Charles Dickens: A Life [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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Charles Dickens: A Life

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In his time, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was the most popular author not only in his native England, but also in America: In fact, in just two days, his American Notes sold 50,000 copies in New York alone. Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens captures the inner workings of a fiercely private workaholic, a man whose mistreatment of family and friends seems at painful odds with his philanthropic activities and the deep human warmth communicated in his novels. Tomalin's mastery of the materials and writing skills enable her to untangle and weave together events in Dickens' professional career and private life that other chroniclers have missed. By any standard, a major biography of a major author by an award-winning biographer. Editor's recommendation.

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.)
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.”

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.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Biographies of Charles Dickens are said to number around ninety, a count creeping steadily upward in honor of the 2012 bicentennial of the great man's birth. Claire Tomalin's splendid, far from superfluous Dickens is a major entry into the field. This fine biographer has already contributed much to the picture we have of the vexed character of the world's most famous novelist in The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. Since that book was published in 1990, the author's cruel treatment of his wife and the question of his relationship with the young actress have replaced the blacking factory as the topic of paramount interest when the subject of his life comes up. But if that sorry business is the pivot around which this biography also turns, it is only because the anger, the yearning, and the ferocious will that fueled the dark half of Dickens's contradictory nature were so shockingly realized in it.

The outline of Dickens's life is well known: a childhood blighted by his parents' improvidence and bizarre indifference; an adulthood of unremitting literary and theatrical enterprise bringing international celebrity; indefatigable philanthropic endeavor; fathering ten children on a submissive wife, then banishing and separating her from those children; his affair; and his death at fifty- eight. Tomalin sets it all before us in expansive detail, exposing what she sees as the central truth of Dickens's life. It is that, for much of it, he felt ensnared in the all-encompassing trap of "having been born with the wrong parents, supplied with the wrong brothers, married to the wrong wife, father of the wrong sons, with the result that he was surrounded by dependents."

One of Tomalin's aims is to show how making money, more and more of it, presented itself to Dickens as the only possible way to break free; and, indeed, his unceasing work — writing, editing, giving readings, and putting on theatrical productions — did bring in vast sums. Nonetheless, every increase in fortune was accompanied by new demands on his pocket: to maintain a style of living in keeping with his growing renown, to fulfill childhood dreams, and to support his many charitable works and ever- proliferating brood ("I begin to count the children incorrectly, they are so many; and to find fresh ones coming down to dinner in a perfect procession, when I thought there were no more"). Most irksome of all were the constant appeals from members of his family to be bailed out. He became furious at what he conceived to be an inherited fecklessness and passivity: "You don't know what it is to look round the table," he wrote to a friend, "and see reflected from every seat at it?some horribly well remembered expression of inadaptability to anything." Dickens's response to this continual affront was finally and brutally to sever ties; thus, at various times, he struck off his father, brother, a couple of sons, and countless other importunate petitioners.

Tomalin's low-key, often wry conversational style sets into relief the driven man, burning and fuming, living, as he said while writing Bleak House, in "a perpetual scald and boil." After a stint of writing he would call for a cold pail of water into which he would plunge his head. Possessed by almost ungovernable energy and fury, he walked miles at top speed, saying that if he didn't he would "just explode and perish." There is no question, as this book and his own fiction illustrate, that he was exhilarated by fire, by its destructive power in the world and in the soul. In an emblematic and arresting scene, Tomalin shows him on an excursion up Mount Vesuvius, "crawling to the very edge of the crater and looking down into the boiling fires below, rejoining the others with his clothes alight in several places, giddy, singed, scorched and triumphant."

In exploring the matter of Dickens's pitiless rejection of his wife, Tomalin enters into his feelings with an empathy that is one of her great strengths in dealing with badness. She shows him yearning for a different life and prey to a paradoxical longing for both purity and for the young Nelly Ternan. She builds a convincing circumstantial case for Dickens having contracted a venereal disease after he cut himself off from his wife, and for his being treated and cured — after which he consummated his affair with Ternan. She also presents credible evidence for the affair producing a child who died very young. She goes further, on shakier ground, to suggest that, contrary to the official version, Dickens did not collapse in his dining room, on June 8, 1870, but at Nelly's house, his unconscious body smuggled into his own house, where he died the next day.

Tomalin gives much play to the dark galvanic current that coursed through Dickens's life, assuring that we will not — as his daughter Kate hoped we would not — think of him only as "a joyous, jocose gentleman walking about the world with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch," On the other hand, Dickens's happy vitality, comic sensibility, and love of festivity are also very much present throughout the book, especially when he is shown with children and male comrades. There is a wonderful description of George Dolby, friend and theater manager, traveling with Dickens on a reading tour: consuming his specialties, gin punch and the "artful sandwich" (parsley, hard-boiled egg, and anchovy on a buttered French roll); smoking endless cigars; visiting circuses and, as an extra treat, a prison; playing cards and exercising the privilege of entertaining Dickens by standing on his head. Elsewhere we find the Sparkler of Albion, as he liked to call himself, enjoying his monumental fame, loved by readers and audiences, exchanging mutual doffings of caps with Emperor Napoleon III and Prince Albert, and being questioned by Queen Victoria as to why it was impossible to get good servants.

Tomalin shows throughout how Dickens's trials, many illnesses, and duties affected the quality of his writing and how his own experience informed his characters and plots. In fact, she appears to have a peculiar talent for entering the minds of tortured men who were rotten husbands. Her last work, a magnificent biography of Thomas Hardy, showed the centrality of his own humiliating childhood and inner rage. Hardy's fiction is shot through with cruelty, though, in its insistence on the meaninglessness of human lives, it is directed as much at the reader as at the characters. In Dickens's work — written, to be sure, on the higher, more optimistic slope of the nineteenth century — there is cruelty aplenty, but toward his readers he is always generous.

After finishing this penetrating biography, I feel more tangibly than ever Dickens's impulse to disorder a world which to him had been first so callous and then confining. He unmade it and remade it through a near-hallucinatory vision and untamable powers of grotesquerie and comic whimsy, especially in his minor characters and the worlds they live in. His little people are in constant interaction with their clothes or disappear into them or become them entirely; buildings and streets have their own intransigent personalities; food and drink flirt and make merry, crying out to be enjoyed. Dickens dispelled, on the page at least, the implacable order that crushed him as a boy and that continued to beset him with unwanted dependents and obligations. He continues to do the same for us, almost two centuries after his birth and 175 years after giving us The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, the first passport into his comic empyrean.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101547991
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/27/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 575,992
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

CLAIRE TOMALIN worked in publishing and journalism for many years. She was literary editor first of the New Statesman and then the Sunday Times, before devoting herself to writing full time. She is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies including Thomas Hardy, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which was the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year. She lives in England with her husband, Michael Frayn.
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    Posted July 18, 2013

    Lionpaw

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    Warriors den

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    Posted December 26, 2011

    Great bio

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