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12 vol­umes of Dick­ens’ let­ters (mi­nus Nelly Ter­nan’s which she burnt).

The Ter­nan af­fair is ul­ti­mately a sideshow; the meat of the book is the lively and bril­liantly in­formed story of Dick­ens’ life and work, from his poor be­gin­nings in Portsmouth, where he spent time in a debtor’s prison and was sent to work in a shoe black­ing fac­tory at the age of 12. The poverty and lack of love made him cruel and bit­ter and he never quite re­cov­ered, call­ing him­self “a mis­placed and mis-mar­ried man; al­ways, as it were, play­ing hide and seek with the world, and never find­ing what For­tune seems to have hid­den when he was born”. But it also taught him com­pas­sion. Dick­ens vis­ited alms houses and hos­pi­tals through­out his life and with a rich bene­fac­tor set up a home for pros­ti­tutes which sent the reformed girls to Australia.

He was a com­plex, charis­matic man who lit up a

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