Whenever an extra in a Dickens novel needs to make an escape, he exits stage left, to an unseen America; characters with better billing merely gesture westward, like so many weathercocks. Mr. Monks flees ‘to a distant part of the New World,’ where he meets his end in an American penitentiary. Amy Dorrit wishes her worthless brother Tip would decamp for Canada. Herbert Pocket fancies ‘buying a rifle and going to America, with a general purpose of compelling buffalo to make his fortune.’ Sam Weller’s father proposes sneaking Mr. Pickwick out of Fleet Street prison (‘Me and a cab’net-maker has dewised a plan for gettin him out’), by concealing him in a piece of furniture (‘A pianner, Samivel, a pianner!’), and sending him across the ocean, where all his troubles will be over, because he could ‘come back and write a book about the ‘Merrikas as ‘ll pay his expenses.’ It needed only the piano. …
Dickens apparently was very keen on going to America himself. That was in the 1840’s. Today, we see stories about America’s place in the world being gradually eroded, whether due to the fiscal cliff or the growth of the BRIC nations.
In the book I’m currently reading, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, in the first few pages of the book (the book itself is situated in a time in the future) America is made out to be the one place few want to go to – there’s even a line about how, apart from a few Albanians, there’s no one else queuing up in the American Embassy in Rome.
An amusing observation, that’s all.