What was it like to be Charles Dickens? His letters are the nearest we can get to a Dickens autobiography: vivid close-up snapshots of a life lived at maximum intensity.
This is the first selection to be made from the magisterial twelve-volume British Academy Pilgrim Edition of his letters. From over fourteen thousand, four hundred and fifty have been cherry-picked to give readers the best essence of 'the Sparkler of Albion'. Dickens was a man with ten times the energy of ordinary mortals. There seem to have been twice the number of hours in his day, and he threw himself into letter-writing as he did into everything else. This eagerly awaited selection takes us straight to the heart of his life, to show us Dickens at first hand. Here he is writing out of the heat of the moment: as a novelist, journalist, and magazine editor; as a social campaigner and traveller in Europe and America, and as friend, lover, husband, and father. Reading and writing letters punctuated the rhythms of Dickens's day. 'I walk about brimful of letters', he told a friend. He claimed to write 'at the least, a dozen a day'.
Sometimes it was a chore but more often a pleasure: an outlet for high spirits, sparkling wit, and caustic commentary - always as seen through his highly individual and acutely observing eye. Whether you dip in or read straight through, this selection of his letters creates afresh the brilliance of being Dickens, and the sheer pleasure of being in his company.
Glorious. This is a book for which readers have been waiting for a very long time. It takes you directly, in Dickens's own words, and with incomparable vividness, into his extraordinary life and mind. The notes and editorial matter deftly paint in the background to provide a detailed and constantly astonishing portrait of one of the most interesting men who ever lived. Simon Callow Among the dozens of Dickens publications connected with the bicentenary of the author's birth ... it is hard to imagine one more necessary than this Times Literary Supplement glorious letters reflecting every facet of Dickens's life; should not be missed Sunday Times This is Dickens by Dickens. Whatever comes out in this bicentenary year, do not miss it. The Sunday Times (Hartley's) selection is a miracle of compression and editorial tact New Statesman Dickens lovers will all be grateful to Hartley for her skill and judgement. Literary Review Edited with unobtrusive intelligence and insight by Jenny Hartley The Independent a marvellous volume The Scotsman It's a thrilling, surprisingly fresh book. The Evening Standard An absolute gem ... reads better than any actual novel Dickens ever wrote ... Hartley would please a great many readers by producing a second volume from the same dragon-hoard ... A typically classy Oxford affair Open Letters This is the book we have all been waiting for ... Every reader has his or her favourite aspect of Dickens, and may miss a particular letter or letters - I am no exception. But I do not think anyone could have made a more balanced selection from the embrarrassment of riches in his letters, or justified her choices more persuasively. We are all in Professor Hartley's debt for her magnificent edition. Dickens Quarterly The 450 [letters] included in The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Jenny Hartley, are more revealing and more intimate than any biography. Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
Note on the Text
A Chronology of Charles Dickens
Abbreviations and Symbols