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Charles Dickens Review of "A Life" by Claire Tomalin

June 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 209

"I suppose that for at least five and twenty years of his life, there was not an English-speaking household in the world... where his name was not as familiar as that of any personal acquaintance, and where an allusion to characters of his creating could fail to be understood."

This was said of Charles Dickens in 1869 and he remains one of the most endearingly popular of English-speaking novelists. His biographer has a difficult task. S/he has to address all the detail that erudite readers are bound to know, to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this most prolific author's works, and to address the fact that a magnificent writer may not always have been a wonderful person, holding a careful balance between sympathy and detachment.

Fortunately Claire Tomalin is one of the most professional and most empathetic of biographers, and is more than equal to the task. Fortunately, also the story of Charles Dickens life is rich with fascinating stories, sometimes as colourful as those in his novels. We also learn about his relationships with other famous Victorian writers, including Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope and George Elliot, as well as much about Victorian Britain, Europe and America.

Dickens' childhood, the inspiration for so much in his best novels, is carefully- researched, and we see the formative influence of his talented but feckless father, who may have been the inspiration for the character of Mr Micawber in "Pickwick Papers" who is always hoping that "something will turn up". After he grew up Dickens supported his father, as well as many other relatives who needed financial help, because of illness or the death of a family wage-earner. Dickens said that he "only ever inherited relations."

One family member who wasn't, in many people's opinion, well-cared for was his wife, Kate. She was a loyal partner, who bore Dickens ten children. Over time, he became dissatisfied with her, and in Victorian Britain divorce was not an option. What most unhappy couples of his class would have done was to appear together in public, but otherwise live separate lives. As man whose work and social life routinely took him away from home, this option was easily open to Dickens, but instead he insisted on separating formally from Kate. This was an unusual decision which split the family, and divided friends, but was mostly kept from readers, as was Dickens relationship with Nelly Ternan. Tomalin covers this difficult territory confidently, allowing the reader space to form their own views.

This is an excellent read.

Katharine Trelawney is the author of the novel "The Philanderer's Wife".

Source: EzineArticles
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Charles Dickens Review

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