Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin; Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst - review by John Sutherland

John Sutherland

A Tale of Two Dickens

Charles Dickens: A Life


Viking 576pp £30 order from our bookshop

Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist


Harvard University Press/Belknap Press 372pp £20 order from our bookshop

There have been around ninety full-length lives of Dickens. As the 2012 bicentennial approaches the discriminating purchaser will be able to choose between three current frontrunners. Michael Slater’s 2009 biography, still going strong in paperback, is one. A ‘radically revised’ reissue of Peter Ackroyd’s 1990 biography is another. And, coming up fast on the outside track, we have Claire Tomalin.

Each brings something distinctive to the task. Slater’s book is the distillation of fifty years’ rigorous scholarship. Ackroyd brings a novelist’s privileged insight to his subject. And Tomalin? She is a biographical big-game hunter, having already bagged Austen, Hardy, Pepys, Wollstonecraft and Mansfield. The shelf of prizes she

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