10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2004
As someone with a history degree, I find this biography infuriating. The author uses the phrase "no doubt" to launch almost every other sentence. Every use indicates a speculation rather than a fact; or at least something for which the author provides zero evidence. Usually it is lengthy speculation on Dickens' emotions (including during infancy), but sometimes his actions; and sometimes the feelings and actions of his family, friends, and colleagues.
Thus the author blithely--and firmly--attributes a miscarriage of Dickens' wife, after the sudden death of her teenage sister Mary Hogarth, to jealousy over Dickens' show of grief. He insists Dickens' feelings for Mary were purely fatherly. But he gives no evidence other than Dickens' own public declarations, and Dickens is unlikely to have been candid about adulterous longings for a virginal female relative. On the other hand, I myself would speculate that Catherine Dickens may herself have grieved over her sister's death. But the author gives absolutely no evidence for how she felt about the death or Dickens' grief--no letters, no conversations reported by friends, nothing. On yet another hand, I would speculate that the miscarriage may have been due to purely physical rather than emotional causes, and its occurence after a family tragedy a coincidence--but the author does not discuss this possibility either.
And this is one of many, many instances.
I also got tired of hearing the author assert often and at length that society was different in the mid 19th century than now, which is obvious.
The author is much too fond of showing off his own prose. He even includes lengthy, boring, and uninformative fictional vignettes using Dickens as a character.
Overall, I'd say that the author is unable to distinguish among literary criticism, fiction using a historical character, and biography. He should have stuck to one of the first two genres and not attempted the third.