I have always loved reading biographies of famous authors. However, sometimes a biography of members of an author’s family can also be fascinating. I recently read and loved Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb.
Dickens and his ill-treated wife Catherine had ten children, many of whom were named for famous people and who had to live up to the very high expectations of their demanding father. Dickens could be huge fun, especially when his children were small, but as they grew older he expected success, neatness, and a display of the same drive and energy he himself possessed. Most of his children disappointed him, several inherited the ineptitude with money that Dickens’s own father had shown (he was the original for the immortal Mr Micawber) and Dickens was left paying the debts. The book also gives tragic glimpses of Dickens’s failure as a husband – his cruel treatment of Catherine had a huge impact on the lives of his children. Dickens could sum up a character with devastating precision – Mr Chadband in Bleak House “is a large yellow man, with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system” – but he could describe the weaknesses of his own offspring as cruelly as he could sum up the faults of his fictional creations.
I have just heard the exciting news that the International Dickens Conference will be held in Sydney, 25 – 30 October, 2018. A wonderful programme of talks and events is already being planned – put the dates in your diary, if you live in or near Sydney. Robert Gottlieb’s book, published in 2012, is an excellent way to prepare for this event and get into a Dickensian mood.
My downloadable Literary Snapshot on Dickens has lots more information about his life, a summary of the themes and major intentions in each novel, discussion about the various characters, and also provides 6 questions as a guide to discussion. Click here for more.
Have you read Robert Gottlieb’s book, or any other books about author’s families? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment here.
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Susannah Fullerton: Charles Dickens
Susannah Fullerton: Historical Novels
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Susannah Fullerton: HAPPY BIRTHDAY Charles Dickens
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