This revised edition was published mainly to offer a more manageable biography for the nonscholar. Most of the detailed notes and other materials valuable to the serious scholar have been omitted, and the chapters have been rewritten to create a more fluid and animated narrative. Thus, Johnson’s shortened biography provides an excellent introduction to Dickens for an adolescent or nonspecialist reader.
The Victorian age is brought to life in the details that Johnson learned from his exhaustive study of his subject. The author also carefully reveals the main characters’ minds and personalities. For example, Johnson explains Dickens’ psychological tensions over his failing marriage. Even beyond the point of no longer loving her, Dickens found the company of his wife to be simply unbearable. Her laziness and ineptitude were so opposed to his own military-like efficiency and preciseness—he demanded that every item in his house be in its assigned place—that he believed her weaknesses to be purposeful irritations.
While a study of Dickens remains solidly at the center of the work, many other people are also quickly brought to life. For example, with the description of Dickens’ introduction to John Forster, the drama critic of the Examiner, Johnson also provides a quick sketch of Forster’s professional climb. The author then delineates Forster’s character, describing him as extremely emotional, attracted to literature, and...
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Johnson’s original two-volume biography, from which this abridged and revised book was taken, came out at a time when several biographies of Dickens were also published. This book, however, was considered to be the best of them—the best, in fact, since Forster’s three-volume Life of Dickens (18721874). Johnson’s work was praised not only for its grand scale and its multitude of details but also for its complex interpretations of Dickens’ motives and character.
The sections that provided critical analyses of Dickens’ works were not so highly praised, however, and were generally considered redundant and not overly insightful, being nothing more than a recapitulation of Dickens’ better-known works. These sections are of no concern in this revised edition, as they have been removed, and the targeted audience has changed from scholars to the general public. With this change, the biography was given a strong narrative thrust, one that will carry teenage readers through what remains a substantial biography, filled with more than enough detail and insight for the general public. It is, indeed, an excellent book for an adolescent audience and may lead its readers to Dickens’ own works.