Kirkus Reviews QR Code
DICKENS' FUR COAT AND CHARLOTTE'S UNANSWERED LETTERS by Daniel Pool

DICKENS' FUR COAT AND CHARLOTTE'S UNANSWERED LETTERS

By Daniel Pool

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-018365-9
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Another informal, delightfully entertaining foray into the world of the Victorian novel by the author of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (1993). In 1836, when Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers to accompany comic prints, prose writing was ``a low-rent activity,'' Pool notes. Yet within ten years, Dickens was besieged by fans during a visit to America, and the novel was well on its way toward such solid respectability that George Eliot's books could be termed ``second Bibles.'' When Wilkie Collins broke through that respectability with his ``sensation novels,'' the public gleefully responded by snapping up not just his writing but Woman in White cloaks and perfume--the commercial tie-ins of the day. It is with a puckish sense of humor and a sharp ear for gossip that Pool puts a human face on his account of the progress of English publishing. In his hands, subjects such as the constraints and demands of serial writing, the power of lending libraries, and the challenges of satisfying an increasingly straitlaced public morality become plot twists with which his characters must contend. And what characters! Charlotte Brontâ innocently setting off rumors by dedicating the second edition of Jane Eyre to Thackeray, whose wife was insane. Thackeray and Dickens squabbling publicly, ostensibly over a magazine article about the author of Vanity Fair (Urged to make peace, Thackeray said, ``It is a quarrel, I wish it to be a quarrel, and it will always be a quarrel.''). Dickens haunted by memories of working in a blacking factory: ``I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children . . . and wander desolately back to that time.'' Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiastically producing a biography of her friend Charlotte Brontâ that turns out to be far more colorful than accurate. Great Books meets celebrity gossip: a rare, literate entertainment. (illustrations, not seen)