Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens

Robert Gottlieb, Author
Robert Gottlieb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (176p) ISBN 978-0-374-29880-7
Paperback - 239 pages - 978-1-250-03946-0
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4668-2776-9
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Just in time for fireside reading season, Gottlieb (Lives and Letters; Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhard) offers this intimate look into the family life of Charles Dickens, the World’s Best Worst Father. Gottlieb profiles each of the 10 Dickens children—seven sons and three daughters, one who died in infancy—and includes a chapter on the scandalous possible existence of an 11th child, a son born to Ellen Ternan, Dickens’s probable mistress. The book is divided into two separate, chronological sections delineated by Dickens’s death in 1870, a structural choice that re-enacts the way in which Dickens held ultimate control over the life narratives of his children, and demonstrates just how large his shadow loomed as both an excellence-demanding father and a disappointment-doling ghost. Life was often bleak for the siblings, who were subject to Dickens’s often brutal scrutiny and the life-altering decisions that followed. Gottlieb studs these portraits with artifacts ripe for happy discovery, including excerpts from personal letters and rare photographs. The results are fascinating but often tragic, with each Dickens baby born with more perceived brilliance than the last, only to grow up and reveal a fatal ordinariness to their father. This smart and accessible biography is written in a clever, conversational tone that radiates coziness during even the coldest moments, keeping the pages swiftly turning. (Nov.)
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