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Charles Dickens

B

Mobbed in America and a brand name in England, Dickens was, his latest biographer asserts, ”maybe the first true celebrity in the modern sense.” Smiley’s short but stout reckoning, her contribution to the Penguin Lives series, is best when it paints hmmm-didn’t-think-of-that-before broad strokes like that one. In fact, given her penchant for contextualizing the Great Expectations author in terms of what ”every novelist” does, this book is a more interesting dissection of writers in general than of Dickens specifically. By the end, Smiley pulls off an appreciation of Dickens’ job but not of his work: Her quick assessments of his novels, stingy with quotes and cursed by the Penguin Lives brevity, won’t ignite much of a run on his books.

Charles Dickens
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