Claire Tomalin has produced a superbly researched and sourced biography of Charles Dickens with full references and acknowledgements. The book reads like a Dickens' novel. His life is replete with the influences that led to his writing output. 'Dickensian' is part of the English concept of Victorian living. It conjures up poverty, social injustice, gin-sodden lives with rags to riches opportunities. Claire Tomalin details the complex life of Dickens in great detail. It is remarkably concise with economy of words. Never a dull moment and never boring. We read Dickens (born 1812) had a privileged upbringing cut short by the exuberances of his father John who was committed to debtors' prison in Marshalsea, Southwark. Charles, age 12, was forced to work in a warehouse in Hungerford Stairs pasting labels on blacking 10 hours a day. The hours and observations of working conditions and sometimes cruelty clearly left it's mark. His later boarding with the Rylance family and working with the wealthy Crewe family gave Charles much of the background for his publications. Initially publishing cliffhanger serial outputs, he used the pseudonym 'Boz' derived from his brother Augustus called Moses by Charles, then Boses, then (catarrh problems) Boz.
Charles Dickens was a prolific writer whose iconic prose has been written, translated, extended into film, TV series, musicals. His concern for social reform is well described by Claire Tomalin. His literary output was matched by his athletic and apparent sexual needs. He fathered ten children with wife Catherine Hogarth. Later, he found young actress Ellen Ternan whose relationship with Charles and the effects on his wife and family are profiled expertly by the author. It is clear that Charles Dickens was more than a novelist. His contribution and fights for human rights were undertaken with effective subtlety. His visits to America may not have been to his liking, but he made his point with his readings and the inhumanity of slavery. David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Christmas Carol are forever with us. Criticised for oversentimentality and implausibility (Henry James and Virginia Woolf) may be plausible but these characteristics add to the output of a great English novelist who describes the Victorian period in such graphic and memorable detail with situations and characters based on his observational interpretation. I read David Copperfield as a boy and it has always exemplified Dickens's characters. It made an impression never forgotten.
This may read as a verbose recommendation of Claire Tomalin's book but I cannot shorten the pleasure of reading it. She writes in such a caring and accurate way with pinpoint opinions (Dickens had a darker side as well). Thoughtful and professional. Shorter than the excellent Peter Ackroyd's biography and also complimentary to Chesterton's.
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