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4.0 out of 5 stars The women in Dickens' life and fiction, 5 Dec 2012
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Charles Dickens in Love (Kindle Edition)
Half biography, half traditional literary criticism, this book focuses on three of the important women in Dickens' life and how they shaped female figures in his fiction.

Dickens is famous for his childlike `angel in the house' women: chaste, virtuous and asexual - think Little Nell, Esther from Bleak House , Little Dorrit. But his later fiction also depicts some more problematically sexualised women: Lady Dedlock, Edith Dombey, Estella, perhaps even Lizzy from Our Mutual Friend who inspires a villainous passion in Bradley Headstone.

Garnett argues that the first female paradigm reflects Dickens' youthful though unconsummated desires for first Maria Beadnell, and then his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth who died aged just seventeen. The later women, he suggests, draw on Dickens' more passionate relationship with Ellen Ternan, his mistress until his death.

Garnett's readings are interesting though not in any way ground-breaking, and the book overall fails to take into account the ways in which these oppositional models of femininity were culturally produced during Dickens' lifetime. Dichotomies of the `virgin' and the passionate, fallen woman are hardly confined to Dickens' fiction or even Victorian culture - so it seems a little limiting to completely relate these fictional women to Dickens' own biography.

That said, this is an interesting read, especially if you are less familiar with Dickens' life. Above all, it made me want to return to the novels themselves - always a good thing.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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Charles Dickens in Love
Charles Dickens in Love by Robert Garnett
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