Claire Tomalin: Charles Dickens A Life



Arol But Claire Tomalin s dreary lacklustre biography has dampened my enthusiasm for the man who wrote them Sure I didn t expect Dickens to be a saint I new about the author s separation from his wife Catherine Hogarth essentially a baby factory for him I also new about his late in life affair with actress Ellen Nelly Ternan which Tomalin had already chronicled in her book The Invisible Woman also made into a movie But I expected a bit depth and complexity in a biographical portrait After all if you re going to devote years of your life researching someone you d think one of the prereuisites was actually liking the person or at least making us understand him or her I didn t get much insight from Tomalin Nor is there any outstanding critical analyses of his books Tomalin s summations of the novels are perfunctory at best at worst superficial Some of the book s passages are incredibly dull a mere accounting of the number of copies a novel sold or rent paid on a property or the symptoms of one of his nagging illnesses at times this all feels like a Wiki biography I had no idea Dickens wrote so many Christmas stories none of them achieving the artistic heights or commercial success of the one involving Ebenezer ScroogeTomalin is fine recounting Dickens s childhood which started out idyllic but soon turned hellish when his ne er do well father ended up in debtor s prison and Dickens had to work in a blacking warehouse And there s a moving account of his first love which was abruptly ended when the girl s parents thought he wasn t a suitable match ie he was from a different class and had no prospects Later on after he s famous and wealthy or wealthier he s got lots of expenses and many children to support he meets that same woman and comes across as terribly cruel Tomalin spends a lot of time on Dickens s philanthropy Most interesting is his support of a home for women who have fallen through the cracks current or former prostitutes thieves ex prisoners With his help many went on to lead respectable lives often finding work emigrating to the colonies and marrying I also was glad to read about some of his enduring friendships not just with famous authors Thackeray Wilkie Collins even Edgar Allen Poe whom he met during one of his US tours but less celebrated folks like his future biographer John Forster whom he bonded with over their similar humble backgrounds and became his 19th century BFFDickens loved the theatre and took part in amateur theatricals ueen Victoria was upset once because she missed one of his performances As such he cherished disguises masks accents intrigue He was different things to different people Tomalin never lifts off the mask to show us a fully realized person She can recount all his achievements and his failures he seemed indifferent to almost all of his 10 children but that doesn t make him humanEven though Tomalin has cast a pall over her subject I ll continue going back to the man s fiction I doubt I ll read by her however This breakneck biography touches upon all the important events of Boz s blistering life omitting the copious detail on his journalism covered in Michael Slater s exhaustively entertaining tome along with too many of the pivotally opinionated rants on social reform and whatnot Tomalin is stronger on Dickens s personal relationships especially with women and male friends and creates a emotional portrait of a restless but tormented man in comparison with Slater s love in where Dickens is shown as a dynamo with sparks of lightning streaking from his uill inflaming every room with his lively presence Overly critical of many of the works Tomalin s enthusiasm for what Dickens does seems to lag at times whereas Slater can barely bring himself to cast aspersions over a single shopping list but the second half of this bio establishes a truly painful tone of weariness physical pain and melancholy which seems accurate for Boz s post Catherine life he d lost out on true reciprocal love and clearly his heart had been wounded beyond repair when he embarked on some his most trenchant books Dickens simply seems lost aggressive and lacking the same mercurial magic of his younger years his transformation from energetic buck to grizzled lion is much clearer and painful with Tomalin Detail of the Nelly affair is discussed speculatively here offering a convincing case that Boz did consummate Tomalin published The Invisible Woman about this dark part of his life in 1991 Otherwise a serviceable brisk bio Given Tomalin s pedigree several bios of major writers in under a decade this can t be taken as an essential work but the writing is adorable Some books sit on my shelf for a long time before I finally find the right moment to read them Reading a biography of Dickens may not be for everyone but after looking at this book on my shelf for about five years I finally pulled it down and began reading It was well worth my time Not only does it give a fascinating look at life in Victorian England which as a history buff I loved but it also provides a very readable personable and accessible narrative about Dickens so in the end I felt as if I had actually met the man or at least attended one of his many speaking engag This is a brisk biography that demonstrates the value of nowing and discussing the author s life in considering their written workBriskly pacing through the life just as Dickens walked through city and countryside the four hundred pages of text seem slight At every turn there was potential for Tomalin to depart the narrow path and have a digression on mesmerism or any of the people that Dickens brushed past or dealt with These are summed up in a sentence if at all When Edwin Landseer was mentioned I wondered if this was the painter or somebody else with the same name Monarch of the Glen Edwin Landseer Writing a life of Dickens could easily turn into an encyclopaedia of mid Victorian Britain Tomalin avoids doing this the Monarch of the Glen is off the beaten track so she doesn t go there However if you do want a book that uses Dickens life as a springboard into a wider exploration of Victorian Britain look elsewhereHaving finished the book I felt enormously reassured that I haven t read much of the early Dickens I did either give up on Barnaby Rudge or forget what happened from about half way through Mart. Atness 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 centuryYears 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 champi.

This is a well recorded biography that needs to go down in history as the great novelist himself However I will not call Dickens the greatest novelist of England by any means as the book s introduction says His life has been narrated in a subtle manner and this gives the readers comprehensive information about Dickens development as a person and also as an author This biography provides a clear and balanced view of Charles Dickens 1812 1870 I feel it is important to state that Dickens is not one of my favorite authors For me his writing is too florid his tales too melodramatic and his characters too stereotypical I wanted to understand the man and I was not looking for a hagiography Balance is what I sought most and balance is what I got The book starts with his parents and moves forward year by year Friends and family and all that he involved himself in are thoroughly covered He certainly wasn t merely an author He was an indefatigable writer a journalist an editor and a publisher Active in the theater and a public reader touring in not only England but also in Europe and twice in the States He was an active proponent for help to the poor and needy He set up and managed a home for destitute women in Shepherd s Bush What he did and what he wrote are covered meticulously year by year Who he was his weaknesses and strengths are covered too He was a bad husband there it is straight He was charming and convivial he could also be dictatorial and moody he was an actor and a ham He disliked scandal He was filled with eager restless energy up to his death The book goes on to say what happens to close friends and family members after Dickens own death Facts that are disputed are stated as such with clear information explaining why the author draws the conclusions she does There is a thorough discussion of Dickens relationship with his mistress Ellen Lawless Ternan 1839 1914 nown as NellyTernanI have come to understand how Dickens writing mirrors his own life Each book is discussed with the same balanced analysis employed in portraying the weaknesses and strengths of the man The audiobook is narrated by Alex Jennings Only in the beginning was it read a bit too fast I smiled when hearing the contrast between the American and English accents The reading is easy to follow I ve given both the narration and the author s written text four starsIt can be hard to get excited about balance but that is exactly what I was looking for when I chose this biography on Charles Dickens I got exactly what I was looking for ETA I didn t give the book five stars because although it was informative interesting and balanced I never came to care for anyone I neither emotionally suffered nor rejoiced Emotionally it is flat Claire Tomalin is a no nonsense schoolmarm of a biographer marshalling her facts into order and marching them across the page in seemly double crocodile lines one two one two A sort of Joyce Grenfell type pleasant but firm George don t do that No Susan put Sydney down dear No Neville you can t go home The effect of this patting and prodding and pummelling into shape is that Dickens life appears oddly reduced The Slater biography gives the impression of a man constantly struggling to eep all the plates spinning at the same time and often in danger of letting them slip whereas Tomalin has him taking holidays Slater gives details perhaps too many for most readers of exactly how each work was produced how often he over or underwrote how many months ahead of publication he was all the other articles letters speeches he was producing at the same time as his novels and stories whereas Tomalin even occasionally just says something like he wrote a book over the next year and a half and then took a breakSlater interprets the works but when it comes to the man s private life he gives facts and allows readers to draw their own conclusions Tomalin again rather like a firm schoolmistress nows exactly what she thinks of Mr Dickens and is than willing to take the readers firmly by the hand and guide them to the correct conclusions her conclusions ie that he was a rotten husband and could be ruthless and cruel as well as cheerful and wonderful company and that yes his Nelly bore him a son who died There s even a theory that he may have collapsed at the home he shared with Nelly in Peckham and she had to get him back over to Gad s Hill secretly by brougham where he later died A most singular idea that is backed only by the evidence of some missing cash from his pocket It seems to be pure speculation and as such you wonder why it sits there Thanks to my GR friend Troy I was able to read the review at the LRB in which Deborah Friedell also uestions the inclusion of this highly speculative alternative death scene Tomalin s answering letters can be read here All in all I think that Tomalin s assessment is very similar to the one I had already reached after reading the Slater but I m certainly glad I read Slater first I like to have the feeling I ve made my own mind up deceptive as it may be I used to read Charles Dickens extensively as my Parents thought I should read books by authors considered to be classics Besides times were different and since there are many young characters in Dickens s novels they believed they were suitable for a teenage girl How mistaken they were Still I am and always will be grateful to them for introducing me to Dickens BTW I suppose my love for thick volumes has its roots in the times when I took Dickens s books into my handsI found this biography superbly researched and written Ms Tomalin did a terrific job writing about Charles s personal life and providing us with the background of all his works I new nothing about his journeys to America and even less about the problem with royalties from novels published there This thick volume never bored or tired me although I admit the amount of information to digest is really enormous and I can t say I remember all details This was my first and probably the only biography of Charles Dickens as it answered all my general uestions and did painted a picture of an author as a boy a brother a husband a father a lover and a traveller always a curious observer who hated being observed Nothing can take away my love for books like Great Expectations David Copperfield Oliver Twist and A Christmas The tumultuous life of England's greatest novelist beautifully rendered by unparalleled literary biographer Claire Tomalin 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 ings 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 sualor 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 fortuneLike a hero from his novels Dickens trod a hard path to gre.

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In Chuzzlewit wasoh sorry I must have dropped off there for a minute My appreciation of the mid Dickens Bleak House and Hard Times sharpened and I m inclined to read some of his later works And if I am not sure if I would return to Dickens favourite David Copperfield on account of how intensely annoying I found Dora I think it is possibly a bad sign that I was glad when she died and how disappointingly insipid I found his Agnes at least I do have a sense of the ironies involved in his characterisation of the Dora David relationship and how these characters fit generally into Dickens difficulties with women difficulties isn t uite the right word but it will have to do for now Tomalin gives a few pages to each of the novels and to some of the stories giving an overview of the plot and characters but no great analysis Again if you want a thorough discussion of Dickens output look elsewhere This is a life of a Dickens Having said that there are interesting insights I was taken by how Dickens split his experience of parents into the Micawbers and the Murdstones in David Copperfield Likewise I was surprised to read that Dickens was a Francophile which conflicts completely with my memory of A Tale of Two Cities At one stage Dickens did complain that he felt that his readers wouldn t accept a realistic hero the implication was that this was in regard to contemporary sexual s but generally suggests that Dickens was writing with a certain audience in mind and was prepared to give his public what he thought they wanted In the particular case of A Tale of Two Cities I would have been interested to see what his French translators made of itTomalin describes Dickens father as Mr Micawber yet Dickens own habit of life as a young writer seemed no less Micawberish Delighting in the cash flow and the fine life on credit it allowed Dickens wasn t to achieve financial security until the publication of Dombey and Son when he had been writing fiction to huge public and critical acclaim and massive sales for over ten years yet still was freuently a sixpence shy of happinessThe impression is hard to escape that in his fiction Dickens showed a degree of self nowledge that didn t inform his way of life His treatment of his children could be cold his behaviour towards his wife a role model of what not to do The intensity and role of his male relationships coupled with his domineering attitude towards women gives insight into why so many of his leading women seem flat they weren t allowed the space in his life to be much else unless they admired him uncritically On the other hand he wasn t much better in his male friendships although perhaps there was some space between drinking and tearful reunions for small differences of opinion I wondered if Dickens could have coped had the relationship with his later biographer Forster and his wife Catherine been combined The separation between Forster as friend and confidant on the one hand with Catherine as sexual partner despite being a Francophile even learning French Dickens doesn t seem to have picked up any French Letters as a result Mrs Dickens was regularly pregnant and ten of the couple s children survived to adulthood assisted Dickens to compartmentalise and control his life Being in control unsurprisingly perhaps given his childhood experience comes across as of central importance to Dickens in Tomalin s account and writing fiction is one way of being able to continually reinvent yourself and re imagine your own life with complete power This was magisterial and uite superb Claire Tomalin s biography of Charles Dickens is compelling and brilliant and the portrait provided of him is lively sympathetic but never one sided and as such The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering keeps the reader engaged and discoveringThe deep research andnowledge behind the writing is apparent as is the author s own ability as a story teller herself The stages of Dickens s life and the experiences that shaped him and his writing are done so well We see clearly the brilliance and the flaws of the great man and criticism of his behaviour is not left to one sideOne area that I enjoyed was how Ms Tomalin transported me into the Victorian era that Dickens strode There are fine descriptions of areas of London his houses and work places as well as his travels in Europe and the USA This could be discarded as of course Dickens s own descriptions help provide this insight but Ms Tomalin aligns her biography the man not his books and it is a very strong part of the book as it creates atmosphere and background to his life The family friends and acuaintances of Dickens are also well placed and given life through the book s pages I enjoyed reading of his business partnerships and those friendships with other well New Penguin Cookery Book known people of the age This wide ranging story and the large cast of characters sees one have reactions an I recall my own groans sympathies laughs and astonishment with these people as I read surely a sign of great biographyDicken s place in literature and Victorian society and there is much to him than the writer of great stories is held high This biography by Claire Tomalin deserves to be raised to that same high level and celebrated as the accessible balanced and rewarding book it is and that Dickens deserves Oh Now it all makes sense Now I understand why so many of the characters in Dickens novels seem so theatrically dramatic Read Charles Dickens A Life by Claire Tomalin and you too can unlock such mysteries as they expertly unfold in this top notch biographyAfter reading so many of his novels I figured it was high time I got tonow the man behind the words Tomalin combines his personal story with just enough historical detail while sprinkling in a compact summary and review of all of his works as each was produced when that point in time is reached in an ever unfurling scroll upon which his life is written Always with energy and passion the poor unfortunate Dickens becomes the famous benevolent Dickens who then decays into the elderly and selectively vindictive Dickens See how the man of the people rose to untouchable heights so high he felt free to snub the ueen and yet remained earth bound and ever able to reach into the souls of the lowest of the low and play sorrowfully sweet upon their heartstrings Finally understand what in the dickens was going on in Dickens. On 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 ualities 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

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Born Claire Delavenay in London she was educated at Newnham College CambridgeShe 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