cover image Dickens


Peter Ackroyd. HarperCollins Publishers, $35 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016602-1

Ackroyd ( The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde ) is a master biographer with a seductive prose style, and this massive volume is likely to stand as the Dickens biography for decades to come. Ackroyd moves around with authority in the world of the ebullient, ambitious, insecure, haunted, theatrical genius, which is also the world of early and mid-Victorian England assimilated and transformed to a stupefying degree. We read about Dickens's penurious and painful childhood; the triumphant reception of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers ; the prodigious flow of subsequent novels which, though increasingly somber in tone, continued to reflect a mind whose primary reaction to experience was anarchic laughter; the two trips to America, for the most part wildly successful; the scandal surrounding Dickens's desertion of his wife. And Ackroyd pinpoints Dickens's two great innovations: he was the first to introduce the language of the romantic poets into the novel; and his dramatic public readings from his novels constituted a new art form. Illustrations. Major ad/promo; BOMC main selection. (Feb.)