The notion of Macmillan’s Interviews and Recollections series (there have been previous volumes on Wells, Synge, Wilde, Yeats and Lawrence) is to collect first-hand accounts of their subjects, from contemporary sources, which may not have found a place in existing biographies. All well and good, since this will presumably save future biographers the trouble of chasing up the stuff for themselves, and of course it is more raw material for the thesis-machine. One can also imagine that, given the right subject and the right kind of friends and acquaintances to remember him, the whole thing could be a fascinating read: a kind of biography-in-the-raw, a series of verbal snapshots. Moreover Dickens is obviously a prime candidate for this sort of treatment, a tantalisingly elusive figure whom no one biographer has yet managed to pin down. One starts Philip Collins’ selection with the highest hopes.
That the hopes are largely disappointed is scarcely Professor Collins’ fault. He has done an exemplary job of pruning and annotating the excerpts; every allusion is fully explained; academic users of the book will find that every source is documented in the greatest detail: and there is an admirable tissue