“The biographies of most writers tend to be fascinating up to the time their writing begins in earnest. Perhaps poets of short verse have the time to get up to drunken shenanigans and commit adultery in ways that might prove interesting to read about later, but novelists—especially novelists whose books number pages in the high hundreds—are usually too busy sitting at their desks to do more than go out to dinner occasionally. The more prolific the author, the duller the life. Charles Dickens, in this as in so many things, is an exception. Despite writing fifteen long novels and producing reams of journalism and short stories, he still had time to father ten children; edit magazines; gad about the continent; tour and perform in America; devote himself to worthy charitable endeavors; appear at a stream of public banquets; write and act in amateur theatricals; and, as was revealed after his death, maintain a thirteen-year extramarital relationship with the young actress Ellen Ternan. This list of activities was crammed into just thirty-four years. He died—of a stroke, but it’s hard not to think it was fundamentally exhaustion—at the age of fifty-eight.”
— Alexandra Mullens
“There are a few writers whose lives and personalities are so large, so fascinating, that there’s no such thing as a boring biography of them—you can read every new one that comes along, good or bad, and be caught up in the story all over again. I’ve never encountered a life of the Brontës, of Dr. Johnson, of Byron that didn’t grip me.
“Another such character is Charles Dickens. His history, of course, is less obviously dramatic than that of Byron, but the turbulence of his emotional life, the violent contradictions in his nature, and the amazing story of his instant accession, before he was twenty-five, to the highest level of literary fame and popularity—where he remained for thirty-five years, and where he still resides—are endlessly recountable, and have indeed been endlessly recounted.”
— Robert Gottlieb
The publication of Michael Slater’s new 696 page biography Charles Dickens is the occasion for two excellent and discerning essays worth reading, each a review, but also something more.
In The New Criterion, Alexandra Mullens evaluates The Artful Dickens.
In the New York Review of Books, Robert Gottlieb asks Who Was Charles Dickens?