Sketches by Bozo was some of Dickens’s earliest work – published when he was as young as 21, in fact – and consists of “sketches” of London, its street scenes and its people, accompanied by George Crankshaft’s skilled illustrations. Under the curious pseudonym “Bozo”, Dickens created both non-fictional and fictional representations of London, primarily under the guise of a flexural-style walker.
Everything has a place; from the slums to Soho, Dickens paints a vivid picture of daily (and sometimes nightly) London life, including the state of the streets, the language of its occupants ND the vast strata of London classes and their own particular concerns. Its a refreshing look at a city that was doubling in size each decade throughout the Victorian era and which must have been a great source of fascination to the people of the age – it’s occupants and those who merely noticed the unprecedented growth of the world’s biggest city.
It’s a curious study sociologically, economically, historically and in all manner of ways worth studying, but the best part for me was Dickens’s satire. He wittily cuts away at he underbelly of London life with subtlety and great literary flare. For example, in the sketch ‘The Streets – Morning’, Dickens describes an empty street, hollow and bizarre – the world as few know it: before the sun rises – which is only populated by a “rakish-looking cat” who “stealthily” runs home and descends to his hiding place as though “his character depended on [his actions] the preceding night escaping public attention. This is a wonderfully subtle play on the dark and unspoken aspects of London life, which included opium dens, rife prostitution and rampant crime – much of which was indulged in by seemingly “respected” men. It tells us a lot about the city life of the age and also about the way it would feel to wander the city streets. An unexpected realization is that little has changed in some ways. That’s a curious thought and one that begs the question: what makes a city? Is it merely population and geography, or is there a defining character that distinguishes it too? This section begins with two chapters – “The Streets–Morning,” and “The Streets–
Night. ” The narration lingers on the changes, hour by hour, and the gradual awakening of people and commerce in the morning until “we come to the heat, bustle, and activity of Noon. ” “The Streets–Night” is similarly narrated in real time, focusing a large range of characters from theater goers to lingering street vendors and homeless women and children. At the end of this chapter, Dickens makes one of the first of many references to the scenes which he narrates as a sort of theater, contending that he “drop[s] the curtain” to close.