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Charles Dickens: A Life Hardcover – October 27, 2011
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"As Claire Tomalin demonstrates in her vivid and moving new biography, Dickens’s own life was rich in the attributes we call “Dickensian” — shameless melodrama, gargantuan appetites, reversals of fortune... To encompass this frenzy, Tomalin keeps the story racing. She brings Dickens to life in all his maddening contradictions... Dickens walks off the page, and the pace never flags. Tomalin accomplishes this resurrection in a mere 417 pages of text, supplemented by dozens of illustrations, several maps of Dickens’s London and a helpful dramatis personae... if you plan to read only one biography of the most popular Victorian writer, it should be this one."
--THE WASHINGTON POST
"Enormously ambitious... admirable... warmly sympathetic and often eloquent."
--Joyce Carol Oates, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOK
“Clear-eyed, sympathetic and scholarly, she spreads the whole canvas, alive with incident and detail, with places and people. She writes of publishers, illustrators, collaborators and all Dickens’s intersecting circles of friends and family. It is wonderfully done.”
“[A] splendid history… Tomalin skillfully presents the chief trauma of Dickens' young life — being sent to work in a factory at age 12, after his father was imprisoned for debt — and suggests the ways it left a lasting mark, from his sympathy for the working class to his towering ambition and herculean work ethic.”
"[O]nward-driving, hypnotically vivid… the result of Claire Tomalin's unrivalled talent for telling a story and keeping a reader enthralled: long as the book is, I wanted more.”
--THE GUARDIAN (UK)
About the Author
Claire Tomalin is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies including Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She has previously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the Whitbread Biography Award.
Top customer reviews
Let's start with the strengths. This is one of the most readable of the recent biographies of Dickens. It is of manageable length, though it covers his entire life, and the prose pops along very energetically. Mainly this is because she controls the fount of detail. Unlike many biographers, she doesn't overwhelm us. She gives us enough to get a good outline of his story.
The weakness of this biography comes from her fairly obvious desire to take The Inimitable down a few pegs. Her analysis of every novel contains sentences that make me wonder whether she even likes his work. And, of course, there is her desire to beat up Dickens over his treatment of his wife and bring to the fore his mistress, Nelly Ternan. (In fact, she's already written an entire book on Ternan, The Invisible Woman.)
In and of itself, this is not a problem. I am not a fan of worshipful biographies because every human is flawed. For example, no one would argue, I think, that Dickens treated his wife horribly. It is the way Tomalin makes her points that is the problem. In particular, she is a master of saying "there is no proof" of something and then subtly taking that thing for granted as fact later in her book. She does this often but one instance should suffice here: on p. 327 she writes, "There is no proof that it was Nelly who took Dickens to France the summer of 1862, or that the reason for her being in France was the she was pregnant..." and then follows on p. 405 with, "They [Nelly and her husband, George Robinson] had two children, Geoffrey, born in 1879, the adored son who filled the place of the son she had lost, and a daughter, Gladys, in 1884." (My italics.)
Still, if you can take some of Tomalin's "facts" with a grain of salt, this is a pretty good biography. It takes you through Dickens' story briskly and informatively, which is not a quality of all the biographies out there.
I always felt that Dickens' books were essentially all the same, and so they are since he had only his one life to reference. He was the oldest son and the man of the family from a very early age since his father was in debtor's prison much of the time, with Charles being taken out of school and sent to the workhouse at age 12. He was angry and ashamed. Unfortunately, as so often happens, he treated his own sons shamefully when he had the opportunity to do better.
A lot of this book was tough-going, but it was so thorough and up to date and well written that I am glad I read it, and have no plan to read anything else by or about Dickens, at least for now. His travels, his children, his books and plays, his acting and performing and directing, his women, his friends, his illnesses, his dozens of homes, it's all here and I for one am exhausted!
If thee is a shortcoming here it is that 1) it fails to give his recipe for gin punch and 2) It fails to tell us where the special scripts for the ''Readings" may be found. If ms Tomalin eads this and can favor me with either write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Most recent customer reviews
It is detailed and exhaustive, but never exhausting. It manages to yield Dickens the myth and Dickens the man.Read more