IoS paperback review: Charles Dickens: A Life, By Claire Tomalin


In his centenary year, Dickens was brought to brilliant life by Claire Tomalin in this book.

Tomalin has been praised for her sensitive exploration of Dickens’s affair with the young actress Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, but there is so much more to discover in this rich, capacious biography. I especially enjoyed the raucous account of Dickens’s journey to North America in 1848, where he was greeted with the fervour nowadays associated with pop stars (5,000 New Yorkers applied for tickets to an extravagant welcoming party known simply as “Boz Ball”). Throughout the book, Tomalin treats her subject with just the right mixture of sympathy and detachment: one emerges with a fuller picture of the writer as a flawed and fleshy mortal, but also with an undiminished sense of his genius.