The Dickens Dictionary’ by John Sutherland is an interesting book which provides a great insight into Dickens works, the Victorian age, and Dickens himself. John Sutherland is a literary scholar and clearly a Dickens lover. The book is arranged like a dictionary or encyclopaedia, with about 90 different topics, which are arranged alphabetically.
Each of the subjects covers about a page and a half and many are accompanied by a photograph, engraving or sketch. There are topics such as Blue Death, Boz, Catholicism, Christmas, Gruel, Micawberomics, Murder, Perambulation, Pubs, Ravens, Smells, and three segments on the Thames subdivided as: 1. Death and Rebirth, 2. Pauper’s Graveyard, 3. Corruption.
The author explains some of the background to Dickens life and how he wove this into his writing. As a 12 year old child, Charles Dickens was put to work in a boot-blacking factory while his father and family were in debtors’ prison; this was a profoundly harsh period and Dickens only ever confided the details to his biographer, but he draws on this experience in references in his writing.
We also find out that in his childhood Dickens family was constantly on the move; in later life Dickens himself moved his place of abode constantly, and his final residence was the only house he ever owned - despite being very well remunerated during his lifetime.
The author gives a lot of detail about Dickens works - he puts these in the context of the times, and Dickens own views and experiences. We find out that Dickens popularity benefited greatly from the expansion of the railway and the steam engine. The railway allowed his works to be distributed widely and quickly.
His writings were issued in serial form, and could be purchased at the station and read on the journey. And one could purchase a publication when boarding the train, and return it again on reaching the destination, for a partial refund or as a part payment for the next instalment. Dickens was involved in a major rail accident in later life and was fortunate to be one of the few survivors.
If you have read some of Dickens works, or if you are interested in the history of the Victorian age, you will find this a real treasure trove. It is easy to pick up and delve into; you can read one page or many. The illustrations are equally fascinating. It is well worth a look.
Author: John Sutherland
Publisher: Icon Books