Dickens: His Private Life And Public Passion
by Peter Ackroyd
If ever there was a writer who deserved an eleven hundred page biography, Charles Dickens is that writer. His output was prolific, and you can say things like "most popular novelist in the 19th century." His Amazon page hardly does him justice. What is striking about the life of Charles Dickens is that he was a celebrity in the most modern sense of the word, but be was a celebrity in the UK, Europe and US in the early to mid 19th century. Certainly you can say that his work defined his generation.
What most stands out about the life of Dickens is first, his extraordinary energy and productivity, and second, his life long concern with his audience. It was an audience that took different shapes. There was his readership, of course- people who subscribed to the periodicals he edited and the ones which carried his serialized novels. But there were also the people who watched him as an amateur actor in plays that were put on before aristocrats and wealthy literary folk. For the last part of his life, his primary source of income was money earned on tours where he would read from his hits. He spend a considerable amount of time just perfecting his live performance so to speak, and it's interesting to contemplate the way Dickens novels were influence by older forms of art in the UK like Elizabethan Theater.
Ackroyd points out that even though Dickens was a man who defined the Victorian Era, he himself was closer to being an "early" or "proto" Victorian in that he was a man who believed in strict, racially based imperialism and wasn't afraid to laugh at cripples on the street. Dickens was also similar to modern celebrities in that he was obsessed with what people thought, and thought people were always trying to find out what he was doing. For example, when he divorced his wife of 22 years so he could take a much younger mistress (unproven but obvious), he wrote a public letter where he denounced her because he thought everyone was talking about his young mistress, when in fact, nobody gave a s***. The obsession with negative feedback seems endemic to artistic feedback and celebrity going wayyyy back.
Other Posts About Charles Dickens On This Blog
Book Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens11/20/14
Book Review: Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836 by George H. Ford. 3/25/13
Book Review: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, 3/17/13.
Book Review: Dickens Worlds by Humphrey House, 3/8/13
Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 9/21/12
Book Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 8/23/12
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 7/17/12.
Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens, 6/19/12.
Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 6/7/12.