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Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World Paperback – August 7, 2012
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—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.”
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
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. I have been left wanting to re-read so many of the novels and stories, not to mention the letters - thank goodness for my copy of The Complete Works.
An exuberant and boisterous biography - a fitting tribute to this exuberant and remarkable man. Highly, highly recommended.
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.
Callow delves into all of this, and his engaging and witty style masks the very tight control he maintains over the biography. And it is tightly written, emphasizing how theater informed the novels Dickens wrote, the plays he produced, the public readings he gave, and even his professional editorial and personal family life. Dickens was the writer, director, and producer of his life, and the life of his family and even many of his friends.
Theater is Callow's lens, and he uses to examine everything from Dickens' boyhood horror of working in a blacking factory; how his novels were written; what happened to the marriage with his wife, Catherine Hogarth, and the relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan; to how his intense desire to connect with his audience ultimately contributed to his death.
Callow knows his subject as an actor knows a role; Callow has performed his subject this year in the stage play "The Mystery of Charles Dickens."
With this biography, Callow invites us to be part of that fully engaged audience that Dickens connected with so well. And we come to understand the author for the performer, and actor, that he was.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
words, but it was still readable,