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Charles Dickens: Book summary and reviews of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin

Charles Dickens

A Life

by Claire Tomalin

Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin X
Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin
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  • Published Oct 2011
    576 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Tomalin provides her usual rich, penetrating portrait; one can say of her book what she says of Dickens's picture of 19th -century England: it's 'crackling, full of truth and life, with his laughter, horror and indignation.'" - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Superbly organized, comprehensive and engrossing from start to finish - a strong contender for biography of the year." - Kirkus Reviews

"Michael Slater's recent biography examines Dickens's literary works more deeply; Tomalin's focus is the writer himself. 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." - Library Journal

"Flawless in its historical detail, and acute on the novels, Claire Tomalin's superb Dickens biography is most valuable in the sense it gives us of the man himself." - The Observer (UK)

This information about Charles Dickens was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies including Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She has previously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the Whitbread Biography Award.

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