The writer who adored the theatre, by the actor who adores the writer
Simon Callow has written a wonderful biography of Dickens, with a specific focus on Dickens adoration of theatre, and the links between the passionate, flamboyant theatrical heart in his writing, and the man who virtually killed himself by addiction to giving all of that passionate heart to audiences, in the punishing Reading tours he gave, both in this country and in America.
I loved an earlier book by Callow, My Life in Pieces, a collection of his published writings from newspaper columns, and remember particularly being struck by the way he wrote about Dickens, who he has clearly adored for ever. There is a pretty good fit between this larger than life, generously natured actor, and the larger than life, generously natured, and adored, writer, social campaigner and performer of Victorian England. I knew a little about Dickens the man (mainly, the details of his early life and the difficulties later in his marriage and his hidden liaison with Ellen Ternan), but the prodigious nature of his energy, and the extraordinarily wide scale of his talent – not just as novelist, but as editor, journalist, fosterer of younger writers, actor, monologuist/performer, director, producer, republican, radical, social campaigner and philanthropist in his life, not only his art, – has been revelatory. Dickens was adored by his public, transcending class, and was clearly a man who lived many lives in one, burning away with prodigious energy which must have been exhausting to keep up with. Emotionally highly volatile, he had close and loyal friendships with both men and women, although as someone with a keen business sense he also had some rather violent breakings of loyal friendships with his various publishers.
I was particularly interested in something slightly throwaway which Callow suggested, fairly early on, wondering, if Dickens had lived today, whether the particularly febrile quality of his energy, drive, imagination and passion, which lurked alongside deep despair, might not have led to the suspicion of mild bipolar disorder.
This is an excellently researched and written book, but it is Callow’s warmth,
appreciation and passion for Dickens which takes it out of the academic and ensures Dickens get placed not just in Callow’s heart, but this reader’s. And the life of the man, in Callow’s book, definitely illuminates that man’s art.
I received this initially as an ARC from Amazon Vine UK, and once again was grateful to fellow blogger and Amazon Viner FictionFan for alerting me to this book in the first place. Here’s the link to her review.