Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley
(Penguin Lives)

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Synopsis

With the delectable wit, unforgettable characters, and challenging themes that have won her a Pulitzer Prize and national bestseller status, Jane Smiley naturally finds a kindred spirit in the author of classics such as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. As "his novels shaped his life as much as his life shaped his novels," Smiley's Charles Dickens is at once a sensitive profile of the great master and a fascinating meditation on the writing life.

Smiley evokes Dickens as he might have seemed to his contemporaries: convivial, astute, boundlessly energetic-and lionized. As she makes clear, Dickens not only led the action-packed life of a prolific writer, editor, and family man but, balancing the artistic and the commercial in his work, he also consciously sustained his status as one of the first modern "celebrities."

Charles Dickens offers brilliant interpretations of almost all the major works, an exploration of his narrative techniques and his innovative voice and themes, and a reflection on how his richly varied lower-class cameos sprang from an experience and passion more personal than his public knew. Smiley's own "demon narrative intelligence" (The Boston Globe) touches, too, on controversial details that include Dickens's obsession with money and squabbles with publishers, his unhappy marriage, and the rumors of an affair.

Here is a fresh look at the dazzling personality of a verbal magician and the fascinating times behind the classics we read in school and continue to enjoy today.
 

About Jane Smiley

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JANE SMILEY is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres and more than ten other works of fiction, as well as three works of nonfiction, including a critically acclaimed biography of Charles Dickens. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in northern California.
 
Published December 27, 1977 by Penguin Books. 224 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction, History. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Charles Dickens

Kirkus Reviews

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From here, she presents the man as he would have appeared to his contemporaries, weaving together the public presentation of Dickens via his journalism, novels, and letters, stitching up the occasional gap with reference to the more detailed biographies already published.

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The Guardian

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'Every novel is a logical argument - an assertion of the author's sense of what life is, embodied in characters, plots and images...' 'The novel is, above all, an intense experience of prolonged intimacy with another consciousness.' 'A great novel is, as much as anything else, an exercise of sust...

Aug 25 2002 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

The Guardian

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Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley 176pp, Weidenfeld, £12.99 During Dickens's lifetime and ever since, his detractors have been numerous and vocal.

Aug 24 2002 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Publishers Weekly

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Two men who towered over the 19th century are the subjects of new Penguin Lives biographies coming in May. Novelist Jane Smiley's Charles Dickens aims to give a new perspective on the Victorian author, who, she says, was perhaps ""the first true celebrity in the modern sense."" Instead of giv...

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BC Books

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If he doesn't always practice the Victorian values that his novels seem to preach, Smiley seems to suggest, it is because he is more modern in both his writing as well as in his living than most modern readers give him credit for.

Nov 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

BC Books

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Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jane Smiley describes her 2002 critical biography Charles Dickens: A Life, soon to be available in paperback from Penguin Lives, as an attempt to "get to know him and to achieve what Victorians might have termed 'a growing intimacy.'" It is less a full-fledged atte...

Nov 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Examiner

Smiley easily draws the reader into the life and times of Charles Dickens, and allows the reader to not only get know the man, but also the inner workings of what inspired and influenced some of the greatest novel writing in history.

Dec 19 2011 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

New York Journal of Books

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“Charles Dickens: A Life is a fascinating journey through some of the most mesmerizing and memorable characters ever created—David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Little Nell, Scrooge—and thus a journey through Dickens’s life.

Nov 29 2011 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Entertainment Weekly

Mobbed in America and a brand name in England, Dickens was, his latest biographer asserts, ''maybe the first true celebrity in the modern sense.'' Smiley's short but stout reckoning, her contribution to the Penguin Lives series, is best when it paints hmmm-didn't-think-of-that-before broad stroke...

May 31 2002 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Tampa Bay Times

Charles Dickens: A Life By Jane Smiley Penguin Lives, 212 pages, $14 Charles Dickens: A Life By Claire Tomalin Penguin, 527 pages, $36

Feb 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

City Book Review

“The new machinery of capitalistic publishing had carried his work far and wide, bringing a single man, a single voice, into a personal relationship with huge numbers of people of whom he had never met, and yet who felt intimate with him, because the novel is, above all, an intense experience of ...

Jan 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Seattle PI

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jane Smiley describes her 2002 critical biography Charles Dickens: A Life, soon to be available in paperback from Penguin Lives, as an attempt to "get to know him and to achieve what Victorians might have termed 'a growing intimacy.'" It is less a full-fledged atte...

Nov 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

Portland Book Review

The book’s tightly controlled story of Dickens’ ardor acting in and ghosting of Collins’ play The Frozen Deep is illustrative of why this book succeeds.

Mar 28 2012 | Read Full Review of Charles Dickens (Penguin Lives)

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