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Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  145 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Simon Callow offers a fresh perspective on one of the greatest novelists in the English language, bringing to life Dickens the man. He reveals an original genius, and offers an insight into a life that was driven as much by performance and showmanship as by literary endeavour.
Hardcover, 370 pages
Published February 2nd 2012 by HarperCollins (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Jean
Mar 27, 2015 Jean rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jean by: Gill
Did you study the works of Charles Dickens at school? Was he pushed down your throat so much that you now yawn when you hear his name? Then please, think again. Don't think of a staid Victorian writer, closeted in his room writing lengthy, boring screeds and rarely venturing out. Dickens was the life and soul of the party; irrepressible and exuberant. He was essentially a showman, an entertainer. He was, complete in himself, Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World.

Ironically many of t
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MJ Nicholls
Michael Slater: encyclopaedic, hardcore. Claire Tomalin: thorough, concisely packed. Simon Callow: lightweight, fluffy. Mr. Callow has played Dickens on the stage and in film, and apparently thinks about Dickens to an unhealthy extent. Rather than writing a book comparing his own Greatness to Dickens, or dwelling entirely on Dickens and the Stage (as hinted the hardback subtitle for this book, stripped in paperback), he wrote a breezy bio, working in all the necessary facts about Chaz in a way t ...more
Gerry
Timed for publication to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth this superb book is a fascinating study of the great novelist, concentrating more on his life as an entertainer, ie in the theatre and in his public readings.

Fluently told with plenty of anecdotal tales Dickens comes to life and is obviously both a complex and emotional character. His love for the theatre and wish to be in the spotlight began at a young age and, after plenty of readings to his family and amateur dramatic p
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Rikke
Literature was his wife, but the theatre was his mistress.

While I do love Dickens, I have never known much about him. For a long time, I have been reluctant to pick up a biography in order to learn more about the much admired author because most of the biographies written on Dickens are long, dense and filled with references and in depth discussions of his literary work. As I haven't read Dickens' entire bibliography I have avoided these very literary biographies.

Callow's biography takes a dif
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Charles Matthews
Dickens biographies, like Dickens novels, tend to run to the high hundreds of pages. (Edgar Johnson's is 1200 pages in two volumes.) Which only adds to my appreciation of Simon Callow's slim and highly readable biography. Callow, who is probably best known in the United States as the actor who played the guy whose funeral is referred to in the title of Four Weddings and a Funeral, has also written biographies of Charles Laughton and Orson Welles (that one is already in two volumes, so he isn't a ...more
John
Tough to find a novel approach, that doesn't come off as as contrived/padding/reaching, in a biography of a public figure over a century later, but Callow pulls it off. Yes, there's mention of the novels as points of reference, as they really can't be avoided; however, it turns out Dickens was a real showman in his day - acting in plays co-written with Wilkie Collins, a master of magic tricks at parties, a rousing speaker, and much more. It's obvious Callow's done a great deal of research to bri ...more
Emily
Feb 28, 2012 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
Delightfully Dickensian literary biography of Dickens himself--shorter than the Tomalin, with a different bent than Jane Smiley's Penguin Lives entry. Illuminating and amusing, and the British package is wicked adorable on my cubicle bookshelf.
Losososdiane
Absolutely excellent! Brings Dickens to life in all his complexity. I read the Tomalin bio first and enjoyed that very much. This one focuses intently on Dickens himself, especially his readings and theatrical performances which seemed to inspire his writing. Dickens immersed himself totally in whatever he was doing--writing, performing, playing with his children, staging his Christmas celebrations, drumming up support for one of his causes. His life WAS a drama and he seemed to see it that way. ...more
Leah
Exuberant and boisterous…

Callow has written a superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Callow doesn’t shirk from telling us about the less
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Craig
An interesting take on Charles Dickens' life and work. Callow not only agrees with other biographers that theater influenced the style of Dickens' writing, but also that Dickens' entire life was a performance. Still, the most interesting aspect is Callow's descriptions of Dickens working out his characters "in company" through his early informal performances and later public readings. He describes Dickens inhabiting each of his characters, performing their lines of dialogue in front of mirrors, ...more
Rick Skwiot
I knew Simon Callow was a fine film actor, having seen him in “A Room with a View,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Then, when I stumbled upon his recently published (August 2012) “Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World,” I found out he is a fine writer as well.

Well-researched and lively with revealing Dickensian anecdotes, the book focuses on Dickens’ love of the theatre and performing, and in the process exposes much about what made him tick and succeed as
...more
Barney
I decided to read this because I recently saw Simon Callow's stage monologue about Dickens and because I want to revisit Dicken's work during 2012.

Biography doesn't normally hold my attention for very long but this is hugely entertaining and emminently readable. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about this complex individual - not just one for scholars!
Dora Wagner
I have always been a great Dickens fan. I read A Christmas Carol A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every Christmas and have for about 30 years. It was interesting to learn about his love of the stage and acting, while also re-learning about his life. Simon Callow does a great job relating both his remarkable love of the stage with his genius in his work as an author. While visiting England, I was fortunate enough to watch Mr. Callow perform The Mystery of Charles Dickens. He was truly amazing and brought not only Dickens to lif ...more
Christopher Bounds


I'm a lover of the biography in all its forms, but it has been a while since I have enjoyed a book of its kind as much as this. Callow writes with insight and enthusiasm, and I am fired to revisit Dickens.
Robert
Simon Callow is a fabulous writer. He illuminates Dickens in all of his multifaceted shades; socially outraged, self absorbed, mercurial, ubiquitous, theatrical, passionate, controlling, involved. He abandoned his wife, but not before literally constructing a wall between them in the bedroom. How did he fit in the time to do all that he did, championing all kinds of social causes including public education, a cottage for homeless women (for which he took over the day to day operations), starting ...more
Steven
I could almost go four stars on this one Almost. But not quite. Simon Callow offers a unique perspective on the life of one of the English language's best authors, and one of my all-time favorites. Callow performs Dickens's work, and so his biography focuses on Charles Dickens the performer more so than the author.

Many bibliophiles of today have been to public readings by modern authors. I know I've done many of them, myself, often to a room filled with empty chairs and maybe a couple of true-bl
...more
Sharon
Simon Callow's biography of Charles Dickens examines the author through a different lens: that of the theatre. In addition to being a prolific author, Dickens was fascinated by the stage, from the perspective of both audience and performer.

Callow describes Dickens' life by examining primary sources (news articles, correspondence, etc.), tracking not only his rise in popularity as an author, but as he became well known not only for his dramatic readings of his own work but also as a popular actor
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John Stiles
I was impressed by Simon Callow as a writer. This the same actor who appeared in a Room with a View and as an enthusiastic stage clown in Franco Zefferelli's Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film version of Taming of the Shrew. As a larger personality he restrains his showy stage manner in his thoughtful prose and researches his subject well, as if to prove that he can hold his own with the great literary biographers. His thesis that Dickens was a great actor and performer and brought his perform ...more
Adriel
His audiences would sob uncontrollably, laugh with abandon, and sometimes gawk in rapt wonder and all this after fighting for admission like rock star fans, lining up by the thousands long before daybreak. Charles Dickens was not only the most celebrated writer and social activist of his era; he was a supreme actor, public reader, storyteller, and showman. The iconic A Christmas Carol was performed hundreds of times, along with memorable scenes from his novels and stories. He wrote, co-wrote and ...more
Carl Brush
I had what i suppose was a normal level of knowledge of Dickens. He wasn't in great favor in University English departments of my time. I read a few of the biggie's but didn't really study The Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and the like. I knew most of his works were serialized, that he wrote under pressure, and that he was paid by the word, often resulting in bloated products. I knew that he was famous for his readings. I knew his father was a debtor and that the family had bad economi ...more
Jb
“[P]eople leap off the page, as if they were eagerly clambering up onto the stage to strut their stuff.” This comment comes from author actor’s perspective; after all, Dickens during his lifetime was as much involved with theater and dramatic reading as he was with writing and publishing. Hyperactive, prolific and intense, this guy Dickens. He could do nothing by halves. He produced ten children while constantly flirting, mostly by letter, with women other than his wife. How he could do this as ...more
Anne Strobridge
"A little light reading?" said a visitor to my house who saw the book on the table, meaning it ironically, but no irony needed. It is the best of light reading: diverting, engaging, compact and fact-rich, interesting.
Jessica
This is a wonderful biography on one of the most renowned authors in the universe, Charles Dickens. This story will make you realize how an authors life can truly be behind all of the pages of fictional characters. This story will make you cry over how saddening Charles life truly is.
Marguerite Czajka
I never realized that Dickens was also an actor. This book is an interesting view of his life in and away from the theater. I had read about his early life before, but not much of his adult life.
Charlie Cochrane
Simply brilliant take on Dickens. I had no idea about this aspect of his life. Do now.
Julie


A well-written, impeccably-researched, thoroughly engrossing, insightful look at the writer, the creative genius, the friend, the social activist and humanitarian, the stage actor, the entertainer, the father, the husband, the lover, the vulnerable, driven man who ardently yearned for and deliberately nurtured a close relationship with those who mattered most to him: his readers. Not the critics, but the public. Despite acquainting me more intimately with his flaws as a human being, or perhaps
...more
Kris Hallett
Probably more my fault then the books, but it left me craving more detail about the novels and less about what deep inside sounds nothing more then a hobby, namely the 'theatre' for Dickens.

I listened to the audio recording read in Callows expressive, juicy tones and this added some more fun to proceedings but it felt like all the best bits are skipped over.

Like the best biographies however, it made me yearn to go back and saviour the substance to the man's life, in this case the finest novels o
...more
Andrea
I've read other biographies of Dickens, but this one was very readable and added the element of Dickens' love of and use of theater in his works to consideration. This added a new perspective to Dickens' work. As a stand alone biography, this book does not deal in depth with some issues such as Dickens' marriage and relationship with his family, and also his relationships with other writers. But as an additional biography, it definitely adds something useful to the field.
Melyssa
I have seen this author perform a one-man show as Charles Dickens and it was both educational and entertaining. This book was as well, though a bit drier than the performance. I wish I'd heard this as an audiobook. I found the most interesting parts to be about Dickens' book tours, especially his first visit to America.
Jodie
This was such a lovely biography - very brief in parts and deep in others. Very interesting and lively way of entering into Dickens and who he was. Callow's writing is so simple and so conversational you don't feel like you're reading an endless list of unfamiliar names and dates. You feel like someone is sitting you down to talk about someone they admire.
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“To enter a theatre for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred arena of the imagination.” 3 likes
“He very soon acquired the reputation of being the best public speaker of his time. He had taken pains to master the art, approaching it with scientific precision. On the morning of a day on which he was giving a speech, he once told Wilkie Collins, he would take a long walk during which he would establish the various headings to be dealt with. Then, in his mind’s eye, he would arrange them as on a cart wheel, with himself as the hub and each heading a spoke. As he dealt with a subject, the relevant imaginary spoke would drop out. When there were no more spokes, the speech was at an end. Close observers of Dickens noticed that while he was speaking he would make a quick action of the finger at the end of each topic, as if he were knocking the spoke away.” 1 likes
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