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Charles Dickens

By March 15, 2024Commentary

You may notice a slight trend in the biography coverage–a lot of writers.  The latest is a Charles Dickens one written by Claire Tomalin.  Dickens did not live an exceptionally long life, but he, his family and his contemporaries left behind a great deal of material that provided insight into not just the details of his daily activities but some of the meaning and purpose behind his writings.  Dickens, unlike many authors of his time, managed to do well financially from his efforts, despite loose copyright laws.  He made a fair amount of that money in the last few years of his life by reading from his works to large audiences, including in the United States.

The essence of Dickens’ work was creating pictures of life in London and surrounding areas, pictures painted in wonderful detail that literally allow the visualization of the people and places described.  Memorable and deeply sympathetic or revolting characters were created to people these places.  The plots at times may have been a little formulaic but the writing overcame any limitations.  Dickens grew up poor, with a father who was reckless in money and spent time in debtor’s prison.  He was forced to do menial work at an early age, but he applied himself and managed to get an education.  He began writing early and worked extremely hard, gradually building an audience and awareness of his skill.

Because of his own experiences, he was deeply familiar with and sympathetic to the plight of the poor and marginalized, especially children.  He was very generous in helping these groups and  friends.  But like many other famous people, very akin to Tolstoy, his life had many contradictions.  He was at times quick to insult and to have ruptured relationships.  Dickens was ultimately cruel to his wife, abandoning her on a flimsy excuse for a far younger woman, with whom he had a largely secretive relationship.  He showed little care or love for most of his many children.  The same drive that may lead some people to be tremendously successful in a chosen field, and to be caring for and generous to the less fortunate, also appears linked to disregard and uncaring to those close to the person.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • rubbertayers says:

    Biographies are very interesting to me. The woman who knows me better than any human has ever known me, still doesn’t really know me as well as she thinks she does. She often makes some declaration about how I am, and it’s completely inaccurate. I even have a hard time pinning down facts about myself, just an endless supply of “it depends”. So my point is that I’m very skeptical about biographies even though I enjoy them. People are complicated and my suspicion is that the subjects of most biographies would say that the authors got it wrong when it comes to defining the inner workings of what a person is like and how they got that way.

  • Barbara Dovolis says:

    People are complicated. Case in point, Donald Trump. His 4 years did produce some really good policy. Night and day, or I should say we moved into to “dark night” when Biden was elected. Yes, he continues to show that he has numerous personal flaws. I would recommend we start electing people who have strong policy and understand what their role is: protect Americans and their freedoms. Let’s forget hero worship (Obama) or looking for a perfect person who will never exist.

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