Saturday, June 9, 2012

Charles Dickens: Dickens’ Bicentenary 1812 – 2012

[conclusion in English is in the bottom of this post]

Dalam rangka perayaan 200 tahun kelahiran Charles Dickens 7 Februari tahun ini, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley—seorang keturunan Dickens—bekerja sama dengan Charles Dickens Museum, London, menerbitkan sebuah biografi sang penulis besar Inggris ini. Jika sebelumnya telah banyak biografi Dickens yang telah diterbitkan, apa yang membuat biografi yang satu ini berbeda? Tak lain dan tak bukan adalah ciri khasnya yang menjadikannya layak (atau ‘wajib’) dimiliki para Dickensian (penggemar dan pecinta Dickens) di seluruh dunia. Biografi ini bukan hanya mengisahkan kehidupan sang penulis, namun juga karya-karyanya, bagaimana mereka ditulis, dan apa yang melatarbelakangi tema mereka, juga bagaimana kondisi psikologis Dickens saat itu memberikan pengaruh pada novel yang ditulisnya.

Namun yang paling menarik, mungkin, adalah koleksi imitasi relik-relik yang berhubungan dengan kehidupan Dickens dan karya-karyanya yang disisipkan dalam buku ini. Aku sudah pernah memamerkan’ isi buku ini sebelumnya, dan kurasa relik-relik itulah yang membuatku bertekad memiliki (dan membaca) buku ini.

Biografinya sendiri diawali dengan kelahiran Dickens serta sedikit latar belakang kedua orang tuanya, John dan Elizabeth Dickens, dalam chapter Early Years. Kemudian sedikit demi sedikit alurnya maju ke masa kecil Dickens yang pahit saat bekerja sebagai child laborer di blacking factory, cinta pertama Dickens, perkawinannya, dan seterusnya hingga ke saat kematian Dickens. Selain itu, buku ini juga mencantumkan kisah singkat ke-sepuluh anak-anak Dickens. Dan di sela-sela kronologis kehidupan Dickens itu, terselip kisah tentang novel-novel Dickens sesuai dengan waktu penulisannya. Dengan demikian kita jadi mengetahui pada tahap mana dari kehidupan Dickens sebuah novel ditulis, sehingga kita akan memahami latar belakang penulisan dan temanya. Bagian tentang novel-novel ini mengungkap banyak hal menarik yang akan membantu kita memahami kisah dalam novel-novel itu. Maka, biografi ini perlu dibaca untuk melengkapi pemahaman anda akan novel-novel Dickens, apa yang ingin dikatakan Dickens di dalamnya.

Bagian yang paling menarik bagiku, selain tentang karyanya, adalah tentang Ellen Ternan—kekasih Dickens selama 13 tahun terakhir kehidupannya, dan pengalaman Dickens dalam kecelakaan kereta api yang mengubah lima tahun terakhir hidupnya. Dari cerita tentang perceraiannya dengan istrinya Catherine, membuatku mengenal sisi lain kepribadian Dickens yang negatif. Memiliki affair dengan wanita lain mungkin tak mengherankan bagi sosok se-populer Dickens, namun sikapnya yang mencampakkan Catherine begitu saja memang sulit untuk dimaafkan. Bagaimana pun juga, Dickens tetaplah seorang manusia yang memiliki kekurangan, dan hal ini tak menyurutkan kekagumanku pada kejeniusan Dickens dalam menulis, dan perhatiannya yang besar terhadap ketidakadilan di dunia yang ia tuangkan dalam tulisan-tulisannya.


This is not an ordinary biography. Like all biographies, you will find the complete story of Dickens’ life—from his early years, child laboring, first love, children, marriage, love affair, his fond of theatre, his journeys to other countries, to his final years and at last..his death. But besides that, this book also contains facsimile items from Dickens personal clippings, from his handwriting in manuscripts, his marriage certificate, his photographs, to the newspapers which Dickens edited. These items are attached within the pages, and would certainly become valuable collectible items for all Dickensians. Through these items, I feel very close to Dickens himself, as if I was visiting him in his writing room, where he’d showed me his clipping. Looking at the facsimile item of Oliver Twist reading material, for instance, I feel like Dickens was showing me how to read it, adding scribble notes in the margin to emphasize certain parts, and then asked me to read it loud for him (which I actually did! J).

This book is written in a chronological style, including the writing process of his novels. From this part, I get to learn how much Dickens’ personal life affected his writings. As I planned to read all Dickens novels, this book provides me a study of theme and background of each novel, which gives me a better understanding for my readings. I found several interesting facts about his novels, for instance, the ending alteration of Great Expectations. How many of you know, that the first edition of Great Expectation had a different ending than what we read now? It was Dickens’ fellow novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton who had persuaded Dickens to change it to be more acceptable to the readers.

Other interesting fact I find in this book is about Dickens’ love life. Dickens ended his marriage with Catherine soon after he fell in love with Ellen Ternan—who become Dickens’ lover in his last thirteen years of life. One of Dickens’ negative personal characters is, perhaps, his selfish idea about women’s youthfulness. One of the reasons Dickens dump his wife was because Catherine become fat and lazy after giving birth to ten children. The same feeling Dickens had for his first lover, Maria Beadnell. After finding out that Maria wasn’t as pretty and slim-waisted as he remembered from her youth, Dickens dumped her. No wonder, that Dickens’ female main characters in most of his books are always young, tender, and beautiful. More about his separation with Catherine, I don’t agree with his abandoning Catherine after their separation. He didn’t even consult Catherine when their boys were planned to study abroad. I think it’s rather funny, that Dickens had big concerns on child and women injustice, but he just dumped his own wife who—as a woman—didn’t have any power to fight at that time.

Anyway, I realized that Dickens is only a human—an eccentric one perhaps—however his writings and legacies keep inspiring us today and many years ahead. There are still many other interesting aspects of Dickens, including his journey to America, France and Italy, as well as his connection to many famous artists and writers (do you know that Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot and William Makepeace Thackeray had appeared as debutants in Dickens’ magazine: ‘All The Year Round’?). All I can say is, that this book would be a perfect companion for your Dickens reading.

To close this review, I will quote an article of Charles Eliot Norton, an American academic and writer, about Dickens (published on 1868):

No one thinks first of Mr. Dickens as a writer. He is at once, through his books, a friend. He belongs among the intimates of every pleasant-tempered and large-hearted person. He is not so much the guest as the intimate of our houses. He…helps us to celebrate Christmas with heartier cheer, he shares at every New Year in our good wishes: for, indeed, it is not in his purely literary character that he has done most for us, it is as a man of the largest humanity, who has simply used literature as the means by which to bring himself into relations with his fellow men.

This review is published for memorizing the death of Charles Dickens, 142 years ago, on 9th of June 1870.


  1. I so want this book! I borrowed a little mini-biography on Dickens from the library recently, but it's nothing like this. I love that you can hold reprints of the manuscripts and letters he wrote!

    1. You must own this one, Jillian! The price is $25, yet its value is much-much more than it..

  2. You know, I've never even considered reading a Dickens biography, but I'm not sure why. This seems like a great idea! Maybe, after I get through the last few that I want to read (The Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend) and after reading Dan Simmons's Drood... I'll search out a good biography. Maybe this one. :)

    1. I just knew about Dan Simmons' Drood from your comment! I own a copy of Dickens' Drood and plan to read it soon. Reading this biography after you read Dickens books might be good too, so you can compare your thoughts and what Dickens meant to say in his book.

  3. This sounds lovely! The extras sound very interesting. I have to have this book! Thank you for the heads up.


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