Dickens (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
The early life of Charles Dickens is, for many readers, as familiar as his stories. Buffeted by a financially and emotionally insecure childhood, put to work in a factory at age twelve, rejected at twenty-one by a woman he had courted for two years (her father saw no future in marrying her to a self-educated shorthand reporter), Dickens was by his twenty-sixth birthday not only married (to someone else) and a parent but also, on the strength of his first two books, acclaimed as one of England’s most important living novelists. General knowledge, however, often ends with the fragmentary schoolbook accounts of a man whose adolescent suffering fueled David Copperfield (1849-1850) and Great Expectations (1860-1861). Fred Kaplan’s Dickens: A Biography emphasizes the continued emotional contradictions and ambiguities of the novelist’s adult life.
Domestic discontent and an apparently inescapable fear of financial ruin drove Dickens to a hyperactive public life and a workaholic commitment to simultaneous projects with overlapping deadlines. He was both a crusading social reformer and an antidemocratic snob. Compulsively seeking close personal relationships, he consumed friends and turned viciously on publishers. His writing molded the sentimental nineteenth century image of childhood, yet a letter announcing the birth of a son remarks that “on the whole I could have dispensed with him.” Never ceasing to blame his mother for...
(The entire section is 1788 words.)
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