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Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World Paperback – August 7, 2012
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—The Daily Beast
"In this insightful biographical study, Callow, a seasoned actor and director, shows how the theatricality that caused Dickens’ legs to swell also vastly enlarged his literary art. . . . Itself as enchanting as a well-directed stage play, this narrative will delight any lover of Dickens."
—Booklist, starred review
“[Simon Callow’s] admiration for his subject glistens on every page. . . . The author shows us the vast, adoring crowds and tallies the enormous psychic and physical costs of Dickens’ myriad performances and celebrity. Callow makes us wish we’d been in those crowds to watch this astonishing magician weave his literary spells.”
“A celebration, jubilant, vigorous, imaginative, and, as Dickens might have said, an all-round sizzler.”
—John Carey, The Sunday Times (London)
“This is the book we have long been waiting for and only Simon Callow could have written it. . . . A marvelous book that deepens and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of Dickens.”
—Michael Slater, author of Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing
“Callow . . . writes with great authority and elegant insouciance, which makes this ‘biography with a twist’ very entertaining.”
—The Independent (London)
“It is one of the many virtues of this book that Callow not only admires his subject, but has got inside him.”
—The Guardian (London)
"Of the several books published this year in honor of the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth, this by Callow is in many ways the best because it has all the gusto that a popular biography of Dickens—a man who “could do nothing by halves”—should possess. . . . The best biography for Dickens newcomers and a wonderful read for all."
—Library Journal, starred review
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Top Customer Reviews
Callow doesn't shirk from telling us about the less flattering aspects of Dickens' life - his appalling treatment of his wife, for instance, and the occasional bullying of his poor publishers. But he also reminds us of the social campaigning and the generosity to family, friends and colleagues. The account is a linear one, so we find out what Dickens was involved in at the time of writing each of his novels and get a feel for the inspiration for each one.
Callow concentrates in considerable depth on Dickens the showman - the many theatrical performances he wrote for, played in and directed in his early life; and then the tremendous and punishing public readings of his own works which came to dominate so much of his later years. Here was an author who gave generously of himself to his adoring public and who thrived on the adulation he was shown in return.
I've been in love with Dickens the writer for most of my life and now having read this sparkling biography I have fallen in love with Dickens the man! If I tell you that I cried when Dickens died (not an altogether unexpected plot development) then it will give you some idea of how much of the humanity of the man Callow has managed to reveal.Read more ›
So writes actor Simon Callow in a concise summary statement in his biography of Charles Dickens, "Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World." Many biographers have tackled Charles Dickens over the years, the most notable in contemporary times being Peter Ackroyd. But few if any could bring the understanding of acting and the theater that Callow brings to the subject.
And what he's done is to have written a highly readable, thoroughly enjoyable, admiring yet piercingly honest story of his subject.
Acting and the theater may well be the best lens to use in understanding the man, his novels and his life, and Callow uses it imaginatively to explain who this Charles Dickens was.
Born into a middle-class family, Dickens knew both the comforts of home and the terrors of what happens when those comforts are snatched away, as they were when his father kept falling deeper into debt, to the point where he was sentenced to debtor's prison. From an early age, the young Charles was a performer, enjoying the attention and using the attention to feed some desperate needs within himself.
As a young man, he was tempted to go into acting, and even had a scheduled audition, but he was forced to miss it because of a bad cold. Instead, he went into journalism, and then into writing sketches using the pen name of "Boz," and from his early 20s he became famous. The sketches led to serialized novels, and what Charles Dickens produced over the course of his literary life changed the face, heart and soul of literature forever.Read more ›
Callow pays tribute at the beginning of the book to the great biographers of Dickens--Peter Ackroyd, Claire Tomalin, Edgar Johnson et. al.--but does not try to match them. He stays focused on his central thesis, showing how Dickens was driven to perform from his earliest boyhood, through his frequent adult forays as an amateur actor (his most popular role, in a melodrama called "The Frozen Deep," reverberated through his private life), and on to the magnificent readings from his own work that he gave toward the end of his life--and which, unfortunately, shortened his life.
Equally unfortunately, Dickens' theatrical obsession and need to create characters also informed his private life. Callow shows us--as Tomalin did before him--that Dickens ascribed personalities and motives to his family and friends that often bore little resemblance to the real people. This explains most of the trouble in Dickens' life, especially his incendiary breakup with his wife Catherine. Dickens behaved cruelly and reprehensibly throughout the episode, yet was incapable of seeing anyone except himself as an injured party--the hero of his own life.
Yet, in the end, the tree is known by its fruit, and the fruit of Dickens' labors was resplendent indeed.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Simon Callow is an excellent writer, engaging and erudite. I'd recommend anything written by him.Published 2 months ago by Richard
Simon Callow is one of the top Charles Dickens experts in the world, AND probably the best actor and director of Dickens' work. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Avery Gordon
I bought this book after hearing an interview with Ralph Fiennes about his film on Dickens. He suggested Simon Callow as an expert on the author, and he was right. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Ismene
This is a such an entertaining read. Mr Callow is a truly great writer. I also bought the narrated version.Published 23 months ago by Jeremy Henderson
Outside edges of the pages cut off part of the last letter of the
words, but it was still readable,
Here we get a eminently readable, brief, but satisfying biography of Dickens, with a focus on his theatricality and his passion for the theater. Read morePublished on August 8, 2013 by J. E. Ruppenthal
This book is a very good biography of the great Charles Dickens, covering his entire life, but often focusing on his love of theatre. Read morePublished on May 21, 2013 by The Reviewer Formerly Known as Kurt Johnson
I was first drawn to this book based almost solely on the fact that it was written by Simon Callow. I remembered Simon Callow best as Gareth in the movie Four Weddings and a... Read morePublished on April 22, 2013 by William E. Liberatore
I hope Mr. Callow is finally aware that the president after Lincoln was Andrew Johnson, not Jackson. Otherwise his life of Dickens is a triumph. Read morePublished on April 15, 2013 by Reverend Skull