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Charles Dickens: A Life Hardcover – 6 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (6 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670917672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670917679
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 5.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


With Claire Tomalin as our guide, the life of Charles Dickens, 200 years after his birth, reads as newly minted as one of his novels (Sunday Express)

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To avoid disappointment, please note that this book does not come with a Dust Jacket.

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4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 149 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Williams TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a terrific biography, everything one would expect from Claire Tomalin: thoroughly researched, immensely readable and judicious. It is well illustrated with photographs, engravings, annotated maps and brief details of the vast number of figures who will move through its pages. It is also well referenced so the curious reader can easily follow up details for further exploration.

To capture her subject fully-formed, she prefaces the book with an account of the newly but still precariously successful writer's intervention in the case of a poor slavey accused of murdering her new born child: her plight and experience is profoundly shocking and deeply moving. Dickens' determination to see justice done and very real financial and moral support given, is vivid and moving testimony to what was a lifelong commitment to the poor, downtrodden and unjustly treated. Many such stories could be told and there isn't space in a volume of this size to detail them all. But we certainly get a vivid picture of Dickens as a man deeply animated by a desire to improve the world he also entertains, and as a powerhouse of energy and obsessive activity: the account of his literary commitments at the end of his annus mirabilis (1836) is quite terrifying; his determination to keep writing and giving public readings at the end of his life even more so. (It is unsurprising that the last, moving photograph in the volume shows an exhausted man looking far older than his 58 or so years.)

Tomalin acknowledges his greatness as a writer: though seeing the dross amongst the annual Christmas stories and significant sections of some of the novels, the great works of Dickens' later years particularly (Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Great Expectations and so on) are given their due.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. James on 23 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

Unlike Peter Ackroyd's Dickens, which begins with Dickens's death at Gad's Hill in 1870, Claire Tomalin's book opens with an 1840 episode with Dickens as juror at a murder trial. The contrast between these two excellent biographies is thus set from the start: Ackroyd will be meticulously thorough and painstakingly detailed, while Tomalin's approach will tend to be more impressionistic. Strangely, Tomalin the biographer's book reads more like a novel than that of Ackroyd the novelist. While both biographies are crammed with fascinating detail, Tomalin, where possible, confines this to the notes at the end of the book. Ackroyd, too, is prolific with his notes, quotes and suggestions for further reading, but the sheer length of his book, not to mention the length of his chapters, is somewhat overwhelming: he provides the researcher with over 50 pages of Notes on Text and Sources. Tomalin is more economical and an easier read and she neatly divides her chapters into nice bite-size pieces.

I especially relished the way in which Tomalin interlaces penetrating criticism of the novels with Dickens's life at the time of writing. Of course Ackroyd does the same and equally well, as, for example with the relationship between the author's random opening of Tristram Shandy as a spur to the writing of Dombey and Son. But Tomalin embeds this episode in a chapter headed `Dombey, with Interruptions 1846-1848,' in which the novel seems to grow out of the author's life like an unruly plant against a background of Chartism, being attacked by a horse, attending the funeral of his publisher William Hall, writing to Thackeray and the setting up of his Home for Homeless Women.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Hopper TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 May 2012
Format: Hardcover
This was a tremendously engagingly written biography. It puts across a great sense of Dickens's multiple interests, as author, editor, journalist, social reformer, public idol and many more. The receptions accorded him during his later public readings are like those now accorded to pop stars. At the same time, the author builds on her earlier work on the potentially scandalous secret relationship between Dickens and Ellen Ternan, which was denied for many decades after his death, though now it seems extremely difficult to gainsay the weight of evidence in its favour. The author varies in her coverage of the novels, with rather more description and analysis of the novels of the mid-period from Dombey and Son to Little Dorrit, but rather less for earlier and later ones, with the exception of Our Mutual Friend.

This is a much more readable biography than Peter Ackroyd's monumental 1144 page book that I read over a period of two and a half months in 2009. That was too detailed and both exhaustively and exhaustingly long winded, whereas Tomalin covers the many facets of Dickens's life and literary career very effectively in just over 400 pages. The book comes with useful lists of family members (a genealogy might have been useful) and associates, and places in London and Kent connected with his life. The hardback has lovely illustrations in the inside front and back covers and is an hardback with an illustrated cover but without a dust jacket, not often seen these days. In sum, for lots of reasons, a great reading experience. (Thanks for lending it to me, Ian!)
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