Charles Dickens: A Life by Jane Smiley

By Jane Smiley

A brilliantly insightful biography from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley
With delectable wit and attribute sensitivity, Jane Smiley provides a clean, illuminating tackle the lifetime of Charles Dickens. Smiley reveals a kindred spirit within the writer of such classics as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, who was once not just a prolific author but in addition one of many first smooth "celebrities." She deals interpretations of a lot of Dickens's significant works, exploring his narrative recommendations and his leading edge voice and issues. Smiley's biograph is a perceptive profile of the nice grasp and a desirable meditation at the writing lifestyles.

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Nicholas Nickleby was successful as a serial publication, selling fifty thousand copies of the first number and maintaining sales throughout, then selling well as a volume, too. Its popularity did not sustain itself, however, and the novel became one of Dickens’s least read works, a high-spirited but not quite successful transitional novel in which Dickens began to try out the ideas and methods that would bear fruit a few years later. 21   B 1838, the shape of Charles Dickens’s life was firmly set.

In the end, Martin Chuzzlewit turned out to be something of a commercial failure and got mixed reviews. It is not uncommon, though, for a novelist to lose part of his audience as he grows more ambitious. The willingness, and maybe even the ability, of the audience to follow a favorite writer into work of greater complexity and more somber vision isn’t always immediate, and every author whose sole income is from his writings has to reckon with this dilemma. Dickens had experienced the freedom, importance, and warm regard that come with great popularity; now he was discovering that the freedom was not absolute, and that the potential for corruption exists in artistic support through sales as well as through patronage.

By Dickens’s time, in many ways as a result of Sir Walter Scott’s interest not only in the hero and his adventure, but also in the social and domestic circumstances of the hero’s world, domestic life becomes as interesting as the adventure; in Dickens’s work, domestic life becomes the goal of the journey, the prospective haven from the alienation and cruelty of homelessness. Dickens’s heroes and heroines take many journeys, but only the travels of the Pickwick Club are embarked upon willingly. Most often, the protagonist is ejected from his original home and forced out upon a quest to make another.

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