Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin Book Review

This is a powerful yet, very human portrait of Dickens. She includes many tiny details which really bring him to life; he was a tortured soul in many ways and Tomalin captures this brilliantly.

Well worth reading this to learn more about the passion which drove Dickens to write about the plight of the poor and hardship and injustice endured by them.

(Joan, Museum Room Steward)

Think you know Dickens? So did the majority of his contemporary readership but ‘The Inimitable’ had one very personal secret; a mistress and an actress at that. In the Summer of 1857 the 45 year old Dickens met, literally on the stage, an 18 year old young woman for whom he would leave his wife and with whom he would pursue a secret affair until his death 13 years later. Claire Tomalin’s masterful biography opens with: ‘This is the story of someone who – almost – wasn’t there; who vanished into thin air’. The facts of their relationship only began to surface in 1928, 50 years after his death. Ellen Ternan, Dickens’s mistress, hidden in plain sight from his adoring readers. Here is their story; an almost unbelievable exposure of infatuation, obsession and secrecy. A Charles Dickens you probably never knew existed because that was his plan.

(Peter, Museum Room Steward and Education Volunteer)

Claire Tomalin's biography of Charles Dickens is compelling and brilliant, and the portrait provided of him is lively, sympathetic but never one-sided, and as such keeps the reader engaged and discovering.
The deep research and knowledge behind the writing is apparent, as is the author's own ability as a story-teller herself. The stages of Dickens's life and the experiences that shaped him and his writing are done so well. We see clearly the brilliance and the flaws of the great man and criticism of his behaviour is not left to one side.
The family, friends and acquaintances of Dickens are also well placed and given life through the book's pages. I enjoyed reading of his business partnerships and those friendships with other well-known people of the age. This wide ranging story and the large cast of characters sees one have reactions an I recall my own groans, sympathies, laughs and astonishment with these people as I read - surely a sign of a great biography.
Dicken's place in literature and Victorian society - and there is much more to him than the writer of great stories - is held high. This biography by Claire Tomalin deserves to be raised to that same high-level and celebrated as the accessible, balanced and rewarding book it is and that Dickens deserves.

I really enjoyed learning of eras, places and people who inspired Dicken's life. A real "page-turner" that has a good balance between giving sufficient detail and not being too heavy where you build a good knowledge of Dickens' life.

(George, Museum Room Steward)

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