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Reading the fiction of Charles Dickens has helped some travellers far from home to pass the time and to stay connected with the human community. Among these readers of Dickens, one could hardly be farther away from civilization than Isaac Israel Hayes, a sailor at sea in the Arctic. For Hayes, a volume of Dickens was among his most precious possessions:
Upon leaving the brig I had selected from the narrow shelf which held the little library that I learned to love so well during the last long winter, three small books, which I thrust into my already crowded clothes bag. They were the before mentioned volume of Dickens, the ‘In Memoriam,’ and a small pocket Bible; all parting gifts from kind friends to me when leaving home; and all doubly precious, for themselves, and for the memories which they recalled.
These books, embodying memories of loved ones at home, were soaked and torn and their backs were loose. Yet, they served both a practical and an emotional purpose, and so he held onto them as one would hold to a tether something precious and secure: ‘I kept them under my head as helps for a pillow and for their companionship’. For Americans like Hayes, Dickens's fiction, whilst mostly set in Britain, provided a memory of home and a resource for self-construction. His writing entertained them and served as a model for their own self-expression in letters and diaries.
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