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Charles Dickens: A Life Hardcover – October 27, 2011
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In this superb biography, Claire Tomalin gives full measure to Dickens's heroic stature - his huge virtues both as a writer and as a human being - while observing his failings in both respects with an unblinking eye. Reviewing the book in the Guardian, William Boyd wrote, 'what is so valuable about this biography is the palpable sense of the man himself that emerges'. Claire Tomalin is an award- winning biographer whose other subjets include Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys.
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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!
I highly recommend this example of Claire Tomalin’s wonderful biographies.
Dickens is inarguably brilliant, charming, intriguing and one of the greatest writers to ever draw a breath . I purchased this because he is a personal favorite and because I marvel at his endless supply of imaginative characters .The talent he displayed is still to this day AWE inspiring .The disappointment I encountered was that even though he engaged in many philanthropic ventures and criticized the government's brutal indifference to poverty of diligent working people, Dickens had an extremely dark side that caused an enormous amount of suffering to those he should have loved if he were genuine about his own value system . While he was capable at times of good deeds in behalf of the poor and marginalized in his society , his social conscience did not compare with his personal conscience in his treatment of his family or those who held differing views on many varying subjects.
Dickens kept his wife pregnant and criticized her for bearing so many children . He criticized and belittled her to the point that she was fearful of him and simply tried to appease him because she was a passive lady who wanted to please her mate , and because she deeply loved him . Her deep love was rewarded by Dickens with the proverbial "mean supper" . There is no record of her being anything but a caring, diligent , kind woman who treated others well and was respected by those who knew her . At about age 45 , Dickens became infatuated with an 18 year old actress and pursued the girl , a blonde named Nellie Ternan . Catherine found evidence of this , and instead of responding with remorse , he began a campaign to make his wife appear crazy , a poor mother , and a lazy person. Then he turns her out of the house and belittles her in the press and separates her from her children. As a matter of fact he chose to never see her again after he forced her into exile in humilation . Catherine never spoke a critical word of him the rest of her very sad life.
The odd thing is that once Catherine is thrown out , he keeps her sister Georgina around ( who does not seem very loyal to Catherine for no apparent reason) to care for the children while he focuses on two things , his brilliant career and status , and sneaking away with Nellie for "good times" . There is sadly no record of remorse for train wrecking the life of a decent wife who treated him well , or worse, no remorse for removing her from her own children , which would cause immense torment for most women . Though Catherine loved him and did no harm to him, he literally tried to convince himself that she was deserving of rejection and exile and that she was a bad woman, wife, and mother . The children , years later , give interviews and describe the events they witnessed and share that after their mother was humilated and rejected , Dicken's primary focus for his remaing years was his hidden girlfriend / mistress . Rather than being focused on the development of the many children he sired , they voiced that he did not seem terribly interested in them . The man who wrote stories about strong families showed a lack of care for his own . Though I love his written works and believe him brilliant , I see that he dealt his wife a cruel and bitter blow to pursue Nellie's sexual favors. Like many narcissists who achieve fame and wealth, he believed he deserved to have whatever made him feel good at any cost to those around him.The reader of this biography can see how human nature has not changed throughout the ages , and that the lot of womankind for centuries was nothing short of brutal.
If I could have the chance to meet two historical figures , I would choose Dickens and Lincoln. They lived at the same time and were both masters of the pen , fascinating , and enormously influential. However , Lincoln suffered for doing what he believed was right to create a just society , and was ruled by a powerful conscience and was willing to sacrifice the approval of his peers for the good of others. Dickens , equally brilliant , was willing to sacrifice the needs and welfare of those he should have loved in order to pursue ego gratification .
Tomalin depicts the various facets of Dickens skillfully as a creator and a human and balances the evidence fairly
with a narrative that is colorful . Few would question the greatness of Dicken's abilities as they analyze his work. Overall, as we look at his motives and intentions we usually ask ourselves "Was he a good guy ?" I suppose the answer lies with the value system of the one who poses the question .
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