Linda Lipko's Reviews > A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare's Old England to Frost's New England

A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain by Elliot Engel
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's review
May 06, 2010

it was amazing
Read in March, 2010

This is an insightful and interesting look at 17 famous literary authors and their fascinatingly flawed lives.

From Geoffrey Chaucer through Robert Frost, Engel provides amazing insights into their lives, works and the motivations.

Should you want to toss around facts at a cocktail party, or if you are playing trivial pursuit and need the answers, it might help to know:

Charles Dickens earned 68 million for his writings. He is the top grossing author studied in school. A financial failure, his father's irresponsibility led his family to be thrown into debtors prison. Twelve year old Charles went to work in a shoe polish factory.

Vowing not to be like his father, Dickens became a very shrewd business man. In marketing The Pickwick Papers, Dickens invented the concept of the paperback book.

Edgar Allan Poe had a terrible, heartbreaking childhood and his doom and gloom horrific life bled into the pages of all his works. Interestingly, the inspiration for The Raven came from a conversation with Charles Dickens whose beloved pet -- a raven -- drank lead poison and died.

Oscar Wilde contracted syphilis from a woman prostitute. The use of mercury for a "cure" turned his teeth black. Sadly, later in life, at the height of his career, because of a law suit that should never have occurred, Wilde has disgraced and ostracized. He died a lonely pauper.

Mark Twain has Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, to thank for his early success and acclaim for Huckleberry Finn.

Disgusted by the topic of the son of an alcoholic who took a river boat trip with a black slave, Alcott went to the Massachusetts library board and had the book banned, stating it had nothing to do with the "good" and "proper" society, and that it was too low and dirty, containing "dirty incidents." Alcott's rantings backfired.

Twain, counting on the fact that people might be intrigued with a book containing "dirty incidents," shrewdly turned this to his advantage and took out full page ads in magazines and newspapers noting the book had been banned. Sales then sky rocketed.

Charlotte Bronte's character Jane Eyre, was portrayed as a plain governess. In life, a young man attending a dinner party noted of Charlotte that "she would have to be twice as good looking as she actually is to be considered homely."

Thomas Hardy was thought to be stillborn. Cast aside as dead, the midwife noticed life. Fearful that he would actually die, his mother did not bond with him. Throughout life, he could not stand to be touched.

I tremendously enjoyed this book. The author's writing was clear, insightful and incredibly informative.

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