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Literary Festival 2012: Charles Dickens: the best of men, the worst of men


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Speaker(s): John Carey, Claire Tomalin
Chair: Maggie Fergusson

Recorded on 2 March 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens, published to mark the bicentenary of his birth this spring, has been acclaimed by critics. It is, as A.N. Wilson wrote in the New Statesman, ‘a book that goes to the heart of the mystery of Dickens as a writer’, and it conjures up a man with as many different selves as a Russian doll. ‘The inimitable’, as Dickens called himself, was a performer or rock-star charisma, who mesmerised audiences of thousands before the invention of the microphone; a social reformer way ahead of his time; a sentimental lover; a cruel husband. He could be vivacious, charming and selfless, but also imperious, vindictive and egotistical. Claire Tomalin discusses his life and work with literary critic and cultural commentator John Carey.

John Carey is Emeritus Merton Professor of English at Oxford University, a distinguished critic, reviewer and broadcaster, and the author of many books, including studies of Donne, Dickens and Thackeray. His celebrated polemic What Good are the Arts? provoked much debate and discussion in 2005. He has been a regular critic on BBC2's Newsnight Review, and is also the editor of the best-selling anthologies The Faber Book of Reportage, The Faber Book of Science and The Faber Book of Utopias.

Biographer Claire Tomalin was born in London in 1933. After graduating from Newnham College, Cambridge, she worked in publishing for Heinemann, Hutchinson and Cape before switching to journalism, becoming literary editor of both the New Statesman magazine and the Sunday Times newspaper. She is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Wordsworth Trust, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Vice-President of English PEN. She is the award-winning author of many books, including The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man.

This event is organised in association with the Royal Society of Literature.

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