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From a bitter childhood mired in poverty and hard work to a career as the most acclaimed and best-loved writer in the English-speaking world, Charles Dickens had a life as tumultuous as any he created in his teeming novels of life in Victorian England. And no one has captured the rich texture of this life as colorfully and persuasively as Fred Kaplan in this acclaimed biog From a bitter childhood mired in poverty and hard work to a career as the most acclaimed and best-loved writer in the English-speaking world, Charles Dickens had a life as tumultuous as any he created in his teeming novels of life in Victorian England. And no one has captured the rich texture of this life as colorfully and persuasively as Fred Kaplan in this acclaimed biography. Drawing on unpublished and long-forgotten sources, Kaplan presents a full-scale portrait of Dickens and his world. From the autobiographical basis of his novels and his extraordinary circle of friends to the course of his unhappy marriage and complicated family relations, Kaplan reveals the restless compulsions, private passions, and professional concerns that drove Dickens to unprecedented literary success. Kaplan details Dickens's often stormy dealings with his publishers and his carefully cultivated relationship with readers, heightened through amateur theatricals and numerous public readings in Britain and North America. Brilliantly written and thoroughly researched, Dickens provides an absorbing and perceptive account of its subject as a singularly complex man and a consummate artist, offering readers new insights into Dickens's—and literature's—greatest works, works such as Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist.


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From a bitter childhood mired in poverty and hard work to a career as the most acclaimed and best-loved writer in the English-speaking world, Charles Dickens had a life as tumultuous as any he created in his teeming novels of life in Victorian England. And no one has captured the rich texture of this life as colorfully and persuasively as Fred Kaplan in this acclaimed biog From a bitter childhood mired in poverty and hard work to a career as the most acclaimed and best-loved writer in the English-speaking world, Charles Dickens had a life as tumultuous as any he created in his teeming novels of life in Victorian England. And no one has captured the rich texture of this life as colorfully and persuasively as Fred Kaplan in this acclaimed biography. Drawing on unpublished and long-forgotten sources, Kaplan presents a full-scale portrait of Dickens and his world. From the autobiographical basis of his novels and his extraordinary circle of friends to the course of his unhappy marriage and complicated family relations, Kaplan reveals the restless compulsions, private passions, and professional concerns that drove Dickens to unprecedented literary success. Kaplan details Dickens's often stormy dealings with his publishers and his carefully cultivated relationship with readers, heightened through amateur theatricals and numerous public readings in Britain and North America. Brilliantly written and thoroughly researched, Dickens provides an absorbing and perceptive account of its subject as a singularly complex man and a consummate artist, offering readers new insights into Dickens's—and literature's—greatest works, works such as Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist.

30 review for Dickens: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    “He took special pleasure in disappointing expectations.” A monumental work, in both the positive and negative senses. Like many modern biographers, Kaplan includes all manner of trivia and tangential material to pad the overall product. The result is boring to read, but fascinating to reflect on. William Gladstone reported Dickens remarked that while his “faith in the people governing, is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in The People governed is on the whole illimitable.” “All crisis was “He took special pleasure in disappointing expectations.” A monumental work, in both the positive and negative senses. Like many modern biographers, Kaplan includes all manner of trivia and tangential material to pad the overall product. The result is boring to read, but fascinating to reflect on. William Gladstone reported Dickens remarked that while his “faith in the people governing, is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in The People governed is on the whole illimitable.” “All crisis was a spur to creativity, all fiction a mirror of imaginative distortion in which the model of his own life became a portrait of his culture and his world.” Charles Dickens was that rare man who was lionized by his contemporaries, private and public. He had a hard life, chronicled in his many semi-autobiographical novels; he had great popularity and success. Many friends adored him; most of his family disappointed him. Kaplan reports he led a double or triple life, keeping his personal thoughts and activities private while publicizing a self-made image and life which was at least partly fictitious. “Generous when unchallenged, his notion of compromise was total victory.” He could bear a grunge, and he lived long enough to rewrite the history of himself and many around him. “These are the ways of Providence, of which ways all art is but a little imitation.” Charles Dickens

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Since I've been reading (and rereading) a lot of Dickens the past few months, I decided to find out a little more about the man, hence this biography. I wasn't crazy about the style of this biography. Kaplan seems determined to use every notecard he generated in his research, and I learned (and have now forgotten) more about many of Dickens' friends and contemporaries than I wanted to know. In addition, he uses quotations by the thousand without any indication in the text of whom he is quoting. ( Since I've been reading (and rereading) a lot of Dickens the past few months, I decided to find out a little more about the man, hence this biography. I wasn't crazy about the style of this biography. Kaplan seems determined to use every notecard he generated in his research, and I learned (and have now forgotten) more about many of Dickens' friends and contemporaries than I wanted to know. In addition, he uses quotations by the thousand without any indication in the text of whom he is quoting. (You can track it down via the endnotes – at least I assume you can. But who wants to do that?) As a result, it's often not clear whether he's giving Dickens' view of some matter or the view of some other person involved in it. I already knew a reasonable amount about Dickens, but I did learn some new things: 1. The youthful radical became more conservative as he aged, not that that is unusual for anyone. 2. I had long known about Ellen Ternan, but I had assumed (I don't know why) that Dickens kept that relationship a secret not just from his reading public, but from many friends as well. But it seems the relationship was fully known within Dickens' wide circle. (By the way, Kaplan says that there were rumors of a child by Ellen – another thing I hadn't known.) 3. In the same vein, while I knew that Dickens had a miserable marriage, I hadn't realized that he and his wife lived completely separate lives for most of their marriage. Upon their separation, Dickens "kept" all but the oldest of their ten children, which I suppose must have been the husband's prerogative in the Victorian era. (By his directive the oldest child, Charley, lived with his mother.) 4. Most of his children's lives turned out to be disappointing; there were lots of bad marriages, bankruptcies, emigrations to India and Australia. Dickens seems to have viewed all that as genetic, although that's not the word he would have used – a manifestation of his own parents' fecklessness. I wonder if maybe it's simply hard to develop a work ethic when you see your father become wealthy "merely" by sitting at a desk for a few hours every morning. 5. I have been pronouncing "Boz" wrong (at least in my head) all my life. But I suspect this is a mistake even Dickens' contemporary readers made, since print was the only mass medium.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    In all the years I have been reading/re-reading Dickens novels, I’ve never read a biography of him. Sure I read some things on the Internet, but really not much substance. In fact, I never looked at the chronology of his publishing. In reading Kaplan’s book, I discovered so many details about his life, his books and some insights into his motivations and inspirations while writing some of the more notable novels. That’s not to say that the book is all positive. The book is a bit dense and slow at In all the years I have been reading/re-reading Dickens novels, I’ve never read a biography of him. Sure I read some things on the Internet, but really not much substance. In fact, I never looked at the chronology of his publishing. In reading Kaplan’s book, I discovered so many details about his life, his books and some insights into his motivations and inspirations while writing some of the more notable novels. That’s not to say that the book is all positive. The book is a bit dense and slow at times with too much granularity on some periods of his life, while I would have liked Kaplan to expand more on the impact of the train crash on Dickens, though it seemed like most of that information would come from his son or others since Dickens didn’t speak or write much about it. As a biography, it is not especially well done, though the most recent biographies I’ve read were written by David McCullough whose style is more my taste. As a fan of Charles Dickens, I am very glad I invested the time to read Kaplan’s book as I did learn much about Dickens and have a greater appreciation of his work. I have decided that I should go back and re-read Dicken’s novels in chronological order. This certainly will give me more perspective on how he evolved as a writer and storyteller. If you are a fan of Dickens and have not read a biography on him, I would recommend reading this book, but be prepared for some padding in the writing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Vivid, mostly satisfying portrait of Dicken's personal, literary, social and public lives. Before his death, Dickens destroyed the bulk of letters written and rec'd, thus obliterating primary source material, particularly with respect to his sustained relationship with mistress Ellen Ternan. Fairly certain more recent biographies would satisfy questions raised by the reading of Kaplan's work. Vivid, mostly satisfying portrait of Dicken's personal, literary, social and public lives. Before his death, Dickens destroyed the bulk of letters written and rec'd, thus obliterating primary source material, particularly with respect to his sustained relationship with mistress Ellen Ternan. Fairly certain more recent biographies would satisfy questions raised by the reading of Kaplan's work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Leslea

    This is so wonderfully insightful and a look into Dickens' life, however... Fred Kaplin... do you... by any chance... do you want to be Charles Dickens? It's okay, you can admit it out loud. This is so wonderfully insightful and a look into Dickens' life, however... Fred Kaplin... do you... by any chance... do you want to be Charles Dickens? It's okay, you can admit it out loud.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brooke Haynes Gallucci

    I'm undertaking the works of Dickens in order, some will be re-reads but some will be new...and I'm so looking forward to understand who Dickens was and where his characters came from. I'm undertaking the works of Dickens in order, some will be re-reads but some will be new...and I'm so looking forward to understand who Dickens was and where his characters came from.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tony Bianco

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Stanley

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  10. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Hess

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bryanna

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Erwin

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leigh

  14. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben Sampson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Russ Weimer

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  21. 5 out of 5

    Freda Cooper

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anita Christensen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Sayles

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Golden

  26. 5 out of 5

    Seelan Paramasparan

  27. 5 out of 5

    thomas warmbrodt

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

  29. 5 out of 5

    Todd Glaeser

  30. 5 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

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