Cover: Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, from Harvard University PressCover: Becoming Dickens in HARDCOVER

Becoming Dickens

The Invention of a Novelist

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Product Details


$29.95 • £20.00 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674050037

Publication: October 2011


400 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

28 halftones

Belknap Press


Becoming Dickens tells the story of how an ambitious young Londoner became England’s greatest novelist. In following the twists and turns of Charles Dickens’s early career, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst examines a remarkable double transformation: in reinventing himself Dickens reinvented the form of the novel. It was a high-stakes gamble, and Dickens never forgot how differently things could have turned out. Like the hero of Dombey and Son, he remained haunted by “what might have been, and what was not.”

In his own lifetime, Dickens was without rivals. He styled himself simply “The Inimitable.” But he was not always confident about his standing in the world. From his traumatized childhood to the suicide of his first collaborator and the sudden death of the woman who had a good claim to being the love of his life, Dickens faced powerful obstacles. Before settling on the profession of novelist, he tried his hand at the law and journalism, considered a career in acting, and even contemplated emigrating to the West Indies. Yet with The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and a groundbreaking series of plays, sketches, and articles, he succeeded in turning every potential breakdown into a breakthrough.

Douglas-Fairhurst’s provocative new biography, focused on the 1830s, portrays a restless and uncertain Dickens who could not decide on the career path he should take and would never feel secure in his considerable achievements.

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ISBN 9780674072237



  • An Elle Decoration [UK] “Best of Dickens” Selection, 2014
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2012
  • An Irish Times Book of the Year, 2011
  • A Library Journal Best Book of 2011
  • A New Statesman Book of the Year, 2011
  • A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, 2011
  • A Sunday Times Best Book of 2011
  • A Telegraph Best Book of 2011
  • A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2011
  • A Wall Street Journal Book of the Year, 2011
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