Janice's Reviews > Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens by Michael Slater
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really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction

Nov 2, 2011: I am halfway through this biography, and enjoying it greatly, and now it is signed! I went to hear Michael Slater speak this evening at the Morgan Library, and he signed my copy. That wasn't the best part of the evening, though: Slater, in addition to being immensely knowledgeable about Dickens, is an amazingly entertaining speaker. He read excerpts from some of the novels as part of his lecture on Dickens and humor, and he had the audience howling with laughter. He did the voices and just generally had wonderful delivery. I recommend the book (though it is almost as much of a brick as a Dickens novel), but I doubly recommend hearing the author speak.

Nov 11: I finished! Dickens' life makes fascinating reading. I did find, though, that my interest flagged in the discussions of his writings that I haven't read, which makes me think that this biography may not be of interest to people who have read a couple of the novels and are mildly interested in the author's life. I've read all 15 novels (though I don't really remember *Pickwick*), and there was still a ton of writing that I haven't read. It's not hard to understand why so many people who write about Dickens comment on his productivity, and tend to give the impression that his early death came about in part through his relentless work schedule.

Dickens derived great satisfaction (and a fair bit of money) from his public readings. I assume that it is not a coincidence that the number of novels he produced declined as his reading schedule picked up. I know the people of his time relished the chance to watch these performances, which by all accounts were amazing, but I can't help regretting that he didn't reserve his time and energy for more novels.

Slater's biography paints an unapologetic picture of a complex man: an author who wrote idealized portraits of home and hearth, but who both abandoned and vilified his wife; a champion of the poor and down-trodden, an abolitionist, who advocated genocide as a response to rebellion in India. I put down the book wishing I'd had the chance to hear Dickens read "A Christmas Carol," but glad he wasn't my family member or friend. He was a remarkable person, but he was also a product of his era, and in some respects (chauvinism, racism) he failed to rise above the prejudices of his times.

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