Walker of the Week - Charles Dickens

Thursday, February 28, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the build up to National Walking Month, it was time for another Walker of the Week.

The Germans have a word for, well, pretty much everything. However, one particular German word favoured by writers is ‘Sitzfleisch’ - literally sit flesh, which means staying power - the ability to sit and focus on an activity without moving.

You want to write? Then the wisdom says you gotta sitz your fleisch in that chair, and get ink on papyrus.

Charles Dickens by WatkinsLook at Charles Dickens

His books are pretty decent, and they regularly run over 350,000 words. You think he smashed out literary classics that echo through the ages by walking around?

Actually, yes.

Charles Dickens loved a walk, drawing inspiration for his sweeping tomes from the world he observed around him at street level, particularly in London, which he called his "magic lantern".

Dickens suffered insomnia, and used night walking to alleviate his sleeplessness, once commenting to a friend "If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish".

As well as the physical benefits of walking, he also drew creative energy and literary inspiration from the people and places he encountered on these night walks, which he wrote about in an essay, titled, um… Night Walks.

For Dickens, walking wasn’t some nebbish, chin-stroking, hallway-pacing procrastination. He was into some hardcore, arm-swinging, 20-mile pavement pounding through the black streets of London when, as he said, "all sober folks had gone to bed".

After a late night disagreement with his other half, he walked from his London home to his country house in Kent. Even though it was 30 miles away. And he left at 2am. "Still, better than catching the N207 night bus," he didn’t say.

For Dickens, writing represented research and release. It allowed him to expel the physical tension and energy he built up, clear his head, and also garner a unique perspective on the streets and settings of his literary world.

Walking inspired Dickens, who in turn inspired millions, and for that he’s our Walker of the Week.

National Walking Month

This May is National Walking Month. Why not mark it by taking a walk around your town, village or city and feel the creative benefits of a clearer head?

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