Charles Dickens: A Life
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 accurately 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 things 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)
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK BY DICKENS?
HAVE YOU READ ANY OTHER BIOGRAPHY BY CLAIRE TOMALIN?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN A COMMENT PLEASE
Dickens suffers from too much required reading. I never enjoyed anything that I had to read in school, simply because I had to read it.
That said, years later as I thought back on A Tale of Two Cities for whatever reason, I decided that it is exactly the kind of book I love–a story of redemption. So I bought myself a copy but I haven’t actually re-read it yet. Maybe I’ll get to it for his birthday.
Now that sounds like a nice birthday treat! I was fortunate Dickens was not on my required list until very late in my studies!
I want to read this one after I read his novels. I’m afraid that the bio might give away plot lines of his novels, which is why I am waiting. I’m glad you liked it.
You are right, there is a lot of information about some works in this bio; that’s one point that makes it so good, but at the same time you are right, it’s better to discover them by yourself first. So how many works by Dickens do you plan to read for his anniversary year?
I saw your comment on my blog about the Library challenge link up…I’m actually not hosting it this year (I will be next year) I’m just participating this year. Here’s the link to the challenge link up for January. http://bumpsintheroad1.blogspot.com/2011/12/january-review-link-up-support-your.html
All link ups for this challenge will be posted at this blog through 2012. :0) Have a great day!
Thanks for the link! This is so funny, I was on that site, but could not find that page anywhere. and how I ended up contacting you, I have no idea…
This looks like a fantastic book. I am also a big Dickens fan and have been trying to read or reread one or two a year. I just finished listening to Bleak House.
Thanks for including your terrific review in the European Reading Challenge!
Rose City Reader
As a Dickens’ fan, you really need to read this biography, I think
For the 200th anniversary this year I’ve decided to read Bleak House. The book I found got me into Dickens once the horrors of school required reading was over, was Pickwick Papers.
The Pickwick Papers is the next book by Dickens I would love to read, but with tons of other challenges, it will have to wait I’m afraid. thanks for your comment.
Sounds like a really interesting book. I read Tomalin’s biography of Hardy a few years back, and really enjoyed that, so I can’t wait to get stuck into this one. Thanks for the overview 🙂
yes, it’s really worth it, I think
This does sounds like a very good biography, which I plan to add to my Wishlist!
Yes, if you like Dickens, you will love this biography, the latest one. Tomalin has written several very respected biographies.
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Sounds an excellent bio which delves into all the sides of his personality. Will add to my list.
Yes, definitely a good one