Charles Reade Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A dramatist and novelist who enjoyed great popular acclaim in his lifetime, Charles Reade (reed) was born at Ipsden House in Oxfordshire on June 8, 1814. He was the youngest of the eleven children born to a wealthy family of landed gentry. Unlike his brothers, who received the usual “public school” education, Reade was educated at home by tutors; as a result, he was faced with difficulties, personal and academic, when he entered Oxford at seventeen. He had not learned to get along with people, nor had he acquired the academic knowledge he should have had. During his years at Oxford, from 1832 to 1835, Reade received honors—apparently more by luck than ability and, in one case, by absolute chicanery. In 1835 he was elected a fellow of the college. Later he went to London and studied law, and in 1843 he was admitted to the bar, although he never actively practiced law. He also tried medicine at Edinburgh and considered a church calling, experiences that later found expression in his novels.

From 1837 to 1848 Reade traveled around Europe, adding to his collection of violins. Around 1840 he fell in love with a woman in Scotland whom he wanted to marry, but the match was suddenly broken off. When he went back to Scotland years later to search for her, she was dead. The marriage would in any case have been difficult for Reade, because he was dependent on his don’s salary, which he had to remain celibate to keep. Moreover, his family may have been opposed to his marrying a woman of lower social rank. The experience later worked its way into The Cloister and the Hearth, Reade’s best-known work.

Returning to London in 1849, Reade began to write plays. His first successful dramatic production was a three-act comedy, The Ladies’ Battle, which was staged at the Royal Olympic Theatre in 1851. Within two years, Reade produced five other plays and...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Burns, Wayne. Charles Reade: A Study in Victorian Authorship. New York: Bookman Associates, 1961. Draws on Reade’s notebooks and other primary documents.

Elwin, Malcolm. Charles Reade. 1931. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969. Biography contains critical commentary on Reade’s works. Elwin notes that Reade was uniformly respected by his peers.

Frierson, William C. “Some Remarks on Representative Late Victorians.” In The English Novel in Transition: 1885-1940. New York: Cooper Square, 1965. Regards Reade as having a dime-novel temperament that satisfied his reading public’s preferences.

Smith, Elton E. Charles Reade. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Includes chapters on Reade’s dramas and novels and a selected bibliography.

Sutcliffe, Emerson. “Plotting in Reade’s Novels.” PMLA 47 (September, 1932). Argues that Reade had a natural bent toward compact narrative but nevertheless produced lengthy novels.