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Charles Dickens: a life by Claire Tomalin
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Charles Dickens: a life

by Claire Tomalin

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4322024,401 (4.21)51
  1. 00
    David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: David Copperfield is partly autobiographical, and it's fascinating to compare it to Tomalin's fascinating, shrewd biography.
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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
A traditional, cradle-to-grave live of Charles Dickens. In fact, it starts well before the cradle -- with tbe obligatory discussion of the lives of grandparents and parents before the subject is even born. And in an innovation, the final chapter covers the remainder of the lives of everyone who knew Dickens -- including a brief life and death of each of his children (he had ten in total) and friends (many more), going through 1939 when the last person that knew him died.

But that should not be a turn off. The biography feels definitive. It focuses on the life, especially Dickens' manic travel, but also includes a thoughtful few pages on each of Dickens' novels. It is less focused on the process of writing and editing than Michael Slater's Charles Dickens. And it is less creative than Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens. And less vast than Ackroyd's Dickens. But at about 400 pages of text (not counting the extensive notes, etc.), for most people this would be the best biography to read.

Claire Tomalin is especially strong on the women in Dickens' life, including his horrendous treatment of his wife Kate, his likely affair with Nelly Ternan (Tomalin has a chapter speculating, reasonably convincingly, that Dickens fathered a child who subsequently died with her), as well as the sister-in-law and subsequently daughter who managed his household.
( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
i am so happy that read is over!!

this is the second biography i have read from tomalin, and i now feel that her style is just not for me. while i definitely appreciate the mountain of research she has clearly done, the telling is inconsistent, and i wanted to hit myself in the head with the giant tome at moments, just to end the misery. (sorry!!) dickens life is fascinating and i am glad to have had a bit of a look into his world. he was, apparently, a complicated and challenging guy who led an inconsistent life -- maybe he and tomalin are a perfect match? ( )
  DawsonOakes | May 9, 2014 |
Claire Tomalin has authored multiple biographies of well known authors: Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy,Katherine Mansfield, Samuel Pepys,Mary Wollstonecraft. In 2012, she turned her focus on Charles Dickens just in time for the 200th centenary of his birth. This book has been rattling around my wishlist ever since. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying his ongoing popularity and impact on the literary world. Tomalin summed up the man as thus:

"...He left a trail like a meteor and everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens. The child victim, the irrepressibly ambitious young man, the reporter, the demonic worker, the tireless walker, the radical, the protector of orphans, helper of the needy, man of good works, the republican, the hater and the lover of America, the giver of parties, the magician, the traveler, the satirist, the surrealist, the mesmerist, the angry son, the good friend, the bad husband, the quarreler, the sentimentalist, the secret lover, the despairing father, the Francophile, the player of games, the lover of circuses, the maker of punch, the country squire, the editor, the chief, the smoker, the drinker, the dancer of reels and hornpipes, the actor, the ham, too mixed to be a gentleman, but wonderful,the irreplaceable and unrepeatable Boz, the brilliance in the room, the inimitable, and --above and beyond every other description -- simply the great hardworking writer who sets 19th century London before our eyes, and who noticed and celebrated the small people living on the margins of society."

Tomalin's magisterial work raises up each of these aspects of the man. The man accomplished a great deal in his 68 years and perforce this books may seem exahustive in covering his many comings and goings. In addition to covering the details of his personal and professional life, Tomalin does a remarkable job of presenting and reflecting on his many literary efforts.

A few random thoughts: I never thought I would feel sorry for a publisher, but Dickens treated his many publishers horribly, reneging on contracts, selling the same work to multiple parties, constantly dropping one for another.

What a small world 19th century England was -- Dickens seemed to have met and interacted with just about everyone worth knowing at the time.

Tomalin is good at explicating the special authorial challenges in writing in serial form. Dickens was still writing the latter chapters of a book when the first were being published. He had to have the plot and characters well thought out before he started because there was little chance to going back to change. Tom Wolfe, who serialized Bonfire of the Vanities in Rolling Stone Magazine some 100 years later spoke of similar issues.

I've never been a fan of Dickens treatment of his female litarary characters. On one hand are the vapid, one-dimensional helpless lasses, on the other are the more intersting but largely venal characters. Dickens similarly treated the women in his real life. His cruel dismissal of his wife Catherine is particularly distressing.

A closely guarded secret during and immediately after his lifetime, Dicken's affair with the shockingly youg actress, Ellen (Nelly) Ternan, has become largely accepted as fact. Tomalin goes a step further in hypothesizing Dickens fathered a child with Ternan. This is more controversial, but Tomalin does a fine job in setting forth the basis of this hypothesis for the reader's own judgment.

Well worth the effort to read. I will happily read more of Ms. Tomalin's work. ( )
1 vote michigantrumpet | Feb 28, 2014 |
Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin.
London: Penguin, 2012.

Lynn
Lynn chose the book because “she really has a thing about biographies” but she was generally disappointed in it.
The small print was unfortunate because of the effort required to keep reading. Too much detail made reading the text a challenge. It started off as quite interesting but then became tedious and even boring.
Claire Tomalin is obviously an excellent researcher but that doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting read.
The book is thorough and very detailed and she prides herself in her meticulous research.

Lynn has enjoyed the Dickens novels she has read. The profile has been raised by 2012 being the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth.
He appears to be a complex man who both worked and played hard: a prolific writer who was money driven. His commitment to social causes and his theatre work counterpoints his lack of commitment to his wife and family
Writing a novel-length story in serial form on a weekly basis would have been difficult to achieve.
An interesting point is his parents’ interest in fostering his sister Fanny’s musical career at the expense of Dickens’ education – highly unusual for the time to prefer a daughter over a son. 7/10
Jenny A
Commented that she felt the book needed a good editing to reduce the amount of detail and help emphasise important points.
Dickens is full of his own importance in spite of (or perhaps because of) receiving no support from his parents.
Agreed the research was meticulous but it the book is not readable. 2/10

Pam
Pam agreed it was well researched but difficult to read. She was grateful to discover the wide raft of talents which Dickens had. He appears to be a genius and dogged by the failings of genius. Dickens obviously had great failings.
All male writers of the time had a core group of male friends with whom to discuss ideas.
Claire Tomalin is highly thought of as a biographer in Britain.
Pam was glad she had read the book in spite of the difficulties. No score

Noriel
There was more information than she could cope with at present. No score as hadn’t read it. Same from Barbara.

Sheena
Not a book for over the summer holidays. Too much detail. Read reviews and selections of the text.
More than she ever wanted to know about Dickens. 3/10

Enid
Had read every 10th page or so. Agreed too much detail and information. Like a text book rather than a book to read for pleasure.
Will choose the Bible for Lynn to read next time. 1/10

Robyn
Dickens was very self-indulgent. She would finish the book but can’t yet. 7/10

Ros
Read ½ of it. Agreed that he was a very difficult man and on the difficulties involved in reading the book.
Astonished at the amount of travel done by people in the book.
The mesmerism episode with Mrs De La Rue is astonishing in that someone would allow a friend without medical training to treat his wife. 7/10

Wendy
The biography is a good insight into the man. He was certainly not socially inept but highly sociable.
The backtracking in the book is irritating and adds to the difficulty of reading it.
She enjoyed the accurate descriptions of areas around Rochester as this is where her family come from. 4/10

Lorita
Fantastic research. Will dip into it. 9/10

Jenny Mac
Couldn’t be read as a novel, more as a text book.
As a Book Club Book, gives it 0/10: For author’s efforts gives it 7/10.

General
The book can be judged on 2 levels:
As a popular book
As a contribution to the literary market.
Could be that the 200th anniversary meant that literary works were released into the popular market that wouldn’t normally have been.

Score
2 members did not score it.

Average score 4.5/10.
  Warriapendibookclub | Apr 11, 2013 |
It's hard to say something new about an author like Dickens, especially if you limit yourself to 400 pages. Some occasional sparks of insight. I was impressed with the decision to start with Dickens' grandparents and go all the way to the end of the lives of his friends and family, though. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
While it neither offers much in the way of new insights nor replaces classic studies of Dickens, Tomalin's entertaining book deserves to be the go-to popular biography for readers new to Boz and his works.
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Morris A. Hounion (Oct 15, 2011)
 
...what is so valuable about this biography is the palpable sense of the man himself that emerges. Tomalin doesn't hesitate to condemn Dickens when his behaviour demands it, yet she writes throughout with great sympathy and unrivalled knowledge in the most limpid and stylish prose. She has the gift of being able to set a scene and a time with compelling vividness. This is a superb biography of a great writer – and is a beautifully produced book, it should be said, with copious illustrations. It is worthy to stand beside Richard Ellmann on Joyce, Donald Rayfield on Chekhov and Jean-Yves Tadie on Proust – all three writers who deserve that rarest of accolades, genius. Like Dickens, they were complicated and often extremely difficult and demanding individuals. The more we learn about them as people – paradoxically – the greater their art resonates with us.
 
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Epigraph
My sister and I first realised Mr Dickens himself... as a sort of brilliance in the room, mysteriously dominant and formless. I remember how everybody lighted up when he entered.

- Annie Thackery writing in 1913
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.

- George Gissing in 1898
The life of almost any man possessing great gifts, would be a sad book to himself.

- Charles Dickens in 1869
It will not do to draw round any part of such a man too hard a line.

-John Forster, friend of Dickens, in his biography
Dedication
I dedicate this book to the memory of two remarkable women :
my mother, the composer Muriel Emily Herbert, 1897-1984,
who shared with me her enjoyment of Dickens when I was a child ;
and my French grandmother, a schoolteacher, Franceline Jennaton
Delavenay, 1873-1906, who in about 1888, when she was at boarding
school in Grenoble, read David Copperfield in its entirety in English,
and loved Dickens ever afterwards.
First words
Prologue

14 January 1840, London. An inquest is being held at Marylebone Workhouse, a muddled complex of buildings spread over a large area between the Marylebone Road and Paddington Street.
Charles Dickens was born on Friday, 7 February 1812, just outside the old town of Portsmouth in the new suburb of Landport, built in the 1790s.
Quotations
“He [Dickens] told me that all the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. Only two people? I asked.”
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Chronicles the life of the nineteenth-century literary master from the challenges he faced as the imprisoned son of a profligate father, his rise to one of England's foremost novelists, and the personal demons that challenged his relationships.

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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0670917672, 0141036931

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