Book number: 92607 Product format: Hardback Author: A. N. WILSON

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Bibliophile price £8.50
Published price $32.50

Acclaimed for his study of the Victorians, A. N. Wilson has written a page-turning biography of Charles Dickens, with whom he feels an affinity because they both had an intensely unhappy childhood. The story of Dickens being sent to work in a boot-blacking factory at the age of 12 is well known, but its horrors have not been exaggerated and child cruelty resurfaces again and again in his books. Dickens represented his marriage to Catherine Hogarth as incompatible from the start, though she bore him ten children. When his play The Frozen Deep, co-written with Willkie Collins, attracted audiences of 3000 including Queen Victoria, he decided to tour it with professional actresses instead of his sisters. This is how he met his young mistress Nelly Ternan, whom he established at a house in the suburbs and who probably bore him several children. Wilson investigates their relationship in detail, doing some sleuthing to speculate on the fates of their children and reconstructing an account of Dickens's seizure that led to his death, which Wilson suggests may have happened at Nelly's house. The contents of Dickens's pockets when he was brought home in a cab were £15 less than he had set out with, and Wilson speculates that he had made his weekly visit to pay Nelly the housekeeping money. Ironically, Nelly subsequently lied about her age to marry a clergymen many years her junior. Dickens's novels are sometime regarded as sentimental, and when he gave readings, audiences described the human sympathy that radiated from him. Yet if we contrast that with his acts of domestic cruelty and his writings in support of slavery, he was playing an elaborate role. Wilson has elucidated some of the mysteries in a fascinating subject, invoking the modern theory of the "false self" to explain his behaviour. 358pp. Remainder mark.

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ISBN 9780062954947

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