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Charles Dickens (4 Volume Set) Hardcover – 1900
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Four of Dicken's greatest works, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. Doubleday publication, 1960, half bound in blue leatherette.
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Chesterton was an admirer of Dickens in much the way that I am an admirer of Chesterton. The comparison ends there, however, as Chesterton might well have been in the same league as the object of his admiration and subject of his study.
Those who know Chesterton's work may reasonably predict that this biography provides its author with the occasion for developing and expounding upon familiar Chestertonian themes: a wonder for life and gratitude for his very existence, a taste for romance and adventure, and the dignity of the common person, among others. He finds this opportunity because he finds in Dickens a man and author of similar temperament and conviction.
More than anything, as I read I am struck by the rich insights regarding what it is to be human. And, of course, those insights are set forth with all of the grace and wit for which Chesterton is known. How could he have offered higher praise of Dickens than to have written, "In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, fears death, likes sunlight. That thing enjoys Dickens." And his description of Dickens might just as easily have appeared in his Autobiography:
"These higher optimists, of whom Dickens was one, do not approve of the universe; they do not even admire the universe; they fall in love with it. They embrace life too close to criticise or even to see it. Existence to such men has the wild beauty of a woman, and those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause."
This is a great work. For me it will have the inevitable effect--as it did with the first readers of the work--of sending me back to the Dickens corpus, but with a renewed appreciation.
A word on the Kindle Halcyon edition: The text is mostly free from errors--enough to be tolerable. But it is not without the occasional glitch or typo. The active table of contents functions well and is very useful for navigating the book.
I have read none of Chesterton's fiction, and if this is indicative of his style I can't see myself changing horse at this stage of the hunt.