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Charles Dickens: A Life
Charles Dickens: A Life
Charles Dickens: A Life
Audiobook16 hours

Charles Dickens: A Life

Written by Claire Tomalin

Narrated by Alex Jennings

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

4/5

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About this audiobook

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, The Times of London successfully campaigned for his burial in Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of England's kings and heroes. Thousands flocked to mourn the best recognized and loved man of nineteenth-century England. His books had made them laugh, shown them the squalor and greed of English life, and also the power of personal virtue and the strength of ordinary people. In his last years Dickens drew adoring crowds to his public appearances, had met presidents and princes, and had amassed a fortune.

Like a hero from his novels, Dickens trod a hard path to greatness. Born into a modest middle-class family, his young life was overturned when his profligate father was sent to debtors' prison and Dickens was forced into harsh and humiliating factory work. Yet through these early setbacks he developed his remarkable eye for all that was absurd, tragic, and redemptive in London life. He set out to succeed, and with extraordinary speed and energy made himself into the greatest English novelist of the century.

Years later Dickens's daughter wrote to the author George Bernard Shaw, "If you could make the public understand that my father was not a joyous, jocose gentleman walking about the world with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch, you would greatly oblige me." Seen as the public champion of household harmony, Dickens tore his own life apart, betraying, deceiving, and breaking with friends and family while he pursued an obsessive love affair.

Charles Dickens: A Life gives full measure to Dickens's heroic stature-his huge virtues both as a writer and as a human being- while observing his failings in both respects with an unblinking eye. Renowned literary biographer Claire Tomalin crafts a story worthy of Dickens's own pen, a comedy that turns to tragedy as the very qualities that made him great-his indomitable energy, boldness, imagination, and showmanship-finally destroyed him. The man who emerges is one of extraordinary contradictions, whose vices and virtues were intertwined as surely as his life and his art.
LanguageEnglish
PublisherTantor Audio
Release dateJun 18, 2012
ISBN9781452678641
Charles Dickens: A Life

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Rating: 4.075 out of 5 stars
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  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    I know things about my father's character that no one else ever knew; he was not a good man, but he was not a fast man, but he was wonderful! Katey Dickens speaking about her father.

    Reading this in a relentless spree, I was helpless but to observe similarities to the recent Bob Dylan biography Behind the Shades I had finished just about a week ago. Despite their massive reputations, both men were guarded about their privacy, both had a number of children (19 between the pair?) and both embarked upon whirlwind tours late in life. Ms. Tomalin is fairly evenhanded in her analysis of Dickens' novels but appears undecided to a degree about his contradictions as a person. I felt likewise distanced by both the biographer's prose as well as the detailed nuances of the literary titan.

    My favorite aspect of the biography was surprisingly Dickens first trip to the United States, especially his two meeting with Poe, the possibilities of such I imagine to be dizzying. I was also struck by a casual omission: when one crosses the Ohio River from Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky there is plaque which notes that Charles Dickens once spent the night at a hotel on that site. This "flyover moment" didn't merit mention in the chapter on America. I don't find that as interesting as the fact that it is difficult to locate acknowledgement in Louisville as to its past as a hub for the slave trade.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Compelling reading - made Dickens come vividly to life for me. I also appreciated the insight into his novels which she provided.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    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.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    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.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    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.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    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 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 later 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.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    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.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    “Leaving out the women in Dickens's life made appreciation easier.” — Claire Tomalin, “Charles Dickens: A Life”Charles Dickens was an extraordinary man, but he had one ordinary fault: He always thought he was right and everybody else was wrong. He could be blind to his own failings, and as Claire Tomalin suggests near the end of her biography of the great Victorian writer, those failings often had to do with women.He kept his wife, Catherine, almost constantly pregnant, and after she had given birth to 10 children, most of whom (especially the sons) he didn't want, he abandoned her and took up with an actress, Ellen Ternan. Even while still living with Catherine he preferred the company of her sisters, one of whom managed his household affairs for the rest of his life. When another sister died young, he was so heartbroken he openly declared he wanted someday to be buried beside her.Dickens had other failings as well. He would break contracts and friendships while blaming the other party. If a friend stayed friends with his former friends (or his wife) he no longer considered them his friends. He sent his sons, at a young age, to faraway places, including India and Australia, seemingly just to be rid of them. Yet he was not altogether blind to his sins, for he once said he saw himself in all of his characters, the bad ones as well as the noble ones.For all his weaknesses, Dickens worked for good to an amazing degree. In his fiction he campaigned on behalf of orphans, child workers, fallen women, the poor and the sick. Social betterment was also his goal as a journalist and as a citizen. For several years, with the help of a wealthy donor, he ran a home to rehabilitate young prostitutes.Except for his youngest son, who became a successful lawyer, his many sons proved to be failures. For all his impatience with them, Dickens paid their debts and tried to find jobs for them. He also supported his wife and her sisters, his daughters, Ellen Ternan and her sisters and various servants besides. That he worked so hard as a novelist, as a journalist and as a public speaker, giving readings of his work, had to do not just with his personality but also with his need to pay his bills.Tomalin's book, published in 2011 in time for the bicentennial of Dickens's birth in 2012, covers in detail each of the author's major books, most of which were serialized in magazines, including his own magazines. She writes of his extraordinary friendships, including with Wilkie Collins and many other major literary figures of the time, his love of the theater (he could have been a successful actor had not writing proved more lucrative), his annual Christmas stories, his travels (including two trips to the United States) and the many other aspects of his short but full life.Clearly, Tomalin admires him greatly, especially when she can ignore the women.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    A brilliant and comprehensive biography. I think Ms Tomalin conveyed very fair picture of Dickens- his huge energy for work, business and fun ; his passion for walking miles through the streets of London, taking in the grimmest and poorest quarters; his good works, sponsorship of the needy; his many strong friendships. However, one must set this against the way he cast of his wife and became increasingly uninterested in his children (especially if they needed help.Ms Tomalin provides much circumstantial evidence on his long-term affair with youthful actress Ellen Ternan....the desperate need for secrecy, given his fame...the short-lived illegitimate son, born in France...A memorable and very human man.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    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.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Like young David Copperfield, Charles Dickens was forced to work at a tender age, after his father was imprisoned. There are other similarities to one of Dickens most beloved creations and the author himself, in this wonderful, stirring and impeccably researched biography. Dickens is an endlessly fascinating artist and an impressive humanitarian to boot. Tomalin expertly follows Dickens through his life, his friends, his tumultuous marriage to Catherine, his many children, his connection with other artists of that period and of course his books, which she gives a detailed account. My only regret is that I had not read more of his work, so I could have made a better connection with her spot-on analysis of each title. My goal is to read one or two of this books a year until I catch up. Love him or hate him, this is a highly recommended bio!
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Not only is this great book a superlatively researched and constructed biography, but its account of what came to light about Dickens years after his death is of huge interest. After having ten children with his wife Dickens cast his wife aside and took up with an 18-year-old woman and in great secrecy had a child with her and saw her often in the years before he died. The account of Dickens rise to early fame is told well and one has to be amazed by how much he did in an eage where so mcuh time had to be spent just gettint arounf. His accomplishments are truly unbeleivable. So, though as a man he is often a deplorable person the hard work and industry he displayed all his life long makes for a fascainting story.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    This was a tremendously engagingly written biography.  It puts across a great sense of Dickens's multiple interests, as author, editor, journalist, social reformer, public idol and many more. The receptions accorded him during his later public readings are like those now accorded to pop stars. At the same time, the author builds on her earlier work on the potentially scandalous secret relationship between Dickens and Ellen Ternan, which was denied for many decades after his death, though now it seems extremely difficult to gainsay the weight of evidence in its favour. The author varies in her coverage of the novels, with rather more description and analysis of the novels of the mid-period from Dombey and Son to Little Dorrit, but rather less for earlier and later ones, with the exception of Our Mutual Friend. This is a much more readable biography than Peter Ackroyd's monumental 1144 page book that I read over a period of two and a half months in 2009.  That was too detailed and both exhaustively and exhaustingly long winded, whereas Tomalin covers the many facets of Dickens's life and literary career very effectively in just over 400 pages.  The book comes with useful lists of family members (a genealogy might have been useful) and associates, and places in London and Kent connected with his life. The hardback has lovely illustrations in the inside front and back covers and is an  hardback with an illustrated cover but without a dust jacket, not often seen these days. In sum, for lots of reasons, a great reading experience. (Thanks for lending it to me, Ian!)
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Fascinating account of the Great Man, whose indefatigable mind and energy made him one of the greatest storytellers of the Victorian era and beyond. Writer, journalist, actor,editor and entertainer, he didn't beleive in being idle. He thought nothing of taking long walks near his homes in London and Kent and elsewhere, for inspiration. Great read
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    A very enjoyable and comprehensively-researched biography of the great novelist. While essentially favourably inclined, Tomalin's work is a not a hagiography, and she does not refrain from criticising some of Dickens's dreadful behaviour, especially his treatment of Catherine, his long-suffering wife. Still, she does put the novels in an interesting context.I hadn't appreciated the extent to which, for the grater part of his life, he was so desperately driven by the need to keep earning. Of course, everyone knows of his poor upbringing, and his stint in the blacking family to help support the family while his father was incarcerated in Marshalsea Prison as a consequence of his debts, and one can perfectly understand how that would give Charles a terror of finding himself poor again. However, I was amazed to read of the constant and relentless financial demands he placed upon his publishers as she struggled to maintain not just the various spendthrift members of his family but also a selection of properties around London and the south east of England.His father was a particularly dreadful character, continually running up debts and seemingly quite happy either to forge his son's name or just to have bills sent to his son's publisher. This profligacy was passed on to Charles's brothers, and seems also to have been inherited by a couple of his sons.Still, essentially it is his writing that really counts and Claire Tomalin handles this very sympathetically and clearly. The novels are summarised with great simplicity and clarity, and their context within Dickens's life is comprehensively mapped. As with her 2003 biography of Samuel Pepys Tomalin has taken someone about most people think that they know a fair amount, and managed to engae the reader's attention with a startling illumination of their life.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Where I got the book: my local library.Claire Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen has been on my bookshelf for what seems like 20 years, although the Goodreads editions roundup has 1997 as the earliest date. Whatever. I'm quite surprised, seeing how much I enjoyed that biography, that Charles Dickens: A Life is only the second Tomalin biography I've read.From this very limited sample I would say that you go to Tomalin for the close-up, human portrait of your subject. In 417 pages of narrative, Tomalin displays Dickens in all his contradictions: generous yet selfish, open-handed but capable of great secretiveness, a man of enormous warmth yet able to turn ice-cold on a friend or family member once he decided he was done with them.My strongest impression was of Dickens' vast reserves of energy; he strides about the pages as he would walk the London streets, always immersed in action, always moving. Tomalin's narrative moves forward at a fast clip, eating up the years chronologically, although there are occasional irritating bursts of foretelling (to keep us reading? As if I wouldn't.)I would say that Tomalin comes down on the side of Catherine Dickens in the story of the couple's doomed marriage, and on behalf of plump wives everywhere, I thank her. On the whole Dickens gets a poor rating as a husband, father, friend and even occasionally as a writer (it's certainly true that he wasn't always on top form in his books, but considering he wrote for serialization these were pretty much first drafts, an astounding thing when you think about it.)Good bibliography and index, and lots of interesting photos including a very arresting one of the mature Dickens, clean-shaven. It is the clearest glimpse I've ever had of Dickens the businessman, and Dickens the man of susceptibility to the ladies. It's a shame they were inevitably such young ladies, but he clearly had a very Victorian ideal of womanhood and it wasn't his wife. Hmm, do you think Tomalin's sympathies were persuasive?
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Claire Tomalin begins her biography of Dickens with a bold stroke, a prologue in which many of his finer characteristics are displayed through an examination of his membership of a Jury and subsequent energetic efforts on behalf of the accused, a girl dealt a poor hand in life. She is careful to show both the positive and the negative aspects of Dickens complex character, concluding that " ..everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens."At around 400 pages this is quite a short biography of a man who packed so much into his 58 years, and inevitably some things are dealt with more briskly than others. I would have liked more on his friendship with Wilkie Collins who had a big effect on his life and art in Dickens later years. However I thought that Ms Tomalin provided some really fresh insights into his friendship with John Forster, more like a brother really.I found that the book sagged a bit at times with endless lists of activities and dates which meant little, and I sensed the author's boredom here. It was noticeable that the book gathered energy once she reached the period of Dickens separation from his wife and relationship with Ellen Ternan. This is familiar territory of course, covered in depth in her previous book, "The Invisible Woman."I did not always feel that she liked the books, and one has sympathy with her impatience for women in Dickens who are frequently one- dimensional and colourless. She does mention Rosa Dartle from "David Copperfield," but I would have liked some appreciation for the complex Miss Wade in "Little Dorrit." She is a biographer who takes an objective approach and while I missed the specialist insights of those who have written extensively on Dickens, I eventually decided that Claire Tomalin's cooler approach has it's merits., allowing one the distance to see her subject in the round. The relative brevity of the book gives it a satisfying shapeliness and her concluding comments on this extraordinary man could hardly be bettered:"Too mixed to be a gentleman-but wonderful. The irreplaceableand unrepeatable Boz. The brilliance in the room. The inimitable."
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Claire Tomalin is one of my favourite biographers (her work on Jane Austen, for example, is outstanding) and this may be her best book yet, not least because she conveys so vividly and with such well-researched evidence the complexities and contradictions that made up the life and character of Charles Dickens, and reflects just the right amount of light on the novels where life and story meet.In particular, she contrasts the genuine sympathy that Dickens felt for suffering humanity (which led him to generous acts of individual philanthropy and attention) with the cruel treatment of his wife Catherine, and his dismissive attitude to most of the males among his offspring, whom he considered as feckless as his own parents. Tomalin is illuminating too on Dickens's egocentricity which lies at the centre both of his triumphs (his greatest characters, such as David Copperfield and Pip, carved from his own image; the huge success of his staged readings) and his failings (intolerance of those who would not bend to his will, obsessive acts of passion, revenge and pettiness). We see in Tomalin's book the many shapes and faces of Dickens, but she also helps us make them whole.She is at her most interesting and forensic in tracking the development and progress of Dickens's long affair with the actress Ellen (Nelly) Ternan. Tomalin also drops tantalising hints about other possible sexual secrets - was Dickens a user as well as a protector of prostitutes? did he have a sexual relationship with his wife's devoted younger sister, Georgina, or even with the youngest sister Mary Hogarth whose early death brought him an excess of grief and a long-held, strange desire to be buried alongside her? None of these hints is stretched beyond the limits of evidence, but lie glistening in the narrative. Tomalin is less revealing about wife Catherine after her separation from Dickens, which may be from paucity of evidence; it would seem that the deserted Catherine retreated into characteristic blandness without the flame of Dickens nearby.It is sometimes said that "a biographer is an artist under oath". Claire Tomalin never strays far into the realm of speculation, much less creative invention, but using only the material won by hard research that is nevertheless worked with a sure lightness of touch she keeps us engaged and unwearied, never feelng the weight of the patient hours she has spent creating a rich tapestry, one we are able to appreciate as much for its craft as its truth in the weft.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    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.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    I often find that it takes me longer to read a non-fiction book compared to a fiction book but I devoured this book over the course of three days, pausing only to scribble notes, quotes and thoughts in a notebook and occasionally to eat, drink and sleep as required. This is an incredibly readable biography.As someone who’s read all of Dickens finished novels and is currently rereading them in publication order, I found it fascinating to read about Dickens’ life, and it helped me get a better understanding of his books. Some points, like his father’s imprisonment for debt in the Marshalsea and Dickens’ first job in a blacking factory at the age of twelve, I was already aware of but I didn’t know about the arguments he’d had with his publishers or that it was the periodicals Dickens edited which first published stories by other Victorian writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot.As always, Tomalin is a sympathetic biographer although she doesn’t gloss over Dickens’ flaws and failings, whether in his life or in his books. It’s hard to excuse or justify his behaviour to his wife during and after their separation as anything other than appalling. And yet he was also capable of great generosity, setting up a home for prostitutes or women thought likely to be at risk of becoming prostitutes so that they could be educated and then start new lives in the colonies. Tomalin reconciles these extremes of behaviour by quoting from a discussion Dickens had with Dostoevsky which Dostoevsky recorded in his diary:“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.”Tomalin also includes her theories on Dickens’ relationship with the actress Nelly Ternan after his separation from his wife (which I believe she goes into in more detail in her earlier book, The Invisible Woman). I know that this is an area where other biographers disagree with Tomalin and given the lack of evidence I think it’s ultimately impossible to conclude either way. Having said that, Tomalin’s theory fits the available facts and she makes it clear that this is educated speculation and that other biographers disagree. I found her theory interesting to read about even if we can never know what really happened between Dickens and Nelly Ternan.The overall impression I got from the biography was that Dickens was truly a larger than life character. After experiencing poverty as a child he was never able to feel he could rest on his laurels, even once he’d reached a secure financial position with the publication of Dombey and Son. He was always busy with projects, with plays, with travelling or with writing:“Dickens kept going by taking on too much. He knew no other way to live, and no day went by in which he did not stretch himself, physically, socially and emotionally.”A fascinating biography of a fascinating man, I was left feeling that Dickens truly was ‘the inimitable’. If this book doesn’t win some kind of award I will be very disappointed.