Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin forgets you were never meant to read a book by Dickens in one go

Dombey and Son is the only novel of Charles Dickens that I have read all the way through.

Today is meant to be the 200th anniversary of the birth of British author Charles Dickens. Y’know, that guy who inspired one of the most overrated musicals of the 20th Century. Anyway, when I heard that Claire Tomalin had said that the children of today lack the attention span necessary to read the novel versions of Dickens’s vast back catalogue… I almost spat out the Cheerios I was eating at the time.

Thankfully, I managed to avoid plastering the living room in breakfast cereal. Tomalin, a biographer of Dickens claimed that:

“Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”

She is supposedly a Dickens biographer, yet seems to have forgotten the context in which the stories of Dickens were originally published. And guess what: it wasn’t as novels.

Dombey and Son, which I read as part of my BA, is a great example of how a lot of his work was originally published. Dombey and Son was originally serialised and – according to the wiki on this novel – it was serialised over the course of nineteen monthly installments. Each one containing several chapters.

While not all of his novels were as long as Dombey and Son, I think it unfair that Tomalin made such a sweeping statement. Unfair because even the novel’s original audience was not reading the entire story over the course of a few weeks and this was the case for a lot of what became to be seen as his novels.

And while on the subject of Dickens, I just want to say that I am fed up with how much the British press and media have been romanticising him in this anniversary year. He was one of the first writers in history who was able to ensure he was paid a fair rate for his work and was not forced to do loads of it for free. If anything, the press and the media should be hanging their heads in shame, because they seem unwilling to pay fairly for the efforts of writers today.

So bah, bloody humbug.


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