Charles Dickens Michael Slater

Publication date:
15 Apr 2011
Yale University Press
720 pages: 210 x 140mm
65 b-w; 2 16-page b-w inserts with 80 h-t
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A magnificent new biography of the man who gave us David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Ebenezer Scrooge

This long-awaited biography, twenty years after the last major account, uncovers Dickens the man through the profession in which he excelled. Drawing on a lifetime’s study of this prodigiously brilliant figure, Michael Slater explores the personal and emotional life, the high-profile public activities, the relentless travel, the charitable works, the amateur theatricals and the astonishing productivity. But the core focus is Dickens’ career as a writer and professional author, covering not only his big novels but also his phenomenal output of other writing--letters, journalism, shorter fiction, plays, verses, essays, writings for children, travel books, speeches, and scripts for his public readings, and the relationships among them.

Slater’s account, rooted in deep research but written with affection, clarity, and economy, illuminates the context of each of the great novels while locating the life of the author within the imagination that created them. It highlights Dickens’ boundless energy, his passion for order and fascination with disorder, his organizational genius, his deep concern for the poor and outrage at indifference towards them, his susceptibility towards young women, his love of Christmas and fairy tales, and his hatred of tyranny.

Richly and precisely illustrated with many rare images, this masterly work on the complete Dickens, man and writer, becomes the indispensable guide and companion to one of the greatest novelists in the language.

Michael Slater is Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck, past President of the International Dickens Fellowship, and former editor of its journal, The Dickensian. He served for many years as a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum, including several periods as Chairman. He lives in London.

"The literature about him is huge, but Michael Slater’s fat biography is a very good addition to it, wielding Charles Dickens work and his life rather better than has often been done before." -Sunday Telegraph

"There may have been many lives of Dickens, so what makes Slater’s stand out? First, he has a matchless knowledge of all things Dickensian; second having edited four superbly informative volumes of his journalism, he is ideally equipped to enrich his biography by dipping into Dickens’ writings aside from the novels." -John Carey, Sunday Times

"Michael Slater’s new Life has at its heart the ambition to see [Dickens’] record steadily and whole. It is twenty years since the last major biography … so this is the first to draw on all of Dickens’s surviving letters … as well as Slater’s own invaluable edition of his journalism." -John Bowen, TLS

"This is a classic biography to last out a generation." –Iain Finlayson, The Times

"… Indispensable … [Slater] assembles a million accumulated details, minutely examining the genesis of each work … insights abound … He takes us compellingly through all the great shocks of Dickens’s life … but he doesn’t dwell on them … His quarry is the writing. The novels are the tip of a vast iceberg, and Slater introduces us to some miraculous pieces … [Dickens] is an incomparable portrait of the writing life of Dickens. Cumulatively, it is profoundly moving, chronicling the constant restless interaction between the life and work." - Simon Callow, The Guardian

"There have been many lives of Dickens, so what makes Slater’s stand out? First, he has a matchless knowledge of all things Dickensian, and, second, having edited four superbly informative volumes of Dickens’s journalism, he is ideally equipped to enrich his biography by dipping into the ocean of Dickens’s writings aside from the novels … this fine biography aligns life and works." -John Carey, Sunday Times Culture

"[A] distinguished study, the product of a lifetime’s research … What makes this biography fresh is its sensitivity to duality that drove Dickens’s writing … [an] authoritative account." -Dinah Birch, The Independent

"Michael Slater is certainly something of an expert on his subject … but despite [his] academic credentials, this is no dry-as-dust exercise, though it is scrupulously documented and includes much material that has only recently become available. Only Peter Ackroyd’s 1991 study equals this biography in delivering some impression of Dickens’s kaleidoscopic life but the comparison falls short when it comes to the detail. Reading … [Charles Dickens] is rather like standing at the great man’s shoulder as he juggles all the various aspects of his life." -Karl Dallas, Morning Star

"One wonders at first what a new biographer has to bring. Everything has been examined … but Michael Slater’s research is compendious and his judgments are clear-eyed and his own … It builds up to be a nuanced and interesting account of Dickens as a literary craftsman." –Sam Leith, The Spectator

"The attention Mr Slater gives to Dickens’s less familiar writings—the short stories, journalism and essays—is one of the things that distinguish his excellent authoritative and engaging biography." –The Economist

"No living person is a greater authority on the life and works of Charles Dickens than Michael Slater." –Claire Tomalin

"Michael Slater is the first biographer to have had unhampered access to the whole range of Dickens primary material, in its final edited form … Slater’s will be the authoritative biography for years to come. It is also, one should stress, a book to be read and enjoyed for the gripping story it tells with innumerable new sidelights on ‘the Great Inimitable’." –John Sutherland, Professor Emeritus, University College London

"Michael Slater’s unparalleled knowledge of the man and his works, coupled with an understanding of Dickens’s complex emotional and psychological make-up, has produced a fierce, loving, detailed, scholarly portrait – full of humour, full of surprising quotations – a rich feast of a book." –Miriam Margolyes

"Shrewd, judicious and hugely compelling." –D. J. Taylor

"This biography is a compelling read: beautifully written, meticulously researched and a major contribution to our understanding of one of the most important and troubled writers of the nineteenth century." -Grace Moore, Australian Book Review

"Slater’s account illuminates the context of each of the great novels while locating the life og the author within the imagination that created them." Classic Feel (South Africa)

"Michael Slater has written the definitive biography of Charles Dickens."--Valerie Kennedy, English Studies, Vol. 93

Related links

Read an article by Michael Slater at Yale's London Blog: Charles Dickens: An Attempt on his Life