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Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Charles Dickens In Love" by Robert Garnett ~ New Biography


When Charles Dickens died in 1870 he was the best-known man in the English-speaking world—the pre-eminent Victorian celebrity, universally mourned as both a noble spirit and the greatest of novelists. Yet when the first person named in his will turned out to be an unknown woman named Ellen Ternan, only a handful of people had any idea who she was, and her conspicuous presence in his will was a mystery. Of his romance with Ellen, Dickens had written, “it belongs to my life and probably will only die out of the same with the proprietor,” and so it was—until his death she remained the most important person in his life.
She was not the first woman who had fired his imagination. As a young man he had fallen deeply in love with a woman who “pervaded every chink and crevice” of his mind for three years, Maria Beadnell,
and when she eventually jilted him he vowed that “I never can love any human creature breathing but yourself.” A few years later he was stunned by the sudden death of his young sister-in-law, Mary Scott Hogarth, and worshiped her memory for the rest of his life. “I solemnly believe that so perfect a creature never breathed,” he declared, and when he died over thirty years later he was still wearing her ring.
Charles Dickens has no rival as the most fertile creative imagination since William Shakespeare, and no one influenced his imagination more powerfully than these three women, his muses and teachers in the school of love. Using hundreds of primary sources, Charles Dickens in Love narrates the story of the most intense romances of Dickens’s life, and shows how his novels both testify to his own strongest affections and serve as memorials to the young women he loved all too well, if not always wisely.

Published by:  Pegasus
Pages:  256
Genre:  Non-Fiction/Biography
Purchase:  Barnes & Noble


Robert Garnett is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia
(Ph.D.), and currently Professor of English at Gettysburg College. He has been researching Dickens for over a dozen years, has presented papers on him at many academic conferences, and has published articles on his life and novels in scholarly journals such as Dickens Quarterly and Dickens Studies Annual.


This is an all together very readable biographical study and chronicle about the love life of Charles Dickens.  It's comprehensive but not at all massive, doable and enjoyable to read.  I found it quite "user friendly," surprisingly enough.  A good read and an informative one.

Robert Garnett describes the main three loves of Dickens's life and their affects on him and his individual works, as well as his writings in total.  I felt many parts of the book were redundant, however, although not tiring to read. I wondered whether the book actually came from his teaching notes at times. But, basically, there are intimate sections that enhance the chapters on each of Dickens  muses/loved ones.  And, his relationships with famous writers of the times such as Wilke Collins, brought an added dimension I enjoyed reading about.

While I did not find it an extremely academic book, I was refreshed and relieved by that fact to an extent.  It is a book I can recommend to those who love Charles Dickens and would like to know more about this softer side of him and how his love of particular women, the central focus of his novels, came about.

A book I would recommend to Dickens lovers with the above reservations.

3.5 stars              Deborah/TheBookishDame



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