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Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  79 ratings  ·  25 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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Bruce
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
Gerry
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
...more
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).
John
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
...more
David Christie
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
Meredith Allard
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
Robert
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
Jason
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
...more
Maggie
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
Erin Anne
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
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
...more
T P Kennedy
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
Ilze Folkmane
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
...more
Rachel
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.
Joseph Longo
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.
Ken
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.
Doug


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.
h
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.
Laurie Ferris
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.
Russell
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.
Gay
probably fine if you want a piece that is academic, but for me it was too boring.
Richard
Mar 20, 2012 Richard added it
Shelves: discarded
By this author's rendering, Dickens' life seems to have been pretty dull.
Mary
I wish I could write about writing the way Douglas-Fairhurst does.
Tim and Popie Stafford
Doesn't really come alive.
Cambrone
Cambrone marked it as to-read
Dec 24, 2014
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David
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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
...more
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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.” 1 likes
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