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The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens

by Robert Gottlieb

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-29880-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A look into the lives of Charles Dickens’ family, particularly the children, from former New Yorker and Knopf editor Gottlieb (Lives and Letters, 2012, etc.).

Structured in a straightforward manner, this examination of Dickens’ children is a collection of 11 narratives split into two parts. In the first part, the author examines life in and around the Dickens household through Dickens’ death. Gottlieb describes Dickens’ marriage to Catherine Hogarth, the inclusion of two of her sisters in their home, the end of the marriage and the children’s stories. Each of the 10 children receives his or her own chapter, in which the author explores their lives from birth through school. In the second part, Gottlieb picks up after Dickens’ death and follows each of the children, again in their own sections, through their often-tumultuous adult lives. Ellen Ternan plays a necessary role, prompting the removal of the children from their mother, but Gottlieb gracefully avoids making Ternan or the controversy a central focus. The author consistently betrays a desire to impress upon readers how unfairly many of his subjects were treated by their father and by history, and he makes a clear effort to showcase successes and minimize failures. However, his argument is so well put together that it’s easy to agree with him about the tremendous pressure on Dickens’ family members and how they might have fared without a famous father. Each section fits into the larger story of the Dickens family, and Gottlieb’s writing is warm and engaging throughout.

A great choice for anyone who has ever wondered what life is like for the families who surround, support and are overshadowed by great historical figures.