Charles Dickens: A Life

Charles Dickens: A Life

4.2 7
by Claire Tomalin
     
 

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Charles Dickens was a phenomenon: a demonicly hardworking journalist, the father of ten children, a tireless walker and traveller, a supporter of liberal social causes, but most of all a great novelist - the creator of characters who live immortally in the English imagination: the Artful Dodger, Mr Pickwick, Pip, David Copperfield, Little Nell, Lady Dedlock

Overview

Charles Dickens was a phenomenon: a demonicly hardworking journalist, the father of ten children, a tireless walker and traveller, a supporter of liberal social causes, but most of all a great novelist - the creator of characters who live immortally in the English imagination: the Artful Dodger, Mr Pickwick, Pip, David Copperfield, Little Nell, Lady Dedlock, and many more. At the age of twelve he was sent to work in a blacking factory by his affectionate but feckless parents. From these unpromising beginnings, he rose to scale all the social and literary heights, entirely through his own efforts. When he died, the world mourned, and he was buried - against his wishes - in Westminster Abbey. Yet the brilliance concealed a divided character: a republican, he disliked America; sentimental about the family in his writings, he took up passionately with a young actress; usually generous, he cut off his impecunious children. Claire Tomalin, author of Whitbread Book of the Year Samuel Pepys, paints an unforgettable portrait of Dickens, capturing brilliantly the complex character of this great genius. Charles Dickens: A Life is the examination of Dickens we deserve.

Editorial Reviews

THE GUARDIAN (UK)

"[O]nward-driving, hypnotically vivid… the result of Claire Tomalin's unrivalled talent for telling a story and keeping a reader enthralled: long as the book is, I wanted more.”

THE WASHINGTON POST

"As Claire Tomalin demonstrates in her vivid and moving new biography, Dickens’s own life was rich in the attributes we call “Dickensian” — shameless melodrama, gargantuan appetites, reversals of fortune... To encompass this frenzy, Tomalin keeps the story racing. She brings Dickens to life in all his maddening contradictions... Dickens walks off the page, and the pace never flags. Tomalin accomplishes this resurrection in a mere 417 pages of text, supplemented by dozens of illustrations, several maps of Dickens’s London and a helpful dramatis personae... Tomalin’s is not the definitive Dickens — it’s too concise for that — but if you plan to read only one biography of the most popular Victorian writer, it should be this one."

SEATTLE TIMES

“[A] splendid history… Tomalin skillfully presents the chief trauma of Dickens' young life — being sent to work in a factory at age 12, after his father was imprisoned for debt — and suggests the ways it left a lasting mark, from his sympathy for the working class to his towering ambition and herculean work ethic.”

THE ECONOMIST

“Clear-eyed, sympathetic and scholarly, she spreads the whole canvas, alive with incident and detail, with places and people. She writes of publishers, illustrators, collaborators and all Dickens’s intersecting circles of friends and family. It is wonderfully done.”

Michael Sims
…vivid and moving…[Tomalin] brings Dickens to life in all his maddening contradictions…by following his own method: She provides choice details, superintends many characters, and welcomes both humor and pathos. Dickens walks off the page, and the pace never flags…Tomalin's is not the definitive Dickens—it's too concise for that—but if you plan to read only one biography of the most popular Victorian writer, it should be this one.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
“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. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"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." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Library Journal
Tomalin (Thomas Hardy) offers what is effectively the bicentennial biography of Dickens. She examines all aspects of her subject's life and career, with an emphasis on his personality's many contradictions: he was kind and cruel, charitable and pitiless, gregarious and intensely private. Dickens's friendships, as Tomalin illuminates, were numerous and lifelong. His close friends, such as his first biographer, John Forster, loved and honored him. But in family relationships, especially with his wife and many children, he was often cold and unfeeling. Tomalin investigates and speculates on Dickens's relationship with Nelly Ternan, providing information beyond what is in her prize-winning The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (1992). She praises Dickens's many accomplishments and the sterling qualities that endeared him to so many friends and readers, while also delineating his dark side and how it cast a shadow over his later years. He died at age 58. VERDICT Michael Slater's recent biography examines Dickens's literary works more deeply; Tomalin's focus is the writer himself. While it neither offers much in the way of new insights nor replaces classic studies of Dickens, Tomalin's entertaining book deserves to be the go-to popular biography for readers new to Boz and his works. (Index not seen.)—Morris A. Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY
Kirkus Reviews

Like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was an overachiever of genius, and his life was as eventful, dramatic and character-filled as any of his novels. This rich new biography brilliantly captures his world.

Acclaimed biographer Tomalin (Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man,2007, etc.) has always hunted big literary game (Hardy,Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, etc.), and here she goes after one of the biggest and most complex. Dickens once told a visiting Dostoevsky that his heroes and villains came from the two people inside him: "one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite." However, there were many more dimensions to Dickens' character. Besides being a tireless writer of long, complicated novels and hundreds of articles, an editor of a succession of magazines and a frustrated actor whose public readings became standing-room-only events, he was ebullient, charming, radical, instinctively sympathetic to the poor, generous to friends but unforgiving once you got on his bad side. At home, he was a domineering husband to his long-suffering wife and a distant father to his ten children. Dickens certainly would have appreciated Tomalin's keen eye for scene, character and narrative pace. Ever the deft critic, she notes how the characters inMartin Chuzzlewitare "set up like toys programmed to run on course," and thatHard Times"fails to take note of its own message that people must be amused." Having written previously on Dickens' disastrous late-life affair (The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, 1991), Tomalin also displays considerable detective work to bolster the possibility that Dickens and his other woman had a secret child who died in infancy.

Superbly organized, comprehensive and engrossing from start to finish—a strong contender for biography of the year.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143122050
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/30/2012
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
712,492
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

Claire Tomalin was literary editor of the New Statesman then the Sunday Times before leaving to become a full-time writer. Her first book, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, won the Whitbread First Book Award, and she has since written a number of highly acclaimed and bestselling biographies. They include Jane Austen: A Life, The Invisible Woman, a definitive account of Dickens' relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan, which won three major literary awards, and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self was Whitbread Book of the Year in 2002. In the highly acclaimed Charles Dickens: A Life, she presents a full-scale biography of our greatest novelist. She is married to the writer Michael Frayn.

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