Becoming Dickens

The Invention of a Novelist
Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist. Belknap: Harvard Univ. Oct. 2011. c.360p. index. ISBN 9780674050037. $29.95. LIT
This biography, culminating in 1838, when Dickens turned 26, presents persuasive evidence that had it not been for Dickens's willful ambition, his path to authorial renown might have been diverted by the circumstances of his childhood and adolescence. From a close reading of Dickens's early poetry, autobiography, and letters, Douglas-Fairhurst (English, Magdalen Coll., Oxford) portrays Dickens as a highly observant young man, fastidious in dress, disposed to schoolboy practical jokes and theatrical behavior, who suffered the humiliation of chronic domestic poverty and the trauma, at age 12, of laboring long hours in a shoe-polish ("blackening") bottling factory. Dickens's time as a solicitors' clerk and shorthand court clerk were intellectually mind-numbing, but his newspaper reporting on Parliament won him attention. Douglas-Fairhurst's acute and incisive analysis of the contemporary reception of Dickens's journalism and then his first serialized fiction reveals how Dickens's keen observations and storytelling talent allowed him to rise above his station, as he forged his experiences into fiction.
VERDICT A perceptive and speculative biography whose style is best suited to an academic readership and whole-hearted Dickensians.
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