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Dickens: Abridged Paperback – Abridged, 7 Mar 2002
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In this remarkable new biography, Peter Ackroyd offers a different view of Dickens to that presented in his earlier study of the author. In that book, Ackroyd's attempts to mimic the voice of the great writer were highly controversial, though some saw the book as a radical re-invention of the biography form. There is no arguing with the brilliant achievement of the more straightforward Charles Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion, however; the picture of Dickens and his complicated private life that emerges is fastidiously detailed and powerfully evocative, while Ackroyd's customary skill at creating a panoply of the city of London is as dazzling as ever (London, is, in fact, the subject of another biography by the author, who is unquestionably the keenest chronicler of the city's colourful history). Here, Ackroyd attempts to peel away the mask of a man whose life was outwardly a picture of Victorian rectitude, but whose love life was as complicated (and unconventional) as any modern writer. Dickens had everything--fame, success and riches--but he died harbouring a deep sadness he had experienced all his life. He was a man of mercurial character, had enormous vitality and humour, but he also had a sense of loss and longing that would constantly appear in his work. Like many eminent Victorians, he led a double life: although he insisted that nothing in the newspapers he edited should upset his middle-class readers, he regularly indulged in dubious night-time escapades with fellow author Wilkie Collins, and, for the last 13 years of his life, kept a secret mistress.
While presenting a warm but astringent portrait of the man who (along with George Eliot) can be classed as the greatest writer of his age, Ackroyd also masterfully recreates the relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan, a strong and intelligent woman (herself the subject of a biography by Claire Tomalin, The Inviisble Woman who, like her lover, outwardly observed the proprieties while living her real life behind closed doors. Ackroyd also vividly conjures the reality of Victorian life, the issues that sparked Dickens' fervent call for social reform, and the great landmarks of the time, which profoundly affected his life and work. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The best biography of Charles Dickens which I have ever read... a thoroughly professional job. Dickens comes from it as a fiery, instinctive, complicated, uneasy man... Ackroyd soars above his predecessors in Dickens-study"--Robert Nye, Scotsman
"As scholarly as it is imaginative...fully worthy of its subject"--John Gross, Sunday Telegraph
"Full of diversions and lit by flashes of brilliance"--John Mortimer, Books of the Year, The Spectator
"Daring and utterly successful... A great book"--Literary Review
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Amazon's website structure allows only one review "per book" and Ackroyd's "Dickens" (to the software) is one book. (Not a criticism, just an observation on a curiosity. People reading reviews need to be aware that the reviews will appear on all books with this title and author but have been written on one of the many editions, some for children, some for adults, some "shorter" and others not.)
"DICKENS" - BBC, 1990 - cheap paperback, typical paperback paper, 600 pages
At 600 pages, I am reviewing the abridged edition, entitled "Dickens" published in 1990; the "original" was the basis for the very successful television series fronted by Peter Ackroyd.
I cannot think of two more suited and ideal companions - Peter Ackroyd and Charles Dickens. Both Londoners fascinated by London, writing most of their best work in the city with their subjects the city and its people. Dickens must be in the top few for having the most biographies written about him and it is to Ackroyd's credit that he manages to "come fresh" to the subject with new slants and information. It has two illustrated sections of his homes, the women in his life, some manuscripts and drawings and photographs of Dickens himself.
If you are looking for general information on Dickens this is ideal but, if your purpose is more specific, check his other biographies; this is the abridged version and there are longer with more detail but his is not to diminish Ackroyd's achievement.
"DICKENS - PUBLIC LIFE and PRIVATE PASSION" - BBC, 2002 - LARGE FORMAT, HIGH QUALITY PAPER, 160 pages
This is the shorter, quality paper edition, lavishly illustrated (at least one per page) with colour drawings, b/w photographs, sketches and b/w photographs of Dickens' London and its people. Although a much shorter edition, it still contains a wealth of information about London, Dickens and his visits to America and the illustrations help to bring the text alive, making it ideal for a younger person. It has a quality feel about it and would make an excellent present.
[Incidentally, I am reviewing book as pictured above - but not as described by Amazon - ie. the BBC series tie-in volume called Dickens: Public Life And Private Passions, not the full, lengthy biography by Ackroyd which was published years before this. Amazon appear to have lumped reviews of both books together, a practice from which (with all the revenue at their disposal!) I heartily wish they would desist.]
Most of the pages of this large-format book contain illustrations - either photos of London and elsewhere as well as Dickens and his family, paintings or drawings of some of Dickens` characters, along with cartoons, press cutiings and so on.
What makes this such an enjoyable and effective introduction to Dickens is the quality of Ackroyd`s prose. He writes in a muscular, admirably concise, energetic style, almost falling over himself to give the delighted reader as much information as possible in the relatively short space available.
I am on a personal mission to read all of Dickens (having been lax in the matter for too long) and this brief picture-biography is the perfect accompaniment to such an endeavour. If you want the full story of this complex, amazing and literallly `inimitable` force of nature, there are full-length biographies by Michael Slater, Claire Tomalin, and of course the indefatigable, indeed inimitable, Peter Ackroyd himself.
In the meantime, this does the job expertly and painlessly, in superb, suitably page-turning style.
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