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Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
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Charles Dickens: A Life (edition 2012)

by Claire Tomalin

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5592617,833 (4.18)63
Member:veg-chick
Title:Charles Dickens: A Life
Authors:Claire Tomalin
Info:Penguin Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:biography/autobiography, historical, poverty, families, audio

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Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

  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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Charles Dickens. A life, the biography of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin reads like a novel by the Victorian author himself. The biography is remarkably well-written, and just a sheer pleasure to read. In just over 400 pages Tomalin compacts Dickens's eventful life.

For readers who imagine Charles Dickens as just another dreary old Victorian, this biography would come as an eye-opener. Dickens, apparently always as busy as a bee, led a bohemian lifestyle of exhuberence and dazzle. Starting from a very humble background, which would later appear in many of his greatest novels, early fame in his late Twenties brought wealth and the means to enjoy life on a grand scale. Dickens is described as an unusually colourful character, literally, as he would dress in gaudy colours. His friendships were warm, and his passion for the theatre went as far as not only writing plays (who had ever heard of that?) to producing and acting in his own plays, for very varied audiences, including the Queen. The biography also shows how an initially very good match and happiness in early marriage soured under the burden of work and an ever expanding family. While Dickens regularly frequented brothels and this is characterised as not unusual even in Victorian England, while his contacts with the women not only inspired many characters in his books, but also spurred Dickens into charity and setting up a home for destitute women, these visits may have been the prelude and symptom of a deteriorating marriage, which ended in divorce.

Dickens's life was extremely eventful and busy, as he wrote very many novels, and was engaged in many other projects ranging from charity, the theatre to journalism and running a newspaper. Part of the struggle of young authors is the modest to low income as at that time copyright was either not protected or publishers would benefit most from cooperation with their authors. Fortunately, Dickens was able to negotiate better deals with his publishers over the years in England, but often lamented piracy of his works in the United States, where the Copyright Act was not concluded until the final decades of the century, and Tauchnitz (Leipzig) brough out pirated editions of his works.

Claire Tomalin has struck a very good balance between writing about Dickens life and his novels. With so much to write about, the novels are never described with too much detail, and neither are the novels analysed. There is also a very good balance between Tomalin comments and use of the novels as illustrative material and contemporary criticism, showing how Victorian critics felt about Dickens's work.

Although there a footnotes for some of the facts, Charles Dickens. A life does not feel like a scholarly work. The biography is very well-written and very readable. A short but very useful bibliography with suggestions for further reading shows that scholarly interest in Dickens is far from rounded off with a number of major publications of Dickens's Letters in 12 vols. only completely published failrly recently between 1965 - 2002 (in The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, and his collected journalism in miscellaneous writing in four vols. (1894-2000) in The Dent Uniform Edition of Dicken's Journalism. ( )
  edwinbcn | Feb 11, 2017 |
I was 100% with this book before the time jump happened. The second half isn't any good and it doesn't even feel like it belongs with the first half. ( )
  RobVel | Jan 20, 2017 |
I am a big fan of Dickens and I've read a lot about him, so much of this biography was familiar to me. Still, Tomalin is always interesting and I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I am not quite sure I buy all of her theories about Ellen Ternan, and I would have liked a bit more analysis of Dickens's novels, but it was still well worth the read. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
As always, Clare Tomalin skilfully at weaves the 'works' and the 'life' together in this carefully researched, approachable biography of Dickens. Although she obviously admires the energy and drive that brought him out of a miserable childhood, Tomalin does not gloss over the less attractive parts of Dickens' character. I am very much a Dickens fan, and this biography adds considerably to my enjoyment of the novels. ( )
  Goldengrove | Mar 22, 2016 |
A really great work of scholarship. This book is fascinating background for anyone who has read some of the novels.
  rrbritt53 | Oct 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0670917672, 0141036931

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