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Charles Dickens Hardcover – November 10, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There is no shortage of doorstop biographies of Charles Dickens (1812–1870). This latest one by Slater, a Dickens scholar and professor emeritus at the University of London, bears an easy, fluid familiarity with the subject at hand. Scholars will appreciate the ingenuity with which the art was chosen. Above all, as the subtitle indicates, this work showcases the contours of Dickens's crammed life with the focus on his writings. And for these reasons, this biography will have primarily an academic appeal. But Slater superbly showcases Dickens's fascination with London life as it developed during his early teenage years; how the stage beckoned a man who was temperamentally a great parodist; why social issues and a refusal to kowtow to authority came to dominate the author's aesthetic families. But it was his startling affair with young actress Ellen (Nelly) Lawless Ternan, a story concealed until the 1930s, which defined Dickens's later life as much as his punishing reading tours did. Overall, this best known of English authors after Shakespeare gains a scholarly, levelheaded and even affecting new illumination of his writing life. 16 pages of color illus., 60 b&w illus. (Nov. 10)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* “I see you understand me!” exclaims Charles Dickens to a sympathetic American visitor in 1867. “And that is more precious to the author than fame or gold.” With this masterful life study, Slater opens a breadth of understanding exceeding that of even Dickens’ most cherished visitor. What Slater helps readers to understand is how an impoverished blacking-factory drudge transforms himself into the comic genius of Pickwick Papers. Readers then follow the maturation of this genius into the profound artistic seriousness of David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, and Our Mutual Friend. But intense interest in the great novels does not blind Slater to the author’s astonishing productivity in other genres—short stories, plays, essays, reportage, lecture scripts, letters—all rich with imaginative insight. Detailing the exceptional energy and organizational discipline behind Dickens’ prodigious output, Slater emphasizes the author’s determination to use his pen on behalf of Britain’s hard-pressed working class. Yet Slater recognizes that that same pen could also advance intensely personal interests, as when Dickens indulges in veiled autobiography to resolve the psychological traumas of his own childhood and then, more dubiously, to justify his decision to abandon his wife for a clandestine relationship with a much younger woman. A landmark of literary scholarship. --Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300112076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300112078
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Paul Grainger on November 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Any general reader in search of a single volume covering the life and work of Charles Dickens needs to look no further than this publication. Michael Slater has written a grandiose account that considers the author from several different perspectives. Both his public and his private personae are examined in detail, revealing his social consciousness as well as things that irritated him such as female emancipation. Slater goes on to describe the interaction that provided the genesis for Dickens's work before focusing in a comprehensive manner on its evolution. The stories, essays and sketches are examined in the context of their influence on the more substantial works, the novels. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined in Writing is an intelligent portrait of a man in his element; affable yet businesslike, energetic, considerate, unbelievably imaginative and, most of all, obsessively dedicated to the profession of writing.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) the Victorian literary genius has been blessed by many outstanding biographers. These authors include his friend John Forster and such modern biographers as Fred Kaplan and Peter Acyroyd. Now a new excellent Dickens biography has been added to the lister. Dr. Michael Slater, emeritus professor of Victorian Literature at the University of London has produced a massive biography of Boz which stretches to 623 small print pages. The book is well illustrated with period drawings and photographs and is an excellent work for 21st century readers who may or may not be familiar with the king of the three decker and periodical Victorian novel.
What sets this biography apart from the rest?
1. Slater focuses on brief but cogent exegesis of the major novels and fictional work done by Dickens from his Sketches by Boz to his final unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Slater does a great job of explaining the major themes of such classics as Oliver Twist; Barnaby Rudge; Nicholas Nickleby; Dombey and Sons; David Copperfield; Bleak House; Little Dorrit; Martin Chuzzelwit; Great Expectations; Our Mutual Friend; A Tale of Two Cities and Dickens first smasheroo bestseller "Pickwick Papers."
2. Slater also reviews Dickens career as an editorial genius of his periodicals "Household Words" and "All the Year Round" as well as "Master Humphrey's Clock" which he edited in his young adulthood. Slater introduces us to many fictional short pieces Dickens wrote for these journals.
3. Slater discusses in details the Christmas books produced by Dickens from "A Christmas Carol" of 1843 to such further stories as The Chimes, The Battle of Life, The Cricket on the Hearth and The Bells.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Dickens is one of those towering figures who needs a new biography every few years. He was a many-sided man, a kind of living literary institution in his own right. Scholars are still having a hard time pinning him down as the 200th anniversary of his birth looms in 2012.

British Dickens expert Michael Slater has produced a massively researched and closely reasoned appraisal of Dickens that presents him through the lens of his own words --- not only his 16 magnificent novels but the flood of short stories, magazine pieces, journalism, letters and speeches that poured unceasingly from his quill pen.

First of all, the book is a marvel of scholarly research. Slater has examined almost everything Dickens wrote and exposed connections that reflect Dickens's use and reuse of ideas, experiences and images in different settings throughout his whole body of work. It will be a revelation to those who know Dickens only through the novels. Slater has gone out of his way to relate those novels to lesser-known pieces and to plead the case for the centrality of those shorter pieces to any adequate assessment of the man and his life.

At the same time, the book takes full notice of all the central themes of the Dickens story: his passionate advocacy of relief for the poor, his disdain for most of the political institutions of his day, his concept of literature as a great and noble calling that requires hard work of anyone who wants to practice it, his colorful and turbulent personal life, and his passion for travel, or rather for what Slater calls "socially investigative sightseeing" --- visits to prisons, poorhouses and asylums that were not in the tourist guidebooks.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Herbert T. Moskovitz on December 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Oxford University Press, home of the Oxford English Dictionary has put out a highly successful Shorter Edition of the O.E.D. Perhaps somebody there heard that Professor Michael Slater was working on a major new biography of Charles Dickens (for Yale Press) and had the bright idea to ask Professor Slater to put out a "bite-sized" biography of The Inimitable. (Actually this book is based on Professor Slater's entry on Dickens for the massive Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.)

This new book is part of a series about "Very Interesting People." Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin and George Eliot have also been given this abbreviated treatment with promises of James Joyce, Milton, Austen and Churchill to have their mini-biographies forthcoming soon. You may have noticed that the notables are all British.

I don't know how the other subjects will fare with their biographers, but Dickens could have no better biographer than Professor Slater. In just ninety pages we are treated to a surprisingly complete biography by one of today's most eminent Dickensians. Especially surprising since Dickens was not only an author, but also an editor, journalist, playwright, actor and concluded his life with a new career in public readings. All these, plus Dickens's personal life are all admirably covered, as is his work with various charities. Still the emphasis of the biography is on Dickens's novels. Professor Slater concludes with a fourteen page chapter about Dickens's reputation and legacy after his death, exploring his after-fame, his impact on world literature and his continuing presence on the stage as well as in film, television and radio. Everything of importance is here. Professor Slater's lucid writing style is, of course, a great boon, and the biography is eminently readable.
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