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on 25 May 2017
This is a marvellous biography of Dickens. It focuses on Dickens' early life and career. It's wise, witty and full of thoughtful insights. I was first attracted to the book by Douglas-Fairhurst's wonderful use of language. He is the master of the telling phrase and ironic comment, using words with a facility which his subject would, I think, admire.

As a writer I was very conscious of the similarities between the writing world of Dickens and today. Both were a time of upheaval and opportunity.

I recommend this to all who are interested in Dickens, publishing and writing.
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on 14 October 2011
Because February 2012 is the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens I imagine we will see quite a few new books on Dickens in the coming months; if they are all as good as this one we are in for a treat. This new biography concentrates on Dickens's early life - and in particular what made him the novelist that he was. It goes through his early years, and his early journalism, and goes through Pickwick in particular at a slow pace. It is excellent in illustrating some of the influences which formed Dickens while looking ahead to the mature writer of the superb later novels.It illustrates that - looking back - we see his emergence as probably the greatest novelist in the language as a sort of inevitable progression. That is the result of hindsight and Douglas-Fairhurst shows some of the ways it could all have turned out very differently. It doesn't cover his entire life - the book basically ends in 1838, which means that you get a significant level of detail.
The book is well-written and a pleasure to read. I both enjoyed it and learned from it, and I would very warmly recommend it.
Other plus-factors are that the hardback is excellent quality, the notes are scholarly and detailed, and the book is reasonably well-illustrated.

The contents are -
Prologue - Somebody and Nobody..
Lost and Found.
The Clerk's Tale.
Up in the Gallery.
Mr Dickin.
"Here we are".
Becoming Boz.
The Moving Age.
Pickwick, triumphant.
Novelist, Writer
Dickens at Home.
Is she his wife?
Being Dickens.
Postscript - signing off.
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on 25 March 2012
It's been a privilege to read this book: immensely subtle, sophisticated, elegant and witty. There's at least one sharp insight, resonant turn of phrase or amusing aside on every page. The book also has a range beyond Dickens's youth, suggesting ways in which early experiences influenced his later life and writings, so potential buyers should be mindful that this isn't 'just' a book about Dickens before the 1840s. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's book seems to me a model of good scholarly writing - carefully considered, deeply informed and, above all, hugely communicative. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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I came late to Becoming Dickens, having first read the Tomalin. That was excellent, but this is better - more scholarly, yet with every page illumniated by the kind of insights into writing and a writer's life which almost felt like those of a novel. Simply by tracking down every reference to blacking and blacking factories, R.D-F teases out new insights into Dickens's childhood.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing this biography reveals is how easily Dickens could have become a lawyer or an actor. His insecurity, his ferocious hard work and the blossoming of his genius when Sam Weller walks into the story in The Pickwick Papers are all described in a style that is lucid and engaging. He shows us why Dickens was both loved and sneered-at by the Victorian public. I read a little of this book every night, instead of galloping through as I did the Tomalin, and looked forward to it each time.
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on 24 October 2011
After reading some glowing reviews, I decided to give Mr Douglas-Fairhurst's book a go...and haven't been able to put it down. It is superbly written; confident, engaging, warm, friendly...like having a friend telling you the story of the early Dickens - the man he was, the one he could have been, and the man he ultimately became. I'm savouring every page, reading and re-reading each paragraph loaded with meaning and a richness of tone so lacking in other biographies of Dickens I've had the chance to read.

Chapters in his life that may have been skipped over in a few sentences, are finally given the chance to live and breathe in this book.

I can't recommend this book enough - and hope that Mr Douglas-Fairhust may be pursuaded to do a follow-up after Dickens became who he became. But he certainly has a new fan and I shall be waiting with baited breath to see what he'll come up with next.

Bravo.
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on 14 February 2014
Fine, okay. Relatively unique and informative. A book to 'keep by me', but probably not one I will read again or rely upon for study purposes.
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on 14 January 2012
This book narrates the twists and turns of Dickens' earlier life - ie up to the time when he 'becomes Dickens', that is to say when he start signing all his work unequivocally 'Charles Dickens' rather than 'Boz' (or any other pseudonym) and it becomes impossible for others to refer to him as "Mr Dickin" (as a potential mother-in-law does earlier in his life) - he has become so well-known.

There's much of interest here, about Victorian life as much as about the life of Dickens. And the book is good in showing how these earlier experiences of Dickens relate to his later fiction. The books is a useful supplement to Claire Tomalin's biography and gives more detail on Dickens' early years.

But I felt the lack of an overarching thesis or set of ideas. Or rather, that if there is an overarching idea - and the books starts by reflecting how ' things could have turned out differently' - it is not exploited as fully and consistently as it might be.

Dickens' life certainly has its share of turning points at which things could have turned out differently, and this books draws attention to them. He could have got lost as young boy; the blacking factory experience could have been the end of his life as a would-be gentleman; his career might have taken off as a journalist or as a writer for the theatre. He might perhaps have waited a while and married Georgina rather than Mary Hogarth. And again, it certainly IS interesting that he initially chooses to write as 'Boz'.

But the wide focus with which Douglas-Fairhurst writes, drawing on the use Dickens later made of his experience, seemed to me to rather reinforce the tendency to think ' so this is the narrative of his life; and how it had to be', rather than helping me to see it could all have been so different. The illustrations, well-chosen though they are, reinforce this, showing among other things caricatures of Dickens on a late reading tour, as well as portraits of the young man.

So: as a general tour of Dickens' life up to the end of the 1830s, I would recommend this. But I would not recommend it so strongly if you are drawn to it (as I was in part, having read reviews) to find out how differently Dickens' life might have turned out!
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on 17 January 2017
Superb!
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on 17 December 2013
Had been hunting for this book for months for my Dad. Great to find and so quick with delivery. Fantastic price also.
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