Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

A Life

Book - 2012
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The tumultuous life of England's greatest novelist, beautifully rendered by unparalleled literary biographer Claire Tomalin.

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, The Times of London successfully campaigned for his burial in Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of England's kings and heroes. Thousands flocked to mourn the best recognized and loved man of nineteenth-century England. His books had made them laugh, shown them the squalor and greed of English life, and also the power of personal virtue and the strength of ordinary people. In his last years Dickens drew adoring crowds to his public appearances, had met presidents and princes, and had amassed a fortune.

Like a hero from his novels, Dickens trod a hard path to greatness. Born into a modest middle-class family, his young life was overturned when his profligate father was sent to debtors' prison and Dickens was forced into harsh and humiliating factory work. Yet through these early setbacks he developed his remarkable eye for all that was absurd, tragic, and redemptive in London life. He set out to succeed, and with extraordinary speed and energy made himself into the greatest English novelist of the century.

Years later Dickens's daughter wrote to the author George Bernard Shaw, "If you could make the public understand that my father was not a joyous, jocose gentleman walking about the world with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch, you would greatly oblige me." Seen as the public champion of household harmony, Dickens tore his own life apart, betraying, deceiving, and breaking with friends and family while he pursued an obsessive love affair.

Charles Dickens: A Life gives full measure to Dickens's heroic stature-his huge virtues both as a writer and as a human being- while observing his failings in both respects with an unblinking eye. Renowned literary biographer Claire Tomalin crafts a story worthy of Dickens's own pen, a comedy that turns to tragedy as the very qualities that made him great-his indomitable energy, boldness, imagination, and showmanship-finally destroyed him. The man who emerges is one of extraordinary contradictions, whose vices and virtues were intertwined as surely as his life and his art.

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Penguin Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781594203091
Branch Call Number: Biography B Dic


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SB2000 Apr 02, 2013

Written with wit, verve and compassion, this is another brilliant biography from one of the great exponents of this form.

As with her biography of Sam Pepys, we are swept right into the Regency world of young Charles' birth in the home of an improvident and debt-ridden father

Dickens is shown in the round: as hugely complex man, full of foibles, possessed of almost superhuman levels of energy and self-belief. A man who could be a champion of the down-trodden and oppressed, a steadfast friend-in-need and also incredibly self-centered. A man with a genius for writing and melodrama but who also could record the scenes of life around him and give dignity to those contemporary society considered had none. Acreator of villains and heros. One of my favourite authors.

Apr 30, 2012

When writing the biography of this massively complex life, the author must choose: breadth or depth? For breadth, this well-researched, sensible-shoes book is a good start. All events are touched on, and Ms. Tomalin has a brisk frankness that eludes most of her rivals. (Yes, OF COURSE Dickens had a physical affair with Ellen Ternan and visited prostitutes. And not just to rescue them.) Her assessments of Dickens`s writings are conventional and easily skipped. For depth, try Michael Slater`s Dickens and Women (the first bio that gave the unfortunate Mrs. Dickens a fair shake), or even Peter Ackroyd`s biography. It`s annoyingly fanciful, but has Dickens`s sense of drama.

Apr 14, 2012

Terrific biography.

Feb 15, 2012

This biography of Dickens is almost as exciting and touching as reading a Dickens novel. Beautifully written, meticulously researched (with speculation here and there as well). Humane and engaging.


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