Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

InCharles Dickens: A Pictorial Biography, J. B. Priestley combines a narrative of the life and work of Dickens with a wealth of drawings and photographs of the principal actors in Dickens’ life and the culture about which he wrote. In a single unbroken narrative that spans 126 pages, Priestley takes Dickens from his quiet birth in Plymouth in 1812 to his burial in Westminster Abbey as the most famous literary figure of his time in June, 1870.

Priestley bases his story on the well-documented facts of Dickens’ extraordinary life: his unhappy childhood with a traumatic period in which he worked in a blacking factory, doomed to oblivion; his self-taught success as a shorthand reporter for Parliament; his skyrocketing to fame with The Pickwick Papers (18361837) and Oliver Twist (18371839); his unhappy domestic life and scandalous separation from his wife; and his public reading tours, which made him rich but hastened his premature death from a stroke. In addition to this familiar narrative, however, Priestley devotes much of the book to discussing the books themselves: how and why they were so popular, which novels targeted which reforms, how Dickens courageously experimented with literary structures, and even how profitable the various projects were.

Furthermore, Priestley provides a significant amount of psychological interpretation of Dickens’ personality and motives. More so than with many writers, Dickens’...

(The entire section is 411 words.)