Book Reviews : Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World and the Dickens Dictionary : Devotion Dashes Great Expectations

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Charles Dickens And The Great Theatre Of The WorldSimon CallowHarperPress, GBP16.99The Dickens DictionaryJohn SutherlandIcon, GBP9.99IN A passionate remonstration against a craft he otherwise adores, English screenwriter and author Bruce Robinson once bemoaned how the products of his imagination would often seek to deny their creator autonomy over them."I'm in the business of hearing voices, and most people who hear voices are given Largactil or locked up," he said. "The schizophrenic have no choice: they hate hearing the voices. I'm the antithesis of that: I want to hear them."For one of Robinson's literary heroes, the curious yearning for delusion was no less fervent. Charles Dickens summoned living, speaking companions. Their author once remarked that he could hear every word they uttered. "Only a lunatic could do that," responded literary critic, George Henry Lewes. "He was a seer of visions. His types established themselves in the public mind like personal experiences. Their falsity was unnoticed in their blaze of illumination."Dickens' dazzling blaze has shone light on many an actor's career in the past two centuries, not least Simon Callow's. In his new biography, he argues that the medium of most significance to the greatest storyteller Britain has ever produced was not the novel, but the stage.In comparison with the mode of writing for which he is most famous, Dickens' output for the footlights was sterile and uninspired, yet he was in thrall to its world, once claiming to have visited the theatre every day for three years. Not yet 20, he wrote to the manager of Covent Garden Theatre asking if he might tread its boards. Illness and an offer of employment as a reporter with The Mirror Of Parliament prevented Dickens from accepting his audition, but his letter hinted at what was to come.In it, he affirmed his "strong perception of character and oddity, and a natural power of reproducing in my own person what I observed in others". This, believes Callow, was Dickens' essence. His very imagination, he reasons, was theatrical both in terms of plot devices and construction of character. …