This is the paperback, abridged version of Ackroyd's biography of Charles Dickens and there were times when I was grateful for the free flow of the prose and there were times when I wanted a little more detail. So I suppose that means that Ackroyd got the mix about right.
I don't know which was most interesting: the childhood; the early working life when, all at once, he became a household name; the early novels when he was writing two at the same time whilst simoutaneously editing magazines; the later novels when he had developed his craft much more highly.
Books like Pickwick, Twist and Nickleby (the last Ackroyd describes as Dickens funniest book) were written as monthly serials. Dickens wrote prodigious amounts each day. He wrote using a quill!!! He was writing comedy and tragedy simultaneously (it seemed to help him) and he was writing even when he was in rooms with other people. His energy was fantastic. He did not seem to need a plan to his writing; he relied on his invention.
For the later books he had established a writing routine and he was massively well organised and disciplined, usually knowing exactly how many words he had to write. He would write for hours in the morning and then do other things in the evening. As well as writing a lot of massive novels he also edited (and contributed to) magazines for most of his working life. Some of the later books were serialised in weekly, rather than monthly, parts; this was the way he wrote; he never seems to have indulged in the liuxury of writing a novel entire and then publishing it, even when he was getting massive advances. He always seems to have been desperate for money.
One of his themes was clearly the virgin: little Nell, little Dorrit etc. Having married his wife he went into an extended morbid mourning when her 17 year old sister died. Much later, having separated from his wife, he seems to have had a Platonic affair with an actress called Ellen Ternan. He was a bit weird about young women.
He also saw life a s a perpetual battle against illness and time and ... He struggled with obsessive energy (in this he reminded me a little of myself) to escape his poverty stricken background.
His speciality was always creating characters. It was only in the later books that he learned to plan and his fiction began to mature.
I have never read Our Mutual Friend or Martin Chuzzlewit (or the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood). I must.
A superb biography. I wish I had the energy and drive (and the organisation) of Dickens.
February 2010; 578 pages
Peter Ackroyd is a prolific author: he writes both fiction and non-fiction; he specialises in London. I adore some of his books such as the brilliant Hawksmoor and I have found others (such as Thames) very tedious. If you enjoy Dickens then I recommend his biography of another great Victorian novelist and friend of Dickens: Wilkie Collins. Alternatively you could read Claire Tomalin's excellent biography of Dickens.
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57