Review – Charles Dickens by Michael Slater

“The first thing to say is that the full title of this biography is Charles Dickens: a life defined by writing and this is the main thrust of Michael Slater’s book.  His personal life, his marriage, his separation from his wife, his children and his later love, Nellie Ternan, though appearing in the narrative are kept pretty much in the background and are only mentioned in relation to his writing and his state of mind at any particular moment – this biography concentrates on Dickens the author.  There are other excellent biographies of Dickens which explore the, for want of a better phrase,  his ‘love life’ and the lack of lurid information in this particular book did not worry me – I know I can find details  elsewhere.

No, as I said this is all about Dickens the author and my goodness me – half way through this book I was simply breathless at the sheer scale of his output.  No laptops, no dictaphones, just pen and ink (did he ever suffer from what we now call RSI- surely he must have done) and an abundance of drive and energy.    We all know that Dickens wrote his novels in serial form to a deadline for the eagerly awaiting readers who rushed out in their thousands to buy the latest edition of The Old Curiosity Shop, Dombey and Son and all those well known works that we only know and read in book form.  The pressure was immense because as well as producing these instalments, often on a weekly as well as a monthly basis, he was quite often involved in the editing and production of the particular magazine and also wrote articles on a regular basis.  Two of his most well known journals were Household Words and All the Year Round and, as stated, as well as being editor and contributor he had to find copy and stories from other authors and writers as well.  Wilkie Collins was a particularly close friend and The Woman in White and The Moonstone were just two of his well known works that were first brought to the attention of the public in one of these magazines.  Mrs Gaskell another.  (Hesperus books have reprinted some of these and are well worth getting hold of).   A Christmas Carol was such a huge success that a Dickens for Christmas then became the norm so the special edition had to be produced and prepared often months in advance and all while Dickens was planning and writing the next novel.   At one stage he was writing instalments of the Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist at the same time…” Read more

Review courtesy: Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover (TypePad Featured Blog)

Charles Dickens by Michael Slater

Published by Yale University Press, August 2009

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