Synopses & Reviews
The strange and varied lives of the ten children of the worlds most beloved novelist
Charles Dickens, famous for the indelible child characters he created—from Little Nell to Oliver Twist and David Copperfield—was also the father of ten children (and a possible eleventh). What happened to those children is the fascinating subject of Robert Gottliebs Great Expectations. With sympathy and understanding he narrates the highly various and surprising stories of each of Dickenss sons and daughters, from Kate, who became a successful artist, to Frank, who died in Moline, Illinois, after serving a grim stretch in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Each of these lives is fascinating on its own. Together they comprise a unique window on Victorian England as well as a moving and disturbing study of Dickens as a father and as a man.
"Just in time for fireside reading season, Gottlieb (Lives and Letters; Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhard) offers this intimate look into the family life of Charles Dickens, the World's Best Worst Father. Gottlieb profiles each of the 10 Dickens children seven sons and three daughters, one who died in infancy and includes a chapter on the scandalous possible existence of an 11th child, a son born to Ellen Ternan, Dickens's probable mistress. The book is divided into two separate, chronological sections delineated by Dickens's death in 1870, a structural choice that re-enacts the way in which Dickens held ultimate control over the life narratives of his children, and demonstrates just how large his shadow loomed as both an excellence-demanding father and a disappointment-doling ghost. Life was often bleak for the siblings, who were subject to Dickens's often brutal scrutiny and the life-altering decisions that followed. Gottlieb studs these portraits with artifacts ripe for happy discovery, including excerpts from personal letters and rare photographs. The results are fascinating but often tragic, with each Dickens baby born with more perceived brilliance than the last, only to grow up and reveal a fatal ordinariness to their father. This smart and accessible biography is written in a clever, conversational tone that radiates coziness during even the coldest moments, keeping the pages swiftly turning." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Praise for Great Expectations
Robert Gottliebs Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens is an ingenious way of using the available information on Dickenss nine children who grew into adulthood. It throws light not only on the novelist himself, but also on the range of influence parents and home life can have on offspring. It is also a fascinating and haunting portrait of attitudes towards children and career possibilities in England in the mid-nineteenth century . . . It would have been easy for Gottlieb to trace the personal weaknesses and the strange fate of most of the Dickens brood to the separation of their parents and the banishment of their mother, but it is to his credit that he reads each case more subtly and without a scheme and allows each of the children a sort of autonomy, giving them a life not merely determined by a single traumatic event in their youth or childhood . . . The fate of the Dickens children as outlined here allows us to imagine with greater richness the lives of so many others whose names merely survive on gravestones, or census forms, or on lists of members of the army and navy. They also help us to read the novels of the period.” —Colm Tóibín, The New York Review of Books
“[An] easygoing, elegant, and surprisingly fascinating book.”—The Washington Post
“Ingenious...It throws light not only on the novelist himself, but also on the range of influence parents and home life can have on offspring.”—Colm Tóibín, The New York Review of Book
“An irresistibly readable new book.”—Salon
“An accessible, sharply focused, and opinionated portrait of what the ‘magical but dominating father wrought at home...[Gottlieb] brings an enticingly light touch to his scholarship, resulting in a book that reads like haute literary gossip.”—NPR
About the Author
Robert Gottlieb has been the editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker. He is the author of Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhard, George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker, and Lives and Letters (FSG, 2011), and is the dance critic for The New York Observer.