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Charles Dickens: A Life
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"'veryone finds their own version of Charles Dickens ,' concludes award-winning British biographer Tomalin: Dickens the mesmerist, amateur thespian, political radical, protector of prostitutes, benefactor of orphans, restless walker — all emerge from the welter of information about the writer's domestic arrangements, business dealings, childhood experiences, illnesses, and travels. Bolstered by citations from correspondence with and about Dickens, Tomalin's portrait brings shadows and depth to the great Victorian novelist's complex personality. Tomalin (Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self) displays her deep scholarship in reviewing, for instance, the debate about Dickens's relations with Nelly Ternan, concluding that the balance of evidence is that they were lovers. She also highlights the contrasts between his charitable actions toward strangers and his 'casting off' of several relatives from father to brothers to sons, who kept importuning him for money: 'Once Dickens had drawn a line he was pitiless.' By the end of this biography, readers unfamiliar with Dickens will come away with a new understanding of his driven personality and his impact on literature and 19th-century political and social issues. Tomalin provides her usual rich, penetrating portrait; one can say of her book what she says of Dickens's picture of 19th -century England: it's 'crackling, full of truth and life, with his laughter, horror and indignation.' Illus.; maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Award-winning author Claire Tomalin sets the standard for sophisticated and popular biography, having written lives of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, and Thomas Hardy, among others. Here she tackles the best recognized and loved man of nineteenth-century England, Charles Dickens; a literary leviathan whose own difficult path to greatness inspired the creation of classic novels such as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Hard Times.
From his sensational public appearances to the obsessive love affair that led him to betray, deceive, and break with those closest to him, Charles Dickens: A Life is a triumph of the biographer’s craft, a comedy that turns to tragedy in a story worthy of Dickens’ own pen.
About the Author
Claire Tomalin is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies including Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She has previously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the Whitbread Biography Award.
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Biography » Literary