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Charles Dickens

The complete, interactive history of a literary legend

by Karen Day in Culture on 16 February 2012

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Charles Dickens is like the Madonna of the literary world. Two centuries later, the progressive British novelist remains as relevant and legendary today as he was at the height of his career. Marking the bicentennial of his birth this year is a series of events around London, dubbed Dickens 2012, and a new book by Dickens' great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Dickens Hawksley.

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"Charles Dickens" is an interactive reference guide to the notable author's entire life, shedding light on his early years and his first work of fiction—a play called "Miznar, the Sultan of India" that he penned at age nine—and working through to the end of his life, when he passed away while finishing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" at 58-years-old. The book is packed with printed materials pulled from Dickens' personal archive, which are tucked away between the pages in fold-out inserts. Family photographs, manuscripts proofed by Dickens, marriage certificates and more make up the assortment of rarely or never-before-seen documents included in the comprehensive tome.

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The book also delves into Dickens' role as a social commentator, which undoubtedly grew from his upbringing. Much of his work, like "Olivier Twist" or "Nicholas Nickleby" for example, reflected his interest in and understanding of the cultural injustices of his time, although he tried to keep his own past experiences hidden. His father went to debtors' prison and as a child Dickens had to work as a laborer at a blacking factory—a time that had a huge impact on his writing and overall outlook on life. In an unfinished autobiography, he wrote, "I do not write resentfully or angrily: for I know all these things have worked together to make me what I am: but I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back."

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The ultimate Dickens compendium covering his career as a prolific writer and budding actor, "Charles Dickens" offers a fresh perspective on the complexity of his character. The book is brimming with illustrations and photographs that reveal the essence of his life during the Victorian Era, allowing for a full grasp of the events that inspired much of his literary works.

"Charles Dickens" sells online from Amazon and Carlton Books.

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