Review: 'Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World' by Simon Callow

'Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World' is the second Dickens biography that I've read properly in this year of Dickens' bicentenary (the first being Claire Tomalin's), and I think the two biographies work very well together, in a strangely coincidentally complimentary manner. 

Simon Callow's biography is much shorter, at 370 pages including notes and an index, and speeds along at quite a fast clip, passing through the events of his childhood quite quickly and onto his adult life. All the facts stand up and it's clearly very well-researched, but the point at which this biography really comes alive is when Dickens enters the theatre. It is as this point that Simon Callow has his most to say, and the most new information to impart, as, being an actor, this is clearly the aspect of Dickens' life that interests him the most.  

His love affair with Dickens, as a writer, actor and celebrity himself, is evidently long-standing, passionate (albeit, sadly, one-sided) and very idiosyncratic, which means he's not afraid to get into the nooks and crannies of Dickens' life. Callow seems to regard him as a kind of rascally, good-time forebearer, and so revels in stories of his liking for punch and parties, and his moods and caprices on the stage. The way he talks about Dickens is almost like a slightly jealous younger brother, who'd love to emulate him one day or think that they could be friends, which contrasts well with Claire Tomalin's stance as the wiser older sister, tutting slightly and waiting for Dickens to return to the straight and narrow once more. Where Tomalin politely condemns, Callow says yes, a flawed man, but look at all he did! There's definitely space for them both on the same bookcase, although this is definitely the one to give to lighter readers and passing fans, as opposed to Tomalin's scholars and stalwarts.
I actually did an event with Simon Callow around Dickens' bicentenary back in February, so my copy of this book is beautifully signed (and he even spelt my name right!). A nice book to read if you're interested in learning more about Dickens, and in particular, his theatrical side.

Title: Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World
Author: Simon Callow
Publisher: Harper Press, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2012
Format: Hardcover, 370 pages, and I was sent it by Harper Press.

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