use of London as a setting for his literary works than it is a layman's travelogue. As literary criticism, as far as I can tell with my unpracticed eye, "Going Astray" is well done, and some of the insights are interesting.
A central tenant of Tambling's thesis is that Dickens shaped London, a city in transition from the rebuilt city after the Great Fire of the 17th century to the post-industrial city of the 20th century yet to come after Dickens' death too soon. Interestingly, despite its massive population growth in the 19th century, Tambling asserts that Paris remained the representative city of the century for its revolutionary fervor in contrast to London's fundamental conservatism even in the face of great societal, cultural, and economic pressure.
Tambling mines not only Dickens' most well-known novels, but also his two major collections of essays and journalism--Sketches by Boz and The Uncommercial Traveler--for places, distances, contrasts, and criticism. In fact, I have a copy of Sketches that I plan to read next, but in retrospect I would recommend that readers of Tambling first be familiar with both these collections before tackling Tambling.
And finally, on the travelogue aspect, there are some maps in the center of the book, but only historical maps illustrating the streets before and during Dickens' time, and Tambling does provide a gazetteer at the back that brings together all the location references in one place. It would have been helpful to the traveler to have included a modern foldout street map keyed to the gazetteer, but as I noted in my review, that really wasn't Tambling's purpose in writing this geo-literary criticism of Dickens.
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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager (TStocksl)
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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