Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, Charles Dickens

By Hollington, Michael | Dickens Quarterly, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, Charles Dickens


Hollington, Michael, Dickens Quarterly


Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, Charles Dickens. London: Andre Deutsch, 2011. 123pp. ISBN 978-0-233-00329-0. 30.00.

Publications like this one can give rise to the impression that a skirmishing war is currently being fought between book publishers and the supposedly inexorable rise and rise of electronic readers. It s as though--rather like painters at the time of the onset of photography-publishers were determined to show, in at least part of their production, what a book can do and a Kindle can't. The handsome size, the large pages with many high quality illustrations on each and periodic bundles of free standing facsimile documents gathered in pockets, the plush cover and design and use of multiple typefaces, are all aspects of this book that could hardly be transferred to an electronic format. Nor is this assertive marking off of the book as object simply a visual question. Other senses are involved --the touch for instance of the sumptuous binding, or the feel of the paper, or even perhaps the smell of the individual documents, also figure as part of the pleasure of handling this book.

As someone who loves books as physical objects, and is lukewarm about reading texts on screens, I ought to welcome this book unreservedly--yet, as will be seen, I have certain reservations about the apparent predominance of appearance over substance. To start with unqualified praise: the illustrations, especially the photographs, are magnificent. Expertly chosen by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley from a wide variety of sources, these are as one might expect especially strong in the department of the family portrait gallery. Though I have seen it before, I have never felt as haunted as here by the image of Dickens's youngest son Horn with great bags under his eyes at the age of 16, wielding a gun prior to his departure for Australia (35), an unforgettable picture of misery and desolation at the impending separation from his mother. I had never ever in fact seen the accompanying portrait of Dickens's eldest, Charles Culliford Boz (31), but again the high-quality reproduction of a puffy man with whiskers and bags under his eyes gives an indelible impression of the "marks of weakness, marks of woe" he bore.

Likewise the text itself offers many moments of insight both into the life and into the writing. As someone with an interest in "Dickens in Motion" (the title of a forthcoming volume edited by Christine Huguet and Paul Vita), I was intrigued by the suggestion it was an "epic journey from London to Edinburgh" by stagecoach as a Parliamentary reporter in 1834 that "engendered in him a love of travelling that would endure until the end of his life," and remembered how, at the very end of it, Dickens is said to have risen from the table at Gad's Hill to announce his departure for London before collapsing (12). On the same page, Hawksley quotes from a contemporary review of Dickens's very first story praising his "infinite skill in giving importance to the commonplace scenes of everyday occurrence," and remarks, very pertinently, that "this skill, recognised so early on, would continue to define Dickens's work."

Yet I would question the decision--Hawksley's or the publishers? …

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