Review of Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens

by drpoppy

Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles DickensGreat Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good read, and a quick read, about Dickens and his family. I tend to enjoy biographies that are about more than one person, and this certainly fit the bill (though I found myself thinking about reading a biography of Katey Dickens, Dickens’s third and favorite child, as she turned out to be a really interesting person, a painter herself and friends with many artists and writers).

I read this expecting all kinds of dirt on Dickens. I’ve never read a full biography of him, but being a Victorian scholar I knew the stories you always hear about him–his stint in the blacking factory as a child, his infatuation with his sister-in-law Mary, his abominable treatment of his wife after 22 years of marriage (I mean, separation is one thing, but do you need to publicly denounce and humiliate her?), his probable affair with Ellen Ternan, etc. I was glad to read something new about his life and family. But to be honest, he seemed like he was a pretty good father in a lot of ways. I mean, yes, he was exacting and withheld his approval on many occasions. But it seems to me that many of his actions came from being both a self-made man and a “first generation” success, if you will. He came from a family in which most people seemed only to be distinguished by how much money they could lose. He wanted his children to make their own way in the world, the way he had. But then again, how could they, really, since they would always be known as the sons and daughters of one of the most famous men in the world.

The weirdest, most Dickensian part was the chapter on his daughter Dora (named after David Copperfield’s Dora), who died at 8 months. I will say no more; the way Gottlieb tells it is good and creepy.

I would agree with another reviewer that some of the “20th century psychologizing” was a little annoying, and Gottlieb was a little repetitive at times, but overall, this was a good read.

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