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Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World Paperback – August 7, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A biography of Boz by a great English actor, who seeks to reverse the orthodox argument that Dickens’s obsession with theatrical drama made his books sentimental and lachrymose. . . .  Callow argues that it is Dickens’s attention to stagecraft and the power of drama that’s made folks like The Artful Dodger and Miss Havisham seem three dimensional."
    —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.”
     —Kirkus Reviews

“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

About the Author

Simon Callow is an actor, director, and writer. He has appeared in many films, including the hugely popular Four Weddings and a Funeral. His books include Being an Actor, Shooting the Actor, a highly acclaimed biography of Charles Laughton, a biographical trilogy on Orson Welles (of which the first two parts have now been published), and Love Is Where It Falls, an account of his friendship with the great play agent Peggy Ramsay. His most recent book, My Life in Pieces, won the Sheridan Morley Prize in 2011.
 
www.simoncallow.com
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034580323X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345803238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,534,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By FictionFan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Callow has written a superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man's life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens' love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens' own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Literature was his wife, the theatre his mistress, and to the very end he was tempted to leave the one for the other."

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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is very carefully considered and well written, as well as thoughtful and good-humored. It didn't exactly hit my sweet spot, because what I'm most interested in about Dickens are his novels, and the connection between his life and those books, and the novels are kind of brushed over here. But Callow, per the book's title and as explained in his introduction, was most interested in the connection between Dickens and the theater - both the theater as in Dickens's involvement in the production of plays and in the theater that was Dickens's personal life - and he completely hit the mark he intended to hit. So the book didn't completely hold my interest but that's just because it's not the book on Dickens I would want to read, and not at all indicative of any flaws in the writing. It's a very good book that many Dickens enthusiasts will enjoy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simon Callow is a Renaissance man of many parts! Callow is a talented actor and has become something of a lay expert on Charles Dickens (1812-1870). Covering the memorable literary life of the greatest novelist in less than 400 pages is quite a feat! Callow manages to tell the familiar tale of Dickens with panache by showing the reader how much Dickens considered himself an actor upon the stage, in his many public readings and in his remarkable novels. The Dickens novels are: The Pickwick Papers; Oliver Twist; The Old Curiosity Shop: Dombey and Sons; Barnaby Rudge; David Copperfield: Bleak House: Little Dorrit: A Tale of Two Cities; Great Expectations; Hard Times; Our Mutual Friend: Martin Chuzzlewit and the uncompleted The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens was a poor child born to a impecunious Naval Office father named John. His father was imprisoned for debt. Young Dickens was forced to work in a blacking factory; a lawyer's clerk and a shorthand reporter in the British House of Commons. He became famous following his publication of "Pickwick Papers." Dickens wed Catherine Hogarth and was the father of ten children. He traveled to American in 1842 and 1868. Dickens had a mistress the actress Ellen Ternan. She first meet him while the two were acting in Wilkie Collins' play "The Frozen Deep" in Manchestere. She may have had a child by Dickens but the scholars are unable to verify this fact. Dickens died in 1870 worn out from his reading tours and increasingly poor health. Dickens was a workaholic who walked many miles each day; enjoyed parties and family time and mesmerism. Dickens stands today on the pinnacle alone with Shakespeare as the greatest English author of all time.
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