Format Hardcover
Publication Date 11/07/23
ISBN 9781639365333
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 400

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The Life and Lies of Charles Dickens

Helena Kelly

A radical reassessment of the famed Victorian author, revealing the true story behind the creator of some of literature's best-known novels.

This dynamic new study of Charles Dickens will make readers re-examine his life and work in a completely different light. First, partly due to the massive digitalization of papers and letters in recent years, Helena Kelly has unearthed new material about Dickens that simply wasn't available to his earlier biographers. Second, in an astonishing piece of archival detective work, she has traced and then joined the dots on revelatory new details about his mental and physical health that, as the reader will discover, had a strong bearing on both his writing and his life and eventual death.

Together these have allowed her to come up with a striking hypothesis that the version of his life that Dickens chose to share with his public—both during his lifetime and from beyond the grave in the authorized biography published shortly after his death—was an elaborate exercise in reputation management. Many of the supposed formative events in his life—such as the twelve-year-old Dickens going to work in a blacking factory—may not have been quite as honestly-related as we have been led to believe.

And, in many respects, who can blame him? Dickens's celebrity was on a scale almost unimaginable to any author writing today, with the possible exception of J. K. Rowling, and, like many people who become suddenly famous, he soon realized what a mixed blessing it was.

Helena Kelly’s previous book, Jane Austen, the Secret Radical (Knopf) garnered exceptional review attention. She was brought up in Dickens’s beloved marsh country of north Kent, and she holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, where she has taught classics and English Literature. Helena lives in Oxford with her husband and son.

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Endorsements & Reviews

Praise for Jane Austen, the Secret Radical:

"Bracing. Plausible and vivid." The Atlantic
"A thoroughly engaging read.” - The Times Literary Supplement

"An important revisionary work. Helena Kelly provokes." The New York Times
"Kelly argues passionately and engagingly. Her critical method is . . . generating meaning from the smallest details of the novels." The Washington Post
"Do we read Jane Austen’s novels as she intended? In this riveting literary-biographical study, the answer is a resounding no. An interpretive coup that is dazzling and dizzying . . . You won’t read Austen the same way again." The New Yorker
"Jane Austen, The Secret Radical is wonderful; a revelation. It’s difficult to stand out from the crowd when writing about such an influential figure, but Helena Kelly has certainly achieved that with this smart, knowing, perceptive book.” Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
"A fresh take on the life and work of the beloved writer Jane Austen. Reveals the subversive rebel soul behind such towering classics as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park." Elle
"Helena Kelly makes the case for Austen as an author steeped in the fear of war and revolution. Meticulously researched. Kelly shows us that the novels were about nothing more or less than the burning political questions of the day. A sublime piece of literary detective work that shows us once and for all how to be precisely the sort of reader that Austen deserves.” The Guardian (London)
"Essential. What this radical re-reading of the novels does so brilliantly is to exhort us all to chuck out the chintz, and the teacups, and all the traditional romantic notions about Austen’s work that have been fed to us for so long." The Bookseller (London)
"Amply shows her deep research. She exposes a depth beyond what at first may seem to be silly characters. A fine-grained study that shows us how to read between the lines to discover the remarkable woman who helped transform the novel from trash to an absolute art form." - Kirkus Reviews

"Ambitious. Illuminating, provocative. Kelly offers a salutary argument for reading Austen’s novels with the serious attentiveness they invite and deserve." The Spectator