Among Charles Dickens’ cauldron of literary outpourings, his first major work remains relatively obscure. Sketches by Boz sees the pseudonymous young author reporting scenes from everyday London life with the nascent wit, wizardry and pathos of his later novels. Postgrad Mike Kielty has set up a blog to revisit Dickens’ ‘sketches’, looking with a modern eye at some of the locations mentioned in the book. He’s even been picked up for a feature by the BBC. We spoke to the author of Footsteps of Boz:
Could you give us some background to the site – what prompted you to start it?
Everyone on my journalism course at City University has to do a blog. When the course started, I was new to London and wanted to explore the city. I was also reading Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz at the time when we had to decide what to do. I felt that the structure of Dickens’s book, with its short chapters focussing on particular areas or activities in London, could work well with a modern blog.
Why did you decide to focus on Sketches by Boz in particular, given the much wider output of the author?
Because I haven’t read all his books! Virtually all Dickens’s writing (whether novels or journalism) has references to London. It would be the work of a lifetime to follow up all the references. I felt that the best way to keep a tight focus for my blog was to stick with Sketches by Boz.
Sketches by Boz, through modern eyes, reads a little like a Victorian blog. Do you agree, and do you think Dickens would have made a good blogger?
There are definite similarities between Sketches by Boz and a modern blog. Dickens’s chapters in Sketches by Boz are generally quite short, even if they are not as short as most blog posts. His use of a pseudonym (‘Boz’) echoes modern bloggers like Belle du Jour. Sketches by Boz also feels like a lot of the citizen journalism you get in blogs. There is an element of reporting. Dickens wrote in one of his prefaces that his object was “to present little pictures of life and manners as they really are”. But equally, there is a strong sense of a political agenda behind the work. Poverty is abhorrent to Boz, as is any sign of official hypocrisy or incompetence.
Any future plans for developing the blog?
My course finishes in July. By then, I suspect that I will have finished all the work I want to do for the blog. It’s a fascinating area, but I don’t want to keep going on forever. I’ll try to find a new project, perhaps a new blog.
What would Dickens have loved about modern London, do you think?
I think he would have been delighted that the slums have gone, even though he would probably still be aware of the remaining poverty in the city. And he would have loved Boris.
And what would he have mocked or criticised about London, were he alive today?
I suspect that he would have been very critical of the bankers for the credit crunch and for the politicians involved in the expenses scandal.
Tell us something about London you don’t think many people will know about.
More than two in five children in London live below the poverty line, according to the London Evening Standard.
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