Charles Dickens – enough already?
By MICHAEL CAINES
In this week's TLS (and online, too), Dinah Birch's review of two new books about Charles Dickens begins with a warning for the coming year: Dickens mania is about to be unleashed; Claire Tomalin's full biography and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's account of Dickens's early years are just the literary tip of a cultural iceberg. There will be "exhibitions, debates, documentaries, theatrical performances, public readings, and television and radio programmes. Films will include a major new Great Expectations. In Houston, there is to be a half-marathon especially for Dickens enthusiasts. No one with a taste for history, books, public events, or dressing up need feel left out".
If you know anybody who intends to honour Dickens's bicentenary by running around Texas, let us know.
For armchair Dickensians (possibly a more numerous breed), meanwhile, there is already a great swell of publication to see in the Year of Dickens. For example:
Aiming for the Dickensian coffee table, an enterprising New York publisher, Sterling Signature, has printed an abridgement of John Forster's Life of his friend – which was already an unusual book before they "added images throughout to complement the text" because Forster is sometimes said to be the inspiration for the pompous Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend. "Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap's opinion." Despite this unflattering portrait and other differences of opinion, as the editor of this illustrated edition notes, "the strength of the underlying relationship persisted" until the end.
Michael Allen's book Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory, in fact, opens with a reminder that the voices of Forster and Dickens merge in the Life's account of Dickens's infamous childhood sufferings: "if Dickens chose to omit particular events or people from his narrative, or to adjust their impact and influence, then we are entirely in his hands – there has been nobody to challenge him".
Cambridge University Press have produced a facsimile of the manuscript of Great Expectations (which the author had presented to another friend, Chauncy Hare Townshend). Worth Press have published Charles Dickens: A celebration of his life and work by Charles Mosley (which covers the characters in his novels in such detail that they require a separate index).
More pocked-sized reissues come in the form of Dickens's Life of Our Lord ("written especially for his children") and The Genius of Dickens (originally, more flatteringly titled The Intelligent Person's Guide to Dickens) by Michael Slater. Then there are two books which share a title, bar a possessive "s": Dickens's Women by Anne Isba and Dickens' Women by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser. And earlier this year, Peter Rowland incorporated his suggestions about the onomastic origins of Fagin, first published in the TLS back in January, into Dickensian Digressions: The hunter, the haunter and the haunted.
That's quite enough for now, surely. Of the books, at least.
Anyone for Thackeray?