In Anticipation of Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday in Feb 2012

2012 will be a good year.  Charles Dickens is turning 200 in February 2012.  This self learns from reading The Economist of 1 October 2011.

The magazine reviews two Dickens biographies, as well as “an unauthorized autobiography” of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an exposé by former Obama staffer Ron Suskind, and a new mystery by Robert Harris, The Fear Index.

But self means to focus on Dickens.

First, he was no different from you and self.  That is, he lived in an age when “writing was hardly a proper job.”  More plausible alternatives:  “legal clerk” “courtroom and parliamentary shorthand reporter,” journalist.  The author of Becoming Dickens:  The Invention of a Novelist maintains that “the question of alternatives, of the road not taken, fascinated Dickens.”  At 20, Dickens “had been on the point of auditioning as an actor.”  A stint in a “blacking factory” changed his life:  “It opened the crack in his imagination through which he saw, a hair’s breadth away, a whole world of other sorts of life . . . ”

The other biography is written by Claire Tomalin.  Stop right there!  Even without reading a further word of this review, self knows she will read Tomalin’s Charles Dickens:  A Life.  It all began with Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys (Samuel Pepys:  The Unequalled Self —  which, by the way, gave self the first idea of writing this blog, as self!), which self took along with her on a flight from San Francisco to Berlin.  She was five days in Berlin, in a hotel right next to a river  (Self will never forget that barges tied up right next to the hotel, and people could take one to get to a museum.  She thinks she can recall a destination called  Museum Island)  It was her first time in Berlin, but she simply could not put Tomalin’s book down.  It was super-thick, and everyone on the plane (both going and returning) who was close enough to self to notice how intently she was reading ended up initiating conversation.  Which was extremely fortuitous, especially on the flight to Berlin, because her seatmate was a young architect who told her she simply must try a Turkish meal at Oranienstrasse.

Back to Dickens!

Here’s what The Economist has to say about Tomalin’s Charles Dickens:  A Life:

She tells a story.  Clear-eyed, sympathetic and scholarly, she spreads the whole canvas, alive with incident and detail, with places and people.  She writes of publishers, illustrators, collaborators and all Dickens’s intersecting circle of friends and family.

And there’s more:

. . .  almost nothing can be said of Dickens of which the opposite was not also true.  Dickens’ own daughter Katey, who “loved him immeasurably,” still described him as “a wicked man.”  She was thinking of her mother Catherine, so passive, so overlooked and so constantly pregnant (they had ten children).

Which bears out self’s opinion that when writers are really, really good, it’s damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.  They sacrifice everything —  yes, even family, even friendship —  in service to their muse, their belief in themselves is so uncanny and so unshakable.

Stay tuned.

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