Sunday, March 11, 2012
By: Vickie J. Rubinson
When Charles Dickens died in 1870, The Times of London successfully campaigned for his burial in Westminster Abbey, where thousands flocked to mourn the best recognized and loved man of 19th century England. His books had made them laugh, shown them the squalor and greed of English life and also the power of personal virtue and the strength of ordinary people--through the likes of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Little Nell and many more. In hist last years Dickens drew adoring crowds to his public appearances, had met presidents and princes and he had amassed a fortune.
Like a hero from his novels, Dickens trod a hard path to greatness. His young life was overturned when his profligate father was sent to debtors' prison and Dickens was forced into harsh and humiliating factory work. Yet through these early setbacks he developed his remarkable eye for all that was absurd, tragic and redemptive in London life. He set out to succeed and with extraordinary speed and energy made himself into the greatest English novelist of the century.
Years later Dicken's daughter wrote to the author Bernard Shaw, "If you could make the public understand that my father was not a joyous, jocose gentleman walking about the world with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch, you would greatly oblige me." Seen as the public champion of household harmony, Dickens tore his own life apart, betraying, deceiving, breaking with friends and family while he pursued an obsessive love affair.
Charles Dickens: A Life gives a full measure to Dicken's heroic stature--his huge virtues both as a writer and as a human being--while observing his failings in both respects with an unblinking eye. The man who emerges is one of extraordinary contradictions whose vices and virtues were intertwined as surely as his life and his art.