Today we celebrate the bicentennial of Charles Dickens as well we should. He gave us memorable characters, great reading pleasure, and he raised the liberal conscience of the English-speaking world. The people he wrote about, and named as no one has since, were easy to understand in contrast to the author himself.
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst follows Dickens’ early years as he struggled to find his place in society and to find his way as a novelist in Becoming Dickens: The Invention Of A Novelist. Douglas-Fairhurst finds massive autobiographical material in everything Dickens wrote. Whether this is fair or not is hard to know, but it does weave an interesting story of a man who used everything he saw in his writing and who rewrote his memories to fit the immediate work at hand.
Dickens survived an unhappy childhood, uncertain teen years, frustrated theatrical ambitions, and eventually a bad marriage. All of this feed his writing; but if he lived in our time, he would have been counseled, enrolled in multiple therapies, and medicated to an uninteresting blandness. It may be clichéd to write he was driven by demons within and that without them he would have had little to write about, it seems to be true.
Becoming Dickens is for the Dickens fan and those who teach Dickens. If you have read enough to say you have a favorite, you will enjoy this probing book. Charles Marlin