Claire Tomalin's studies of British literary giants - Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy among them - have set the standard for sophisticated, scholarly yet popular biography. A skilled and accomplished writer, she also brings to her work, as Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post noted, "the confidence of a deeply informed literary critic."
She now returns to a writer she knows well, Charles Dickens, whose great illicit love affair with Nelly Ternan was the subject of her silence-shattering book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. In CHARLES DICKENS: A Life (The Penguin Press; November 1, 2011; $35.00), Tomalin gives us what we have been waiting for: a comprehensive, highly readable and entertaining cradle-to-grave narrative of a writer many feel is the most beloved and recognizable in English literature.
By the time of his death Dickens drew adoring crowds to his public appearances, had met presidents and princes on both sides of the Atlantic, and was a fantastically wealthy gentleman. Yet twenty-six years after his death, Dickens's own 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." In fact, Dickens was often tyrannical and unforgiving to his family and friends. He left the wife that bore his ten children for an actress twenty-seven years his junior. The public champion of household harmony and domestic simplicity, Dickens's later life is a story of tawdry betrayals and juvenile vendettas that tore his life apart.
CHARLES DICKENS beautifully renders the tumultuous life of England's greatest novelist, capturing both his virtues and failings. Drawing from vast amounts of primary materials and scholarship, Tomalin lovingly but honestly renders Dickens as a man of extraordinary conviction and contradiction, whose virtues and vices were as intertwined as his life and art.