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Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens (Oxford Reader's Companions)

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Paul Schlicke

Grade 9 Up-Drawing on an impressive roster of scholars both in the U.S. and Britain, this guide is a boon to understanding Dickens's life, work, ideas, and times. The alphabetically arranged entries include such topics as "amusements and recreation," … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Paul Schlicke
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
1 review about Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens (Oxford...

Encyclopedic literary biography of Dickens

  • Feb 19, 2009
Encyclopedic literary biography of Dickens is thorough but not exhaustive. Alphabetic entries of varying length by a large team of Dickens experts cover events, places, people, and subjects in Dickens' writing and public and private life. Longer entries include bibliographies for further research, and a general bibliography is provided.

Each major Dickens work is given a separate section documenting its

--inception and composition,
--contract, text, and publication history
--sources and context
--plot character and theme

There are some pictures and maps, although more would be better, and appendices providing an alphabetic list of characters and timeline of Dickens' life and career with parallel literary and historical events. The companion packs a lot of information into its 650 heavy pages of small print. If you plan to spent extensive time perusing sections, keep that in mind--I wear bifocals, but the print was too small even for my reading lenses, so I had to read longer sections without my glasses. Maybe that's more about me than about the book--but you are forewarned if you are of a certain age, and you know who you are out there!

The coverage of Dickens seems scrupulously fair, documenting both the good and bad of Dickens' life and career. And yes, there are bad in both, despite his rise to the pantheon of literary demi-gods (I have read and reviewed six of his novels, and rated all as 5-star classics). His well-kept secret affair with Ellen Ternan is mentioned but neither sensationalized nor explained away. I didn't read every entry word for word (this is a reference work, after all, and like all encyclopedia suffers from some repetition of information between entries), but I learned much new and fascinating about Dickens:

--every one of his novels was written and originally published as weekly or monthly serials

--he wrote over 14,000 letters that are documented as of the publication date, with more still being discovered.

--while known for his novels, his output in other styles (journalism, essays, short stories) actually exceeds his novels.

--he was friends with novelist Bulwer-Lytton, infamous for the opening phrase "It was a dark and stormy night", and immortalized in the annual prize for worst fiction writing. Fortunately, the association seems not to have effected Dickens' ability.

--Dickens attacked writing like a day job, keeping a strict daily schedule, for several years working on two series in parallel on journalistic deadlines (which were nearly always met), while engaging in a vigorous public life of amateur stage productions, speeches, travels, and book reading tours that both made and benefited from his groundbreaking celebrity status.

--perhaps the most intriguing personal biographic detail (notwithstanding the unknown and never-knowable details of his affair) is his undying love for his wife's sisters, including a deep period of mourning for one who died as a teenager while serving as an aide to his wife and a public request to be buried next to her (try that on your own wife and see how that goes!), then the continuation of his wife's other sister as the children's governess even after Dickens' public separation from his wife (wonder how those family get-togethers went around the Christmas tree for the reading of the Christmas Carol?).

I pulled these samples from memory in a few short minutes based on my reading of this reference. Clearly, for anyone interested in reading or knowing Dickens, this is an extremely valuable companion.

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