Pictures from Italy a travelogue by British author Charles Dickens, is an account of his journey with family through Italy in 1844. The book, which was published in 1846, is now out in a new avatar with a visual edition of the book released by city-based publishing house Tara Books, in association with the British Council.
In the illustrated version of the book, Italian artist Livia Signorini draws parallels between Dickens’ intriguing narrative and her art, with a special focus on the themes of place, memories and politics, with the dialogue resulting in a series of layered collages.
Social historian, writer and editor of the book V Geetha, pointed out how it was difficult to not notice the contrasting tendencies that Dickens exhibited as a writer. “Each part of the contrast cannot exist without the other. If you have wealth, you will have poverty,” she explained.
Speaking about the book, she said that Dickens definitely wasn’t doing something new, others from his country were already writing travelogues. “Thousands of people were going to Italy. So how was Dickens going to Italy different?” she pondered, before answering her own question. “His book doesn’t have what is already told in other travel books. What captured his attention are objects of everyday life,” she added as she presented pictures from his visit to Genova, where he chose to focus on ordinary people and the street carnival, instead of the famous monuments like most people would have.
His book is not one that probably best describes Italy, but it’s something that allows readers to understand Dickens, the writer. He was probably just practising the craft of writing with this book, contemplated Geetha. “Most of his best novels were after this book, so we have reason to believe that this was kind of a literary exercise for him,” she said.
Editing the book was difficult for the most part because every line seemed to have a vital role to play, but certain parts were easy to chop, Geetha revealed. “I left out many humourous parts because most of the jokes were racial,” she said. “Those parts also didn’t add to the overall sense of the book.”
Tamil novelist R N Joe D’Cruz, popular for his Aazhi Soozh Ullagu, keeping in tune with the theme of the evening, spoke about the relationship between travel and writing. Hailing from a fishing community, he spoke about writing about the lives and stories of everyday travellers from his community. “For most people, travelling is a thing of excitement. But for the fishermen, it is their living. Every day is a new struggle,” he said.
Published by Tara Books, Pictures from Italy is priced at Rs 750.