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Posted December 29, 2011
Chances are sometime in your life you've been introduced to Charles Dickens, weather it be from reading his novels or seeing his characters come to life on film and stage. One of his popular holiday books, A Christmas Carol is well known. I know I've watched on television quite a few film versions from the classic 1939 movie to The Muppets and to the 2009 remake. A Christmas Carol was the first novel I read by Charles Dickens. My seventh grade teacher tortured us with the complexity of Dickens. I say tortured because my young mind couldn't yet fathom the complexities of his novels. I didn't learn to appreciate Dickens until later in life. In fact I've even read a few of his novels for pleasure. That's right no grade was involved. But who is the man behind these novels? What inspired him? What drove him?
Charles Dickens: A Life by Pulitzer Prize winner, Jane Smiley is an interesting portrait of the man behind the novels. Instead of writing about Dickens from birth to death, Smiley concentrates on what influenced Dickens at the time of his writing. Charles Dickens was an eccentric character. He was a bit flamboyant, charismatic, very intelligent and socially conscious. He was also peculiar. His life and writing was influenced by many things that happened in his childhood, his personal views on marriage, and his social responsibilities. He was a hard working man. Always on the go. Charles Dickens was a rock star of the literary world. People loved and hated him. Jane Smiley brings out the intricacies of Charles Dickens life. She introduces a more private side of Dickens and how his choices influenced his novels.
I've read a few biographies about Charles Dickens but I really enjoyed this book. Jane Smiley did a fantastic job of showing different sides of the mysterious Dickens through his literary masterpieces. Charles Dickens: A Life is full of valuable information that will have you not only understanding the man behind the public figure but also his novels. I think this is definitely a book any Dickens fan would love to read.
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Posted October 30, 2011
Charles Dickens is famous for depicting the lower class to the middle and upper classes of England and eventually the world, an existence most would prefer to acknowledge. But few realize how driven Dickens was to produce social results that would put an end to the evil and devastating consequences of poverty and ill-treatment far too many poor people endured in that revolutionary time. Jane Smiley, a scholarly and best-selling author, presents the entire life of Charles Dickens in a way that enhances our admiration and respect for this prodigious author.
He is revered for the way he combined artistic vision with social action in a new world of capitalism rapidly expanding. Thus he presents new ideas: "care and respect are owed to the weakest and meekest in society, rather than to the strongest; that the ways in which class and money divide humans from one another are artificial and dangerous; that pleasure and physical comfort are positive goods; that the spiritual lives of the powerful have social and economic ramifications."
Smiley then proceeds to depict the familial and authorial characteristics of this man who penned novels, short stories, and plays, often in serial form. We learn how his style evolved as he developed an uncanny sense of what people responded to, a sort of early understanding of the power of advertising. By placing the humorous with the tragic, he forced readers to face social inequalities and the consequent suffering therein. Smiley sees his weakness in providing a connective understanding of this world rather than providing a collective solution that is more political in nature. We also realize something heretofore unknown, that it was Dickens' own background that he was forced to dig into and expose, with the revelation of past experiences in social context. It led him to greater awareness of the power of important individuals that often expressed itself in what were truly moments of weakness rather than strength.
Dickens believed that mental attitude was to prevail over whatever challenging and daunting experiences life throws one's way. When it came to family, however, Dickens was unable to apply this recognized philosophical truth. He had a relatively content relationship with his wife and multiple children yet at times was guilty of not only negligence but perhaps of infidelity, amply described in these pages. Smiley then takes us through the plot and characterizations of each novel, describing what worked and failed to work; we note how Dickens learned from his mistakes and lack of connection, always driven by the financial elements driven by his increasing or dwindling sales. His love of the theater is recorded, a fact few know about this creative writer, a love that was actually a preference that remained relatively unfulfilled except for some short-lived projects in that genre.
All in all, Jane Smiley has given the world a comprehensive, fascinating portrait of a writer who was known as England's first novelist and whose novels continue to be read and dramatized in movie and play form throughout the world. Excellent biography, Ms. Smiley!
Posted December 24, 2009
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Posted January 4, 2010
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