Charles Dickens: A Life

by

Claire TOMALIN

417 pages

Published by Penguin Press, in Oct 2011

I read this book for the following Challenges:

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

I need first to explain the discrepancy between the official page numbers of this book, Goodreads says 527 pages (and I have no idea why amazon says 576 pages, for the exact same book I have here) and my page count of only 417. The text itself stops at page 417, and this is mostly what I read: I only read a couple of notes. Pages 418-527 are notes, acknowledgements, bibliography and index. For honest reading statistics, I give the number of pages I read, that’s why my page number count is usually not the official one.

On February 7, 2012, we will be celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday (1812-1870). For this wonderful literary occasion, I joined 2 challenges, and read this brand new fantastic biography. I enjoy a lot Dickens. The latest work of his I read, more acurately listened to, was A Tale of Two Cities, a few years ago.

This biography was fascinating: Tomalin does a great job at mixing Dickens’s life events and literary creations, not hesitating on delving into each novel, each character, to show all the links between his life and his writing. Both are anyway extremely connected.

Even as a very young boy, Dickens had a great sense of observation, and would even take notes of things he saw around him. He lived in very poor London areas, with a father who would almost constantly be in debt, and that makes the background of most of his characters.

As soon as he earned a living, Dickens became very generous at helping his family and friends, and many poor people at large, including a home he founded and financed for prostitutes.

Dickens had an incredible energy: he needed to move and walked miles and miles to find his inspiration, while working at many works at the same time.

All this was rather well until his midlife crisis, when he suddenly asked divorce and said he did not like his children, 10 of them. He stopped lots of his generous contributions and supports of friends. This 3rd part of the book was totally unexpected for me. It was brilliant at showing all the contradictions in Dickens, a man maybe too brilliant to ever reach a healthy balance in every thing, and find real emotional happiness.
The excerpt I included, being almost the end of the book, is a good illustration of the richness of his complex character.

But his work remains the work of a giant, and I encourage you to read something by Dickens, or this biography, on this coming month of February

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

In his time, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was the most popular author not only in his native England, but also in America: In fact, in just two days, his American Notes sold 50,000 copies in New York alone. Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens captures the inner workings of a fiercely private workaholic, a man whose mistreatment of family and friends seems at painful odds with his philanthropic activities and the deep human warmth communicated in his novels. Tomalin’s mastery of the materials and writing skills enable her to untangle and weave together events in Dickens’ professional career and private life that other chroniclers have missed. By any standard, a major biography of a major author by an award-winning biographer. Editor’s recommendation. [goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Born Claire Delavenay in London, she was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge.
She became literary editor of the ‘New Statesman’ and also the ‘Sunday Times’. She has written several noted biographies and her work has been recognised with the award of the 1990 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1991 Hawthornden Prize for ‘The Invisible Woman The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens’.

In addition, her biography of Samuel Pepys won the Whitbread Book Award in 2002, the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2003, the Latham Prize of the Samuel Pepys Club in 2003, and was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2003.
She married her first husband, Nicholas Tomalin, who was a prominent journalist but who was killed in the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War in 1973. Her second husband is the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn.
She is Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature and of the English PEN (International PEN)

EXCERPT p.416

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK BY DICKENS?
HAVE YOU READ ANY OTHER BIOGRAPHY BY CLAIRE TOMALIN?
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