Dickens: Life and Times

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9780060922658: Dickens: Life and Times

Charles Dickens's life is a story of rags to riches, complete with bankruptcy, prison, forced child labour, and fame and fortune overshadowed by guilt and secrecy - rather like the plot of one of his novels. Indeed, Dickens drew strongly on his own experiences as the source for much of his fiction. Here the author offers a fresh view of Dickens's remarkable life story. Dickens's novels brim with references: they are located in the places he lived in and visited, peopled with characters he knew, and inspired by the preoccupations that haunted his mind. Ackroyd highlights the reality of Victorian life, warts and all, and the issues that sparked Dickens's fervent calls for social reform; and he also charts the influential landmarks of that era, such as the coming of the railways, the effects upon society of the industrial revolution and the expansion of the British Empire. Dickens was a complex personality. He apparently had everything - fame, success, wealth - but he died harbouring the great sadness he had carried with him all his life, and he was humble enough to forbid a grand funeral. Like many eminent Victorians, he led a double life. Although he insisted that nothing in the newspapers he edited should offend his middle-class readers, he regularly indulged in dubious night-time escapades with fellow-author Wilkie Collins and, for the final 13 years of his life, kept a secret mistress, Ellen Ternan.

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Review:

In this remarkable new biography, Peter Ackroyd offers a different view of Dickens to that presented in his earlier study of the author. In that book, Ackroyd's attempts to mimic the voice of the great writer were highly controversial, though some saw the book as a radical re-invention of the biography form. There is no arguing with the brilliant achievement of the more straightforward Charles Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion, however; the picture of Dickens and his complicated private life that emerges is fastidiously detailed and powerfully evocative, while Ackroyd's customary skill at creating a panoply of the city of London is as dazzling as ever ( London, is, in fact, the subject of another biography by the author, who is unquestionably the keenest chronicler of the city's colourful history). Here, Ackroyd attempts to peel away the mask of a man whose life was outwardly a picture of Victorian rectitude, but whose love life was as complicated (and unconventional) as any modern writer. Dickens had everything--fame, success and riches--but he died harbouring a deep sadness he had experienced all his life. He was a man of mercurial character, had enormous vitality and humour, but he also had a sense of loss and longing that would constantly appear in his work. Like many eminent Victorians, he led a double life: although he insisted that nothing in the newspapers he edited should upset his middle-class readers, he regularly indulged in dubious night-time escapades with fellow author Wilkie Collins, and, for the last 13 years of his life, kept a secret mistress.

While presenting a warm but astringent portrait of the man who (along with George Eliot) can be classed as the greatest writer of his age, Ackroyd also masterfully recreates the relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan, a strong and intelligent woman (herself the subject of a biography by Claire Tomalin, The Inviisble Woman who, like her lover, outwardly observed the proprieties while living her real life behind closed doors. Ackroyd also vividly conjures the reality of Victorian life, the issues that sparked Dickens' fervent call for social reform, and the great landmarks of the time, which profoundly affected his life and work. --Barry Forshaw

Review:

In this remarkable new biography, Ackroyd offers a different view of Dickens to that presented in his earlier study of the author. Dickens had everything - fame, success and riches. He was mercurial, had enormous vitality and humour, along with a sense of loss and longing that would constantly appear in his work. Like many eminent Victorians, he led a double life: although he insisted that nothing in the newspapers he edited should upset his middle class readers, he regularly indulged in dubious night-time escapades with fellow author Wilkie Collins and kept a secret mistress, Ellen Ternan. Ackroyd vividly conjures the reality of Victorian life, the issues that sparked Dickens' fervent calls for social reform which profoundly affected his life and work.

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