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An essential resource for Dickensians.
on 1 February 2012
This is a marvelous reference tool, not only for any lover of Dickens and his works, but also for anyone interested in the world he lived in. As well as the material one would expect in a work of this kind, there are articles on 'politics and politicians', 'poetry and poets of the period', 'law and legal institutions', 'readership: literacy and the reading public', 'plagiarism' and so on. (Many of these are substantial entries covering several pages.) Obviously these are viewed through the lens of Dickens' life and work, but they are often interesting, stand alone pieces in themselves. This is not simply a book that one consults to answer a specific query, but one which is really interesting to browse in: I can honestly say that I have yet to come across a page which was anything less than interesting and informative. Any figure who was of any significance in the novelists life has an entry with biographical information and details of the connection with Dickens.
At the heart of the book, of course, are the sections on the work. Each novel heading contains the following entries: inception and composition; contracts, text and publishing history; illustrations; sources and context; plot character and theme; reception (this latter giving a list of the most significant critical writings to pursue). Criticism is a significant stand alone section, but there are further entries relating to critics whose views have been significant in shaping the shifting landscape of reception, so Orwell and Chesterton have individual entries. Features of Dickens' approach to fiction, such as the sometimes hotly debated issue of his characterisation, are reviewed at length with the range of critical responses thoroughly explored.
No work of this kind can tell the curious reader everything one might wish to know, but this volume gives much of it, and, perhaps its greatest virtue, helps to point one in the direction where more can be explored.
A superb book, full of lightly worn scholarship and a bargain: if you admire Dickens, do not hesitate!