Biographies and other celebratory works have arrived with the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth. Expertly edited by British scholar Hartley (Charles Dickens and His House of Fallen Women), this collection of several hundred letters—culled from the 14,000 published in a dozen volumes—may be the best. It is difficult in tight quarters to do justice to the sheer range and gusto of these letters, written to friends, “to the editor,” and as the occasional leaflet. Dickens touches on myriad subjects: the death of his beloved sister-in-law; sensitive as well as less patient letters to would-be poets and novelists (“I do not regard successful fiction as something to be achieved in ‘leisure moments’”); commentary on “the wickedness and levity” of a crowd viewing an execution; and the rupture of the author’s marriage. Among the famous recipients are Elizabeth Gaskell, Hans Christian Andersen, Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot (addressed initially as “My Dear Sir”). The book almost serves as a lost novel with the character Dickens as his own hero. A helpful chronology and well-crafted index make this an even better collection, serving to bring Dickens’s classic works even more vividly to life.. (Mar.)
"Drawn from the twelve-volume British Academy Pilgrim Edition of more than 14,000 letters of Dickens addressed to 2,500 known correspondents, the 450 included in The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens are more revealing and more intimate than any biography." Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
"Biographies and other celebratory works have arrived with the bicentennial of Dickens's birth...this collection of several hundred letters may be the best." Starred review in Publishers Weekly
"An absolute gem ... Reads better than any actual novel Dickens ever wrote." Open Letters Monthly
"This is the book we have all been waiting for...I do not think anyone could have made a more balanced selection from the embarrassment of riches in his letters, or justified her choices more persuasively. We are all in Professor Hartley's debt for her magnificent edition." Catherine Peters, Dickens Quarterly
"Hartley's selections nicely capture the range of Dicken's epistolary moods serious, playful, sentimental, indignant and the breadth of his literary and extraliterary interests and friendships." Recent Studies in the Nineteenth Century
As Hartley (English literature, Roehampton Univ.) reminds us in her introduction, Dickens was not one for saving letters, but he was an active correspondent—and, naturally, others saved most of what he wrote. While selections of Dickens's letters have been previously published, this is the first to derive from the British Academy's 12-volume Pilgrim Edition (PE), which scrupulously presents 14,000 letters. Hartley has chosen 450 by which to demonstrate Dickens's "range as a letter writer" as well as the progress of his work and the variety of his pursuits. She has reduced the PE's commentary surrounding the letters, making them slightly less accessible to those new to Dickens. VERDICT Especially for readers who want to get close to Dickens and look over his shoulder without a biographer's mediation, this is a thrilling perspective. All libraries should buy this as the definitive choice and as an incomparable presentation of the writer in all his spirit. And speaking of spirits, try making his potent recipe for punch!
From the massive 12-volume The Letters of Charles Dickens, editor Hartley (English Literature/Roehampton Univ.; Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women, 2008, etc.) selects letters that illuminate the dimensions of Dickens' mind, the range of his interests and the scale of his moods and passions. No one will ever write like this again, not in this brave new world of e-mail, emoticons and textual truncation. Dickens was an epistolary phenomenon. He wrote often (thousands of letters), with great fluidity and wit and at great length. In an early, heartbroken letter to a young woman who had dismissed him, he reeled off a 141-word sentence that basically said, "I am returning some things you gave me." He wrote to the high and the low, to geniuses and wannabes and fans and fools alike. Hartley includes samples of letters to Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, William Makepeace Thackeray and Michael Faraday. In an 1862 letter to Wilkie Collins about Collins' novel-in-progress No Name, Dickens interrupts his praise to teach his friend the difference between "lie" and "lay." Among responses to pious people wondering why Dickens' stories weren't more patently Christian are work-a-day samples of Dickens in his roles as husband, father, writer, editor, friend and colleague. Dickens also wrote to friends about his travels to the United States. During his first visit to our shores in 1842, he was a bit more caustic about us than he was in 1867. Of great interest are his letters about his works-in-progress and his furtive affair with actress Ellen Ternan. Hartley, who reproduces the annotations from the complete edition, wisely stays out of the way and lets her gifted principal command the stage. Savory appetizers that will cause curious readers to order the full 12-course meal.