Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist

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9780674050037: Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist

Becoming Dickens tells the story of how an ambitious young Londoner became England's greatest novelist. In following the twists and turns of Charles Dickens's early career, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst examines a remarkable double transformation: in reinventing himself Dickens reinvented the form of the novel. It was a high-stakes gamble, and Dickens never forgot how differently things could have turned out. Like the hero of Dombey and Son, he remained haunted by "what might have been, and what was not."



In his own lifetime, Dickens was without rivals. He styled himself simply "The Inimitable." But he was not always confident about his standing in the world. From his traumatized childhood to the suicide of his first collaborator and the sudden death of the woman who had a good claim to being the love of his life, Dickens faced powerful obstacles. Before settling on the profession of novelist, he tried his hand at the law and journalism, considered a career in acting, and even contemplated emigrating to the West Indies. Yet with The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and a groundbreaking series of plays, sketches, and articles, he succeeded in turning every potential breakdown into a breakthrough.



Douglas-Fairhurst's provocative new biography, focused on the 1830s, portrays a restless and uncertain Dickens who could not decide on the career path he should take and would never feel secure in his considerable achievements.

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About the Author:

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Review:

Douglas-Fairhurst offers an original perspective on Dickens's early life and writing as Dickens works through the choices before him in pursuit of a voice and style he could confidently claim as his own.... a fresh and insightful study, moving and exceptionally well-written... a book to be valued by a range of readers, and one certain to stand the test of time. (David Paroissien, University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Rightly rejecting familiar accounts of Dickens's life, Douglas-Fairhurst's biography shows us the forlorn and driven young Dickens, restless and uncertain, who could not yet choose what was to become his inevitable mode of composing fiction. I recommend it highly. (Harold Bloom)

Becoming Dickens never takes Dickens for granted, but helps us to be surprised--shocked even--that he existed, worked and wrote in the way that he did. This counterfactual emphasis gives the book breathing space and a sense of play that is too often missing from more orthodoxly organized biographies. (John Bowen, University of York)

This book captures the chameleon Dickens as a product of his era before he became its creator. (Publishers Weekly 2011-06-06)

Douglas-Fairhurst's acute and incisive analysis of the contemporary reception of Dickens's journalism and then his first serialized fiction reveals how Dickens's keen observations and storytelling talent allowed him to rise above his station, as he forged his experiences into fiction...A perceptive and speculative biography. (Lonnie Weatherby Library Journal 2011-08-01)

A convincing portrait of budding genius. (Bryce Christensen Booklist 2011-10-01)

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst sets out to counter what he sees as the literary man-of-destiny version of Dickens, to recover the uncertainty, muddle and loose ends...Douglas-Fairhurst covers much ground, but one of his central ideas is Dickens's pervasive sense of what might have been. He sees it in the false trails and shadow plots (take Great Expectations, where Pip imagines himself in one story though is really in another), in his doublings among characters and in his jostling possibilities and competing outcomes (for instance in A Christmas Carol). Becoming Dickens is an ingenious, playful and often brilliant analysis as much as it is a narrative. (The Economist 2011-10-01)

The great tide of Dickensiana, to celebrate the bicentenary of the author's birth in February 2012, has already begun to appear in the shops. While much of the attention will be focused on Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life, my own favorite is Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist. (D. J. Taylor The Independent 2011-09-25)

[A] subtle and searching book...Dickens is immortal and inexhaustible, and there will be more books in the lead-up to the 200th anniversary of his birth next year. If any of them outshine [this one] we shall be luckier than mere mortals deserve. (John Carey Sunday Times 2011-10-02)

Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens ponders the question of how this phenomenal man happened. He identifies a series of self-defining moments in the process...Douglas-Fairhurst has all of Dickens, it seems, at his fingertips and his ear is cocked for every significant echo...What is extraordinarily fresh in Becoming Dickens is Douglas-Fairhurst's ability to support [his] arguments by sensitive explication de texte...Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reads Dickens the author with brilliant acuity. If [this book is a] harbinger of what is to come in the bicentennial year, 2012 will be a memorial fully worthy of the great Boz. (John Sutherland Literary Review 2011-10-01)

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Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
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Book Description Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London England, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 400 pages. Hardcover with dustjacket. New book. LITERARY STUDIES. Becoming Dickens tells the story of how an ambitious young Londoner became England's greatest novelist. In following the twists and turns of Charles Dickens's early career, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst examines a remarkable double transformation: in reinventing himself Dickens reinvented the form of the novel. It was a high-stakes gamble, and Dickens never forgot how differently things could have turned out. Like the hero of Dombey and Son, he remained haunted by "what might have been, and what was not." In his own lifetime, Dickens was without rivals. He styled himself simply "The Inimitable." But he was not always confident about his standing in the world. From his traumatized childhood to the suicide of his first collaborator and the sudden death of the woman who had a good claim to being the love of his life, Dickens faced powerful obstacles. Before settling on the profession of novelist, he tried his hand at the law and journalism, considered a career in acting, and even contemplated emigrating to the West Indies. Yet with The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and a groundbreaking series of plays, sketches, and articles, he succeeded in turning every potential breakdown into a breakthrough. Douglas-Fairhurst's provocative new biography, focused on the 1830s, portrays a restless and uncertain Dickens who could not decide on the career path he should take and would never feel secure in his considerable achievements. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Fellow and Tutor in English, Magdalen College, Oxford. * 2011 Duff Cooper Prize * An Irish Times Book of the Year, 2011 * A Library Journal Best Book of 2011 * A New Statesman Book of the Year, 2011 * A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, 2011 * A Sunday Times Best Book of 2011 * A Telegraph Best Book 2011 * A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2011 * A Wall Street Journal Book of the Year, 2011 "We learn why Dickens wrote the way he did and why it resonated so much with readers of the time. And though this is closely tied to social change in the industrial age, Douglas-Fairhurst neatly sidesteps tired, modern-day rants about class tension, diving right to the human element of the matterÉ Douglas-Fairhurst's immersive approach to Dickens has one striking effect: scattering Dickensian plot notes all over the place like gumdrops, he makes you want to read Dickens's original text. For those who never found Dickens the most compelling of authors, even of nineteenth-century authors (yours truly included) Douglas-Fairhurst provides plenty of reasons to take a second look&helilp; The Douglas-Fairhurst biography is, if nothing else, a brilliant vindication of textual analysisÉ Douglas-Fairhurst [is writing] the story of the writerÑbut in probing the novelist's writings, Douglas-Fairhurst might wind up getting closer to the man than the traditional biographer does; conceivably, to understand an artist's life and humanity, you're better off going straight to his art."ÑHeather Horn, The Atlantic online "A convincing portrait of budding genius."ÑBryce Christensen, Booklist "Douglas-Fairhurst explores how Dickens's evolution from impoverished child to middle-class professional shaped his artistic development and gave him unique insight into the Victorian zeitgeist. Characters like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield are windows into the vibrant, tumultuous period that made Dickens possible. Their triumphs and travails feel real because they mirror the author's own difficult adolescenceÉ Becoming Dickens is not just the biography of a man; it's about the birth of a particular way of life, which provided fertile ground for artistic triumphs that still resonate today. It's a reminder that talent, however great, cannot thrive in a world in which the avenues of growth are reserved for the privileged."ÑMichael Patrick Brady, The Boston Globe "Readers familiar wi. book. Bookseller Inventory # 76199X1

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