Charles Dickens: My Life, Edited by Derwin Hope: Book Review

When Charles Dickens died prematurely on 9 June 1870, aged only 58, he left behind a legacy unsurpassed in English fictional literature. Charles Dickens: My Life, edited by Derwin Hope, brings us his story in a compelling first-person narrative.

The plot:

150 years on from his death, I have found that sufficient material has now been uncovered to enable the narrative of his life story to be produced for the first time. Research amongst 15,000 of his letters, journalistic articles, documents and other relevant material connected to him have all combined to make it possible for me to piece together that evidence and guided by the way he wrote his two travel books, has resulted in the production of this personal story in his own words that he so desired to tell.

It shows exactly how, from difficult beginnings, he descended into acute humiliation and abject poverty, before then emerging due to his talent and incredible resolve, into a famous author.

It chronicles his enormous public triumphs and his profound private turmoils, as well as the secret life he led when, on his own admission, he became “seized with lunacy”. It includes his two momentous visits to America, and his withering and radical opinions of institutions and situations he found here and at home – all expressed in his own inimitable style.

I felt inspired to read more, and not just the classics

I feel like this book held nothing back – you really do get a detailed account of everything mentioned in the blurb. There were a couple of things which I didn’t like, so this sits at a comfortable 3/5 stars.

This book is very lengthy, and it feels it when you are reading. It’s one that I’d suggest you pick up and read every now and again – it’s not the sort of thing you can read quickly and is much more suited taken in slowly.

It was difficult at times to imagine this as how Dicken’s would have wanted it written. The first 200-odd pages I was doubtful, but then suddenly switched (I can’t tell you at what point) and started envisioning him writing this himself. There were lots of dates and locations mentioned, which in my head I knew came from Derwin’s research.

As you’d expect, there’s much more about his later life. The latter half of the book follows his health and readings and can be dull at times. There were several paragraphs where it was noted he went to xyz on xyz date, and, although this is incredible (especially considering the amount of people visiting), I couldn’t help but think these acted as fillers, where fillers weren’t necessarily needed.

I think I would have appreciated editor’s notes at the end of each chapter, perhaps analysing what has been written and providing that factual element which gets blurred when you are reading.

I’m not a master in Dickens but have read some books; if you’re interested in his work, I’d recommend reading this. The ending, with Darwin’s editors’ note made the whole book come together, and I felt inspired to read more, and not just the classics.

I didn’t know how much Dickens had done, in terms of starting his own journal, and the copious amount of readings and support he gave. I thoroughly enjoyed real excerpts when inserted, which also added more weight to the first-person narrative.

Derwin does well to show the sympathy which Dickens had with the poor and oppressed. This book is eye-opening to the great work he did, not only with literature but also with his political stance and certain friendships.

There are lots of famous names and he was much more well-travelled than I’d predicted.

I’ve learnt much more about Dickens than I expected and Darwin has done a great job in piecing this together in a flowing way, taking on his likeness. I just wish it were shorter – 519 pages and larger than your standard paperback size, it does take a long time to get through and it regularly dragged for me. If it were around 400 pages, or perhaps the full book read over a month, I would have appreciated it more.

Charles Dickens: My Life, Edited by Derwin Hope, RRP £20 (hardback); Book Depository 

Pages: 519

Publisher: Clink Street Publishing

Genre: Non-Fiction/ Memoir

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