Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Author
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.. Harvard/Belknap, $29.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-674-05003-7
Reviewed on: 06/06/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-674-06276-4
Paperback - 389 pages - 978-0-674-07223-7
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For the 2012 bicentennial of Dickens's birth, Oxford scholar Douglas-Fairhurst examines the man and his times up to 1838: the beginning of the Victorian age, which Charles John Huffam Dickens embodies in the popular imagination. In many ways a self-fabrication and his own greatest work of fiction, Dickens rose from child labor at a blacking factory to the first rank of English authors. With such beginnings, and perhaps because of them, Dickens (whose obsession with a neat and clean appearance, says the author, might today be thought of as exhibiting a form of OCD) had from childhood a love affair with theater and the theatrical, with fashion, with all the outward trappings that might reveal or conceal the soul of motivation. As a young clerk and journalist, he discerned the savage modern trait of alienation. Through it all, not yet 27 by the conclusion of this book, Dickens was a climber and, as an aspiring novelist, had married the daughter of the former adviser to Sir Walter Scott. Dickens invented many selves, says Douglas-Fairhurst, something of a Victorian trait as the multivalent form of the novel developed along with him. Though subdued and overlong, this book captures the chameleon Dickens as a product of his era before he became its creator. 28 photos. (Oct.)
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