CHARLES DICKENS ON WALKING the streets of London, quoted in Judith Flanders’ The Victorian City:
Whenever we have an hour or two to spare, there is nothing we enjoy more than a little amateur vagrancy – walking up one street and down another, and staring into shop windows, and gazing about as if, instead of being on intimate terms with every shop and house…the whole were an unknown region to our wandering mind.
Although undoubtedly a man of great imagination, Dickens was also a reporter – a mirror for London. He described the city as he saw it (and he saw a lot of it, always on foot). He absorbed its quirks, its pockets of pleasure and its pockets of darkness, its characters and its many moods, and reflected them back at the city itself, just as a traveler would describe a foreign city to those in his homeland.
What do we see – how do we see – when we shed the eyes of an intimate and view our own city as ‘an unknown region’?