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Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  111 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
"Becoming Dickens" tells the story of how an ambitious young Londoner became England's greatest novelist. In following the twists and turns of Charles Dickens's early career, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst examines a remarkable double transformation: in reinventing himself Dickens reinvented the form of the novel. It was a high-stakes gamble, and Dickens never forgot how differe ...more
Hardcover, 389 pages
Published October 3rd 2011 by The Belknap Press of Harvard university
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Dec 21, 2016 Teresa rated it really liked it
None of the facts in this partial-biography (focused on the early years) of Dickens are new, but it was a pleasure to read the way the author synthesized and interpreted the information to give us the development of Dickens as a novelist. Despite a touch of repetition (his reasoning on why Fagin was named after a young, kind co-worker is unique and astute, but was stated a couple times too often), I also enjoyed Douglas-Fairhurst’s flights of fancy, especially his hypothesis of how things might’ ...more
Dec 22, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Douglas-Fairhurst’s book is less a conventional biography than an exquisitely written exploration of how Charles Dickens’ life gradually shaped itself into that of a novelist. To some extent the text proceeds chronologically, starting at the time of Dickens’ birth and continuing until he has firmly established himself as the preeminent novelist of his day, but the narrative is more subtle and complex than a strictly chronological presentation would be. The author skillfully mines Dickens’ own li ...more
Jan 18, 2013 Gerry rated it it was amazing
Meticulously researched and very well presented with plenty of contemporary quotes that helps put the subject into context, 'Becoming Dickens' is an excellent portrayal of the novelist's early life and efforts to become the man he was to be.

From his peregrinations around London, through his Warren's Blacking Factory experience, back to school at Wellington College, time as a solicitor's clerk and on to Parliamentary reporting, Dickens' mind, it appears, was always set on becoming a writer.

Even b
Lauren Albert
I'm not really sure what to make of this. It was interesting certainly. Douglas-Fairhurst focuses on the few years leading up to Dickens "becoming" the writer we know or think we know. He tries to show how easily it could have been different. But there is also another twist on the title in that he sees Dickens' characters often "becoming Dickens" or rather Dickens inserting himself in (inumerable Charlies and Charles and Dicks).
Dec 09, 2011 John rated it really liked it
Currently biographers aplenty entitle their narratives "Becoming" All-and-Sundry or "Being" Whomever-One-Pleases. In certain cases the narrative behind the title is perfectly splendid, e.g. Ann Wroe's, "Being Shelly." Others - not nearly so splendid.

When I chose "Becoming Dickens," I thought that RD-F must have written a book that addressed Dickens' life course/career development as well as the story of his inner/imaginative life. Of course, these are only two on the many other possibilities - h
Jun 24, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it
Becoming Dickens: The invention of a novelist is a really good book. I don’t normally come out and say something like that right from the start, but this book is elaborately researched, perceptive, intriguing, and very well written. The Charles Dickens who appears here is something of a haunted, insecure but at the same time dogged and brilliant figure. Yes, he was damaged as a child by his father’s multiple insolvencies, but yes, he also was a resourceful law clerk, journalist, essayist, playwr ...more
Meredith Allard
Nov 19, 2011 Meredith Allard rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
After I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Charles Dickens I thought there was nothing left to say. Every known fact about the great author has been examined, pulled apart, glued back together, pulled apart again, examined under stronger microscopes, mused over, challenged, rearranged, pulled apart again… What makes Becoming Dickens a different sort of biography is the way Douglas-Fairhurst concentrates on Dickens' early years as a writer. How did Dickens become, well, Dickens? Douglas-Fairhurst ...more
In 1855, Charles Dickens formally withdrew from the formal list of law students, permanently giving up the idea of a stable career in the law. At the time he was already the most famous novelist in England, the author of The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Bleak House.

This fact captures what appears to be intended as the thesis of Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s Becoming Dickens. The book is intended as a counterweight to what might be called the Whig history of Dickens, the inev
Dec 03, 2011 Maggie rated it really liked it
A well-written account of the start of Dickens' career in the 1830s,covering his first foray into the public consciousness as "Boz" to the proud publication of Oliver Twist with "Charles Dickens" printed on the title page. Douglas-Fairhurst's work is richly researched, dipping deeply into the endless supply of short pieces and articles the young and seemingly manic "Boz" churned out on a regular basis. Though the biography naturally refers to novels by which Dickens' life is usually mapped out, ...more
Kathleen Fowler
Jan 18, 2015 Kathleen Fowler rated it really liked it
I sometimes wonder what remains to be said about Charles Dickens that hasn’t been said before. I picked up this book fearing that it might represent a mere grasping at straws on the part of an academic who must publish or perish. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author had actually found a new angle to explore (or at least new to me). His book places Dickens in the context of his times, establishing how his character and the circumstances of his life combined to put him on the path to ...more
Aug 21, 2012 Erin rated it it was ok
I admit, I did not actually finish this book. According to my Kindle I read 60% of this book which was too much for me. I started this biography in hopes to learn more about Dickens and how he become one of the greatest authors in British history. While the author is quite jumpy in terms of going back and forth between Dickens and his contemporary authors, my main complaint is that the author spent too much time on Dickens' life regarding The Pickwick Papers. I understand Pickwick is what got Di ...more
Asaf Bartov
Dec 26, 2012 Asaf Bartov rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this insightful and well-written study of the young Charles Dickens. Specifically, Douglas-Fairhurst treats Dickens from his first steps as a teenager on his own through the publication of Oliver Twist and the serialization of Nicholas Nickleby, when he has "become" Dickens.

He weaves an engaging story, makes excellent and poignant use of literary and extraliterary sources, and is neither enamored nor aloof from his subject, the complex, flawed genius that was Dickens.

I guess y
T P Kennedy
Aug 01, 2012 T P Kennedy rated it really liked it
A fantastic biography. I haven't enjoyed a biography as much since reading Ackroyd's Dickens. This is very much an account of the young Dickens making his break though - the book ends in 1838. It is masterful in showing how the young Boz became the social reformer, novelist and phenomenon that was Dickens. He engages with the printed word as well as showing the false starts and alternative careers that he could have pursued. There's a great moment where he considers how Dickens would have been s ...more
David Christie
Mar 26, 2014 David Christie rated it liked it
this non-conventional biography offers keen insight into what made dickens the literary giant posterity tells us he was and the popular writer he was in his own day. douglas-fairhurst examines this man riddled with self-doubt, spurred on by fears of penury, and controlled by his need to be in control. an ideal reader will be very familiar with dickens's texts and not bothered by a non-chronological and sometimes seemingly skittish approach to the life and motivations and struggles and successes ...more
Ilze Folkmane
Nov 21, 2012 Ilze Folkmane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An overall brilliant book on Charles Dickens' early years. It is (will be) a tremendous help with my Bachelor paper, as I guess it would be with any research that deals with Dickens and includes his biography. Perhaps it is a bit too long and, in my opinion, the author strayed from the topic once or twice (or perhaps he didn't, and I simply failed to understand his reasons for writing certain paragraphs), but it still gives a good sense of Dickens' time and author himself.
Definitely better to re
Danny Daley
Feb 23, 2015 Danny Daley rated it really liked it
A fascinating biography about the formative years for Charles Dickens, when he used his own past as a motivator to reinvent himself as a person and to turn him into the writer he would become. The writing is dense but worthy of its subject, and the analysis is unique and insightful. The references to Dickens' writing makes this sort of book I will likely revisit when I have read more of his work. An excellent introduction.
Feb 19, 2012 Ken rated it really liked it
Stick with this... gets better as it goes along. Not a bio nor lit/crit but something in between. Focuses on Dickens early career when - while still a journalist - he began publishing comic pieces and fiction as Boz. Ends as CD writes "Nicholas Nickleby" under his own name. Good way to celebrate Dickens' bicentenial.
Joseph Longo
Jul 10, 2012 Joseph Longo rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in Charles Dickens this is the book for you. Very detailed book about how Dickens the man became Dickens the novelist. Doughlas-Fairhurst's heavily researched book shows vividly how Dicken's life influenced his writing, and how his writing influenced his life. This is a pretty remarkable, very readable biography.
Nov 28, 2012 Rachel rated it it was ok
This book is supposedly about Dickens' career up to the completion of "Oliver Twist". Unfortunately the author feels the need to include every bit of weird minutiae he ever came across in his research which makes the book disjointed. I could see him shuffling index cards with quotes and ideas on them and trying to see where he could stuff them all into this book.
May 18, 2012 Doug rated it it was amazing

Beautifully written account primarily of Dickens' early life. The author effectively combines quotes from Dickens' work with accounts of his impoverished childhood and his relationships with family, friends and, ultimately, wife, to demonstrate how fiction was born from reality.
May 22, 2016 Helen rated it it was amazing
What a pleasure it was to read this book - and what amazing English, such as only a non-native speaker can appreciate. I considered myself lucky to enjoy the language and the content equally. Looking forward to The Story of Alice. Not sure about Victorian Afterlives yet.
Laurie Ferris
May 27, 2012 Laurie Ferris rated it it was amazing
This gives a lovely insight into the major influences on Dickens as he developed his style and voice as a beginning writer. I went from this biography right into DAVID COPPERFIELD, the most autobiographical of his novels.
Beth Roberts
Jul 03, 2015 Beth Roberts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. I had always wondered how much of a newspaper reporter Dickens had been; he was a serious reporter, and his experiences informed the novels that followed in significant ways. I found Douglas-Fairhurst to be a bit over-emphatic at spots, but it was still an excellent book.
Sep 04, 2012 secondwomn rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed, hup, biography, 2012
a little bit biography but mostly an interpretation of dickens life and early career combined. perhaps a bit opaque in spots if you aren't already familiar with dickens, but beautifully woven writing. a big intellect writing a big book on a giant of the english imagination.
Dec 05, 2012 Gay rated it did not like it
probably fine if you want a piece that is academic, but for me it was too boring.
Jul 01, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing
I wish I could write about writing the way Douglas-Fairhurst does.
Tim and Popie Stafford
Doesn't really come alive.
Jan 22, 2012 Russell rated it did not like it
This missed the mark for me. I wanted more about Dickens, and less about the author's literary theory. And my goodness, it was repetative.
Summertime Ami
Summertime Ami rated it really liked it
Jan 11, 2017
Ellie rated it really liked it
Jan 11, 2015
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Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is a Fellow and Tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he has been since 2002.

Prior to that date his background was Pembroke College, Cambridge: BA (1990), MA (1994), PhD (1998); Procter Visiting Fellow, Princeton University, 1991-1992; Junior Research Fellow, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 1995-1996; Fellow and Tutor, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1996-2002.

He writes o
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“(On Dickens) No other writer is quite as good at making marriage vows about remaining together "till death us do part" sound more like a suicide pact.” 2 likes
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