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Tony Grist

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Dickens, Young And Old [Nov. 23rd, 2018|09:29 am]
Tony Grist
A long lost portrait of Charles Dickens has recently turned up (in a tray of oddments in a South African auction). It shows him at 31, looking young for his age, with a round, girlish face, long, lustrous locks (locks being entirely the right word), a cupid's bow of a mouth and big, liquid eyes. A mere 27 years later he died wearing a very different face- the one we're familiar with- haggard, pouchy, lined, with silly swept forward wings of hair and a sparse, raggedy beard. The contrast is shocking. What came in between to turn the Caravaggio youth into such an old, old man- old beyond his years? Well, David Copperfield did, and Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Other novelists have written voluminously, but none have written so much to such a high standard. Balzac was prodigious- and also ran himself into the ground- but much of what he produced was just writing. Ditto Trollope. Tolstoy produced two classic novels, Austen five, Proust just the one. By contrast Dickens's score of indispensable masterpieces stands at something like fifteen and a half; for each of them he created a new world, and a new cast of characters. Creativity sustained at that level for such a stretch has got to wear a person down. As Yeats put it, "Whatever flames upon the night/Man's own resinous heart has fed."

[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2018-11-23 02:58 pm (UTC)
I would also suggest that a huge brood of children, a mistress and surviving a train crash might have taken its toll even more than the writing.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-11-23 04:21 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. I'm inclined to think his private life wasn't so very far from the norm for a wealthy, middle-class Victorian gent. Not everyone got involved in train crashes- but large families and mistresses came with the territory. Again, he had servants. It's not as though he had to change the nappies or fix the meals like a modern Dad.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2018-11-23 03:10 pm (UTC)

Yes, he was father to a huge brood and he must have had high blood pressure problems as he died of what today we call a stroke.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-11-23 05:38 pm (UTC)
Ten legitimate children- one of whom died in infancy. There may also have been a child by Ellen Ternan.

Dickens never stopped. When he wasn't writing huge novels to a deadline, he was editing papers, acting in plays, campaigning for worthy causes or roaring about having fun. He packed an enormous amount of living into his 57 years.
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[User Picture]From: wandahalpert
2018-11-24 08:09 am (UTC)

Glimpses into the life of one of our most prolific writers delights me. So many of you know so much about Dickens and it is quite fascinating to read the editorial and the comments. I work as a writer, albeit about business, and not fiction, although some of it deserves that classification. One of the hardest things is the lack of exercise. They call it the "new smoking". That must have been as hard on Dickens, at the time, as it is on us now. I have a new resolution, get an exercise machine with a screen on the front of it, so I can keep reading, of course.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-11-24 08:47 am (UTC)
Dickens walked a lot. As a young man he suffered from insomnia and used to spend his nights walking the streets of London, looking for inspiration...
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