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Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374298807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374298807
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Just in time for fireside reading season, Gottlieb (Lives and Letters; Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhard) offers this intimate look into the family life of Charles Dickens, the World's Best Worst Father. Gottlieb profiles each of the 10 Dickens children—seven sons and three daughters, one who died in infancy—and includes a chapter on the scandalous possible existence of an 11th child, a son born to Ellen Ternan, Dickens's probable mistress. The book is divided into two separate, chronological sections delineated by Dickens's death in 1870, a structural choice that re-enacts the way in which Dickens held ultimate control over the life narratives of his children, and demonstrates just how large his shadow loomed as both an excellence-demanding father and a disappointment-doling ghost. Life was often bleak for the siblings, who were subject to Dickens's often brutal scrutiny and the life-altering decisions that followed. Gottlieb studs these portraits with artifacts ripe for happy discovery, including excerpts from personal letters and rare photographs. The results are fascinating but often tragic, with each Dickens baby born with more perceived brilliance than the last, only to grow up and reveal a fatal ordinariness to their father. This smart and accessible biography is written in a clever, conversational tone that radiates coziness during even the coldest moments, keeping the pages swiftly turning. (Nov.)

From Booklist

Master portraitist Gottlieb (Lives and Letters, 2011) zeros in on cherished writer Charles Dickens’ greatest failings in this unique, fascinating, and disconcerting family history. Marrying Catherine Hogarth elevated Dickens’ social standing, and theirs was a “highly sexual” marriage. But as Catherine endured a dozen pregnancies and suffered miscarriages, the death of a child, and postpartum depression, her famous husband withdrew his affection. In love with the actress Ellen Ternan, he “ruthlessly expelled” Catherine from her home and, even worse, kept their children, recruiting Catherine’s sister, Georgina, as a surrogate mother. The repercussions of this betrayal certainly undermined the well-being of the nine Dickens offspring, but Dickens was also venomously critical of his seven sons, sending most of them to India, Australia, or the military, where they floundered and fell into debt, and several died young. Among the sons, only Henry, an attorney, truly thrived. As did Katey, an accomplished painter, while Mamie lived a strange half life. Gottlieb’s meticulously researched and vivid group portrait of the Dickens clan ascendant and accursed reveals a complex amalgam of ambition and inheritance, celebrity and despair, pride and stoicism. --Donna Seaman

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this year of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, there have been a number of good biographies of the author published. The best of them, however, seem to be those that take a different tack than the huge overview of his entire life. This one joins that short list, for Mr. Gottlieb has provided us with a look at Dickens through providing us with short biographies of his children.

In most biographies Dickens does not shine as a husband and father. Granted, this part of his life is often lost under the avalanche of information about his writing. In addition, his parenting is colored by two telling things: his nearly universally condemned (and rightly so) treatment of his wife, Catherine, while separating from her which included his attempts to forbid his children to see her; and his often-voiced disappointment in his children's lack of achievement in his letters. Unfortunately, these events of his latter life can be misleading.

Mr. Gottlieb does a nice job of showing us the real story of the Dickens children in brief biographical entries for each child. In fact, since he divides their stories into pre- and post-Dickens death, most of the children get two entries. And what comes out is that most of his children end up as reasonably successful adults with two of the ten--Kate and Henry--becoming fairly well-known in their own right: Kate as a portrait painter and Henry as a lawyer and judge, eventually knighted for his service to the country. Even some who take severe tongue lashings in Dickens' letters turn out well when objective eyes are opened. Alfred and Plorn have some success in Australia.
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Robert Gottlieb is a literary scholar who has long been fascinated by the works of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) the most famous and widely read English novelist. In this short work of only 239 text pages we learn about the many children sired by Dickens. Dickens and his wife Catherine separated in 1857 after news of the novelist's affair with Ellen Ternan the actress was revealed to the public. Dickens saw Catherine only three times from 1857 to his death in 1870. Catherine had grown fat and Dickens was bored with her. He certainly exercised his marital rites producing a quiverful of children with Kate.
The children Charley-the oldest son who became a businessman. Mamie his eldest daughter never married. She was eccentric and loved animals.
Katey was wed to Charles Collins the brother of Wilkie Collins the novelist. He died and Katey remarried an artist named Carlo Perugni who was associated with the Pre-Raphalite artistic brotherhood. Katey was an artist and was the favorite of her father.
Walter died young while on duty in India as a member of the British army. Frank served in India and in Canada as a mountie. He died in Moline, Illinois where he is married. Sydney was a sailor who had a short and sad life. Henry Fielding Dickens became a respected barrister and was a graduate of Cambridge.
None of the children could match the genius displayed by their father. Many of them had difficult lives dealing with such issues as finances, illness and an inability to find a career to pursue in life. Some of them were sent to such faraway places as India and Australia. All of them loved both their famous father and their mother. Dickens may have fathered a child with Ellen Ternan but this is uncertain. If he did the chances are high that the child died in infancy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Isitjustme? on April 9, 2013
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Well you might ask. Or no doubt the great writer must have done so as he considered his considerable brood. But he might also have taken a good look in the mirror and considered himself and his less than admirable approach to parenting. The dickens indeed. Realizing the perils of examining yesteryear figures through the critical lens of modern mores, the practice of sending young teenagers off to Australia or India to fend for themselves still seems a bit extreme. That said, arguably the greatest novelist in English literature deserves a certain amount of disciplinary leeway...birth control being no control in the nineteenth century and a house full of young children a challenge to anyone's concentration. Then it comes to Dickens, the private man and the public figure remain enigmatic because the differences are so irreconcilable. Although somewhat mechanical in structure, Robert Gottlieb's Great Expectations does a very good job of casting new light on this fascinating subject and, in so doing, reminding us that in writing about so many waifs, orphans and lost children, Dickens also did a spectacular job of creating his own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dance Professor on March 6, 2013
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I enjoyed this book a lot. The research is quite fascinating. Dickens never disappoints in his genius as a writer, but his abilities as a husband and father call into question our current need to deify smart and talented and popular people. Gottlieb reveals Dickens as a man of complexity who is all too human, and uncomfortably so. Parents who read this book will rethink their own views and expectations of their teen and adult children.
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