Sunday, September 23, 2007

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW: PETER ACKROYD'S DICKENS

REVIEW OF PETER ACKROYD'S DICKENS BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, February 28, 2005


There are some oddities in the style of Mr. Ackroyd, and his book contains some, what might be called, experimental chapters, fantasies or dreams or prose poems on subjects the author associates with Dickens. Ordinarily, I would find these things a bit off-putting.

But Mr. Ackroyd succeeds in giving us an overwhelmingly animated and penetrating portrait of the great Victorian author. This huge book - and no smaller effort could capture Dickens' spirit - crackles with energy, the very kind of driving energy so characteristic of Dickens himself.

Dickens was a strange man with immense drives and desires going off in many directions and personal habits that might well at times be regarded as unbalanced. He was not the sentimental, storytelling Victorian father figure he is sometimes regarded, although he could be quite sentimental about family and friends and his storytelling ability had few equals.

He behaved at times as a petty tyrant and was highly opinionated, always a man of immense curiosity, a traveler, a political activist, a generous man, a workaholic, a man eager for every possible shred of success and acclaim, a talented actor and mimic, a man seemingly possessed at times, as when carrying on conversations with himself, imitating his own characters in a mirror or going for walks as long as twenty miles alone or living with the ghosts of his fractured childhood.

A whirlwind of experience and desires helped make this naturally talented man such a great novelist. There are similarities to the titanic storm that was Beethoven. In both cases, the young man in his first blush of success could be truly charming while the aging figure could be quite unsettling.

The book contains many interesting anecdotes and details of Dickens' England, as well as Dickens' America since he made two journeys to America, a place he both hated and was fascinated by.

Highly recommended to all lovers of good biography, all students of English literature, and all students of English history.

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