Monday, 28 May 2012

the life of Dickens

I said that his would be the year in which I would read Dickens, never having really done so - I had the Pickwick Papers read to me during a series of childhood bouts of tonsillitis and I am glad of it, and have seen a number of films.  Also I have read A Tale of Two Cities.  But that is about as far as it goes.  So now is the time.  So I thought I would find out about Dickens' life.  I had heard a lot of rather snooty people who Know About Books mention "the blacking factory" - but it turns out he worked in a factory as a teenage boy, putting labels on tins of shoe polish.  Who hasn't done that sort of job?  Well, not writers in the middle nineteenth century, that is for sure.

Claire Tomalin has written rather a good tour of Dickens' life.  He had some good epithets,  describing the Tories of the time as a ruthless set of bloody-minded villains".  One thing I did not know is that Dickens was invited to stand as Liberal MP for Reading in May 1841, his friend Thomas Talfourd (after whom a street is named, in Park ward, east Reading) having tried to persuade him, without success. I think all MPs for Reading should have a street named after them.  Don't you?  There has only ever been one female MP for Reading.  Who was that?  Oh, please yourselves.

Dickens was hugely adventurous, travelling in America, and in France (well, Strasbourg) by bone-rattling coach, mostly, and touring his work - his readings from his works were hugely popular - and was vastly physically energetic.  He was married, and had quite a lot of children, and got tired of his wife - this much is clear - and shacked up with another - probably - and may or may not have had a child with her, but if he did, it died.  He did not go to a university, and had to work enormously hard all his life, and died before the age of 60, after at least one stroke.

He was a slim man, largely it seems because of his lifelong love of vigorous exercise.  His food and drink intake was problematic.  Late in his life, while touring, his intake was like this:

"At 7 in the morning, in bed, a tumbler of new cream and two tablespoonsful of rum.
At 12, a sherry cobbler and a biscuit.
At 3 (dinner time) a pint of champagne.
At five minutes to 8, an egg beaten up with a glass of sherry.
Between the evening readings, the strongest beef tea that can be made, drunk hot.
At a quarter past 10, soup, and any little thing to drink that I can fancy."

A food and drink intake like this, if continued for any length of time, would have resulted in not only skinniness and chronic constipation but an enlarged liver.  Which is probably what killed him.

Well, there was a lot of exuberance, and a lot of intolerance, and a lot of energy.  Now to read the books.  Or as many of them as i can.  The Tomalin biography is a pretty good introduction.


Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, sicne 2005, I have made it a mission to re-read all Dickens - and havd enjoyed doing so very much. Little Dorrit is the best book, I think. Shades of grey....
Also Dombey and SOn - a close second.
Plus David Copperfield for Steerforth - I have known one and know hwo destructive they can be.

The Tomalin biog is good, yes, but oddly, not as good as her earlier biog of Ellen Ternan his mistress. And not as good as her stand out fantastic biog of Thomas Hardy The Time Torn Man. But ok!

Anonymous said...

And another point - everyone goes on about the merits of Bleak House - well - Esther Summerson is a pain in the butt - she is really!
Just think of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park - and then make her ten times worse.

Still say that Baranby Rudge is the best book out there about urban riots. And of all Dickens' books it is about the least read.

Anonymous said...

They often name streets long after people have died. It took a long time to name a street after Rufus Isaacs.
One of my family, who is connected to the Mikardos, is upset that many criminals live in Ian Mikardo Way, bringing shame tio the family name.