NPJ Book Review: Dickens by Peter Ackroyd

Dickens by Peter Ackroyd, (1990) A few decades ago when I was reading the works by Charles Dickens I contemplated the diverse yet woven nature of each of his works. Then I read Ackroyd’s voluminous and magisterial biography with its 35 chapters and over 1100 pages. Actually this rather heavy work sat on my shelf and I used it as a biographical reference tool whenever I had a question about the man over the years until I finally began digging more thoroughly, sitting down and reading it. Ackroyd’s works are impressive. This might be Ackroyd’s finest biography. It’s intimate. I was caught by Dickens fear of failure as well as his very personal relationships among a myriad of other details and seemingly obsessive characteristics. I began to see the man more clearly in the characters he wrote about.

The man was brilliant as is Ackroyd’s work and mind. The characters in Dickens’ novels like the man himself betrayed the following: “…that the passing gesture, an image, or mood, can form a whole network of meaning. That the coincidence, the chance remark, the unexpected meeting, can change a human being. That the significance of a whole lifetime endeavor can be altered by a sudden confusion of events”…the incidents of Dickens existence shape his fiction just as his fiction altered his life; “the same pattern of emotion and imagery rising up from letters and novels and conversations, the same momentum and the same desire for control…” From my perspective Ackroyd’s Dickens is a singular and thoughtful biography (and reference tool) and an expression of an age, culture and author.