A bevy of biographies

Dear Charlie,

I’m not ignoring you, honestly. I’ve just been out of your sphere of influence in my reading/watching materials lately. But I have added another book to my growing number of biographies of you. I’m now the proud owner of Claire Tomalin’s biography, bringing the total of Charles-Dickens-biographies-I-own-and-have-not-yet-read to three.


When I started my year-long reading project, I sort of intended to read at least Forster’s biography as I went along, and I did make it through the first couple of chapters, but you wrote so frickin’ much, my friend, that I quickly abandoned that plan in favour of just keeping up with your writings. So, while I dipped in to your life occasionally (I confess I resorted to Wikipedia more than once), I haven’t yet read one of your biographies cover to cover. But now that I’ve put some distance between myself and that marathon o’ reading, I find I’m missing your charming company. (That and I’m still trying to shake the creepy residue that Dan Simmons’ book left on my brain, so reading a biography where you’re NOT portrayed as a hyperactive sociopath sounds really good.)

Assuming that my next read is one of these fine biographies, which one should I start with? I’m sure that you’d rather I begin and end with Forster, whom you knew and trusted not to include anything too salacious or derogatory, but where’s the fun in that? I confess to finding the sheer heft of Ackroyd’s book more than a little intimidating. I’m leaning towards Tomalin’s book, because a) I’m trying to read more books by female authors this year, b) it got good reviews, and c) now that I’m cycling to work again, this volume would be much easier to fit in a pannier without making my bike tip over.

Or perhaps I should add to my biography collection and seek out a few more before I make my decision. Simon Callow’s, Jane Smiley’s and Michael Slater’s books also look really interesting.

What do you think, Charlie? Which biographer “gets” the real you? Where should I start?



P.S. In other news, I was feeling quite accomplished having surpassed the 100,000 visitor mark, until I started going through my blog’s spam filters. Now I suspect that half my visitors have, in fact, been soulless spam robots intent on getting me to buy viagra, fake running shoes and purses, and to watch celebrity sex tapes. There are a lot of things you’d like about the 21st century, Charlie, but spam would definitely not be one of them. :-/ -M

This entry was posted in Random.

2 comments on “A bevy of biographies

  1. Cecilia Rojas says:

    Melissa. I like your blog very much. It makes me feel close to Dickens, whom I love since I was 10. I fell in love with him after my daddy gave me to read Oliver Twist. I was delighted “Oliver”, the movie, and he told me it was based on a book.

  2. AJWSmith says:

    I’ve read the Ackroyd & Tomalin biographies – both well researched & both well worth reading. I’d probably start with the Tomalin one as it’s most most recent one. My hunch is that it will also look at those areas of Dickens’s life you find more interesting, such as his relationships with women and the family dynamics. Tomalin also refers to Ackroyd’s research as well so you get a good perspective on how various biographers tackle Dickens’s immense life.

    In terms of getting the “real” Dickens, I think you’ve already done that by reading all his novels. There’s something about reading Dickens’s own works which is like being in a room with the man himself. Reading these biographies was more like reading facts ABOUT Dickens – if you see the difference?

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