"A quiet shrewd-looking little fellow who seems to guess pretty much what he is." So wrote Carlyle about the young Charles Dickens. Douglas-Fairhurst, however, understands as Carlyle did not what an immense challenge Dickens faced in determining just what kind of creature he was. In the tangled events of Dickens' formative years--refracted through his journalism, political polemics, correspondence, and early fiction--readers discern the emerging identity of Victorian England's greatest novelist. The Pickwick Papers looms especially large in this narrative of self-discovery, as Dickens decisively reveals himself in the amusing, verbally inventive, protean, and remarkably autobiographical character, Sam Weller. Though enthusiastic public response to Weller bolsters Dickens' confidence, the writer struggles with the perils of notoriety, finally finding his authorial poise through the unlikely task of editing the memoirs of the great clown Joseph Grimaldi. Manifest in Dickens' decision to use his own name, for the first time, on the title page of Oliver Twist, that poise profoundly reshapes British literature. A convincing portrait of budding genius.
--Bryce Christensen --Booklist, 1st October 2011
What is extraordinarily fresh in Becoming Dickens is Douglas-Fairhurst's ability to support such arguments by sensitive explication de texte...Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reads Dickens the author with brilliantly acuity.
- John Sutherland --Literary Review, October 2011
"Becoming Dickens" is an ingenious, playful and often brilliant analysis as much as it is a narrative." --The Economist, 1 October 2011
Subtle and searching...Dickens made his early fiction, Douglas‐Fairhurst argues, out of lives he escaped from himself. During his ordeal at the blacking warehouse he might easily have become, as he later wrote, "a little robber or a little vagabond", and imagining that outcome generated Oliver Twist. During his painful climb to social respectability he worked as a lawyer's clerk, and hapless, hungry clerks crowd his stories, from Bob Cratchit to Nemo in Bleak House. Names in the petty-cash book he kept as a clerk -- Bardell, Corney, Rudge -- arise as people in his fiction. As a stagestruck clerk he went to the theatre, he recalled, every night for three years and longed to be an actor, and theatricality permeates his writing. His job as a reporter in the press gallery at the House of Commons gave him another fixation -- a lifelong contempt for "that great dustheap".
- John Carey
--The Sunday Times, 2 October 2011
"Becoming Dickens is the freshest and most insightful book I have read on this great theme since my first schoolboy reading of House. [...] It is hard to imagine a better book on Dickens than Douglas-Fairhurst's appearing in the coming months. I shall treasure it." -A.N. Wilson --New Statesman, October 2011
"Harvard University Press has produced, for Douglas-Fairhurst, a fine volume in the best tradition of American bookmaking: nice paper, elegant dust wrapper and binding, a volume to keep on your shelf for ever". -A.N. Wilson
--New Statesman, October 2011
"In his original and elegant Becoming Dickens, Robert
Douglas-Fairhurst gives a twist to the [biography] genre by focusing on the 1830s, the decade that saw Dickens achieve international fame "before he needed to start shaving"...Douglas-Fairhurst asks who else [Dickens] might have been. What potential selves did the young man murder when he chose to be a novelist rather than an actor, a clerk, a stage-manager or a journalist?...Douglas-Fairhurst, who has every line ever written by Dickens at his fingertips, inhabits them; he shows us the internal process of the writing, revealing the hidden jokes, the coded messages, the ways in which "the most central and eccentric literary figure of the age" wove his other selves into his texts.
--Daily Telegraph, 22 October 2011
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens is quite possibly the best piece of Dickens criticism since John Carey's The Violent Effigy - a series of minute investigations into the way Dickens projected elements of his early life into the fiction that followed it, full of arresting historical detail and sharp-eyed deductions".
--New Statesman, 21 November 2011
"Brilliantly original, stylishly written, thoughtful, measured and altogether exhilarating...Becoming Dickens is itself a work of art. Incidents that have been written about hundreds of times before are made fresh: when Dickens's father was arrested for debt, `the family had to face up to the fact that the luxuries they could no longer afford included the young Charles's childhood'. Callow gives us several pages on Charles Mathews, and we're not quite sure why. Douglas-Fairhurst is far more succinct, yet throws new light on Dickens's fascination with Mathews's monologues, which showed `that personal identity was largely a matter of self-identity', a crucial lesson to this self-inventor. Throughout, we are given just the right amount of historical background, so that we understand the context Dickens was operating in without being overwhelmed by unnecessary detail...But, ultimately, it is the keen psychological insights that make Douglas-Fairhurst's book so rewarding. It was, he shows us, Dickens's identification with children who hunger not just for food, but for love, for acceptance, and for security, that make it not at all coincidental that his most famous line was, `Please, sir, I want some more.'
--Judith Flanders --Spectator, February 2012