cover image The Turning Point: 1851—A Year That Changed Charles Dickens and the World

The Turning Point: 1851—A Year That Changed Charles Dickens and the World

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. Knopf, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-65594-7

Douglas-Fairhurst (Becoming Dickens), English literature professor at the University of Oxford, takes an unusual and entertaining approach to biography in this look at a single, monumental year in the life of Charles Dickens. By zeroing in on 1851, a year in which London was going through revolutions in “industry and transport” and the year of the Great Exhibition, which showed England’s grandiose goals of “ushering in a new era of global harmony,” Douglas-Fairhurst aims to depict his subject with “something closer to the texture of ordinary experience.” By 1851 Dickens was well-known, but critics were wondering if his best work had already come. It’s also the year he wrote Bleak House and began writing his “dark” novels. Meanwhile, his home life “was in danger of falling apart” as his wife grew increasingly overwhelmed and exhausted and both his father and eight-month-old daughter died. Douglas-Fairhurst brings Victorian England to vivid life, recounting Dickens’s commute through a smoke-drenched London and Prince Albert’s closing of the Great Exhibition in October, and makes a convincing case that the year was pivotal in the writer’s life. A ceaselessly surprising study of Dickens and the era in which he lived, this will be a treat for literature lovers. Photos. Agent: Peter Straus, RCW Literary Agency. (Mar.)