Biography CHARLES DICKENS CLAIRE TOMALIN, VIKING, $39.95
The trouble with tackling a literary giant who was born 200 years ago is the unlikely prospect of finding anything new, particularly when Dickens’ life has been so scrutinised. His good friend John Forster wrote the authorised version, The Life of Charles Dickens, soon after he died and was generous with Dickens’ faults: “It will not do to draw round any part of such a man too hard a line.” Others have clawed that back, like Thomas Wright, who in the 1930s explored Dickens’ mid-life relationship with the young actress Ellen “Nelly” Ternan. Even such an accomplished biographer as Claire Tomalin mines ground she dug 20 years earlier in The Invisible Woman, her account of Dickens and the actress.
Undaunted by what has gone before, Tomalin has wrested from Dickens’ record something wonderfully fresh and worthwhile. There may be nothing groundbreaking in the content but it is a book that sings. She has meticulously reconstructed his life, piece by interlocking piece, from the historical record and the