Bah! Humbug! Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow

Dickens the Performer…

I’m cheating today by reissuing one of the first reviews I posted on the blog, secure in the knowledge that almost no-one saw it! I couldn’t let my little Dickens mini-series pass without mentioning Simon Callow’s wonderfully readable biography of The Great Man. If you’re looking for an in-depth, academic tome, this is not it – but if you fancy a human and very affectionate account of Dickens’ life, then look no further; and…



Exuberant and boisterous…




Charles Dickens Theatre CallowCallow has written a superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Callow doesn’t shirk from telling us about the less flattering aspects of Dickens’ life – his appalling treatment of his wife, for instance, and the occasional bullying of his poor publishers. But he also reminds us of the social campaigning and the generosity to family, friends and colleagues. The account is a linear one, so we find out what Dickens was involved in at the time of writing each of his novels and get a feel for the inspiration for each one.

Callow concentrates in considerable depth on Dickens the showman – the many theatrical performances he wrote for, played in and directed in his early life; and then the tremendous and punishing public readings of his own works which came to dominate so much of his later years. Here was an author who gave generously to his adoring public and who thrived on the adulation he was shown in return.

Charles Dickens' The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain at the Adelphi, in the Illustrated London News, 30 December 1848
Charles Dickens’ The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain at the Adelphi, in the Illustrated London News, 30 December 1848

I’ve been in love with Dickens the writer for most of my life and now having read this fabulous biography I have fallen in love with Dickens the man! If I tell you that I cried when Dickens died (not an altogether unexpected plot development) then it will give you some idea of how much of the humanity of the man Callow has managed to reveal. I have been left wanting to re-read so many of the novels and stories, not to mention the letters – thank goodness for my copy of The Complete Works.

An exuberant and boisterous biography – a fitting tribute to this exuberant and remarkable man. Highly, highly recommended.

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18 thoughts on “Bah! Humbug! Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow

  1. Sniffles sadly – you mean I am almost no-one (bawls in outrage) Not only did I see that review but iI even gave an outing to my newly acquired (taught by you!) pingback skills but pinging you (as the person who originally told me that the book was available) when i reviewed it myself

    Oh dearie dearie, what an incestuous little bunch us bookie bloggers are, passing round literary nuggets as we do)

    PS Is your site being watched over by a person with a very bad case of dandruff? Ignore me, I’m only jealous – and wet, as something cold and white keeps landing on my head. Am going to wear a rainhat and put up a brolly before i come this way again.


    • It did occur to me that poor LF would be getting the pleasure and thrill of reading this review for maybe the fourth time! Sorry! 😉

      It’s very cool, isn’t it? You could put up your review for Yaktrax and have the snow fall over it – bound to boost sales…


  2. FictionFan – Nothing wrong at all with an excellent post like this being re-issued. Publishers do that with great classic novels too. Thanks for the reminder of Callow’s work. 🙂


  3. The professor didn’t know he could be mean! Twain was always nice to his wife, you know… (But I do understand the bullying of publishers from experience…)

    So, is Dickens competing with Darby?


  4. Simon Callow can do no wrong where I am concerned. Have you seen him on stage with his Dickens programme? If not, and you ever get the chance, then do please take it.


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