The Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol 2, 1868-70 by Graham Storey (ed); Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

A Thunderous Recipe for Salad Dressing

The Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol 2, 1868-70


Oxford University Press 856pp £80 order from our bookshop

Charles Dickens


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 320pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

This is the final volume (of twelve) in the Oxford University Press’s heroic effort to bring order and printed form to what Charles Dickens himself called ‘the hurry and confusion of an enormous correspondence’. It contains 1,151 letters, 427 published for the first time, plus a further 235 belonging to earlier volumes which have since come to light, making a grand total of 14,252 letters in the series.

The present volume covers Dickens’s wildly successful American reading tour, or rather its last four months; his equally successful readings in Britain in 1869/70, which ill health forced him to abandon; the genesis of Edwin Drood; and his last weeks of frailty, which ended in sudden death. It deals with an immense range of subjects, including Niagara Falls, English seaside resorts (he found Blackpool ‘charming’), the marital difficulties of the Dean of Bristol Cathedral (Dickens made a prolonged but unsuccessful attempt to reconcile him with his wife), the rescue of some French musicians and their two performing bears from English roughs, a thunderous recipe for salad dressing, and various attempts to raise money for the widows of improvident artists and writers.

Dickens loved details, which is one reason why he was such a good novelist and, as a person, such a poor delegator. From across the Atlantic he sent imperious missives directing his womenfolk as to how he wanted his house at Gad’s Hill, near Rochester, refurbished. He wanted the dining-room

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