Clare Tomalin's timely biography focuses on how the man who wrote both heroes and villains so well found elements of both in himself.
In the last chapter of her biography, Claire Tomalin speaks of one of Dickens’ earliest biographers: his daughter, Katey (Kate Perugini). “Katey spoke out,” Tomalin tells us, “as no one had done before, mixing love and anger, but clear in what she said.” Tomalin speaks in voices of both love and anger, but for the most part, succeeds in narrating a clear-eyed view of a man whose great fault was that almost no one in the real world could captivate him the way a creature of his own imagination could. Most of the real people to whom he did show consistent attention and affection were either unattainable in some way, or themselves set him up on such a pedestal that it was impossible for him to turn away such adoration.
This explains his neglect and eventual dismissal of his wife, Catherine, with whom he had ten children, who was rarely documented to have spoken a bad word about him, and of whom Katey Dickens said, “My poor mother was afraid of my father. She was never allowed to express an opinion—never allowed to say what she felt.” In Tomalin’s biography, Catherine appears as a model housekeeper and loving spouse, content to serve as a prop to Dickens for years while he set first one and then another of her sisters on pedestals far above her (he wanted to be buried next to one of her sisters, and the other was his housekeeper even after he divorced Catherine).