For Dickens, the excitement of crossing the Channel never seemed to fade as a subject for his journalism: whirling down from London to Kent by train; the cross-channel steam-packet boat from Dover or Folkestone; terrible seasickness every time; and then, France. The years between his first visit to the Continent, in 1837, to the mid 1860s when he was practically commuting from his working life in London and Kent to visit his beloved Ellen Ternan, living just outside Boulogne, witnessed revolutions, national unifications and empire-building in mainland Europe. At the same time, the development of the railways brought European capitals dizzyingly close to London. In 1851, Dickens celebrated the opening of a new railway line from Boulogne to Paris in an article in Household Words. No longer would the French side of the journey be drawn out by travel in that throwback to an earlier age – a horse-drawn Diligence or public coach from the coast to the capital. Rattling over the pavements of Paris at 8.30 p.m., after leaving London Bridge station that morning at 8 a.m., left Dickens in ‘a pleasant doubt of the reality of everything about me’ and ‘blessing the South-Eastern Company for realising the Arabian Nights in these prose days’.
If the technological developments of the mid century brought Europe ever closer to Britain, then that proximity was rather worrying to those who perceived the Continent as the source of terror and revolution.