My review of Becoming Dickens by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst ran today in the Boston Globe.
Douglas-Fairhurst does an excellent job portraying the world young Charles Dickens grew up in, showing how the “novel” aspects of the Victorian era enabled the artistic and commercial viability of the literary novel, and thus provided an outlet for Dickens’s genius.
The economic expansion of that time created an upwardly-mobile middle class, which gave poor kids like Dickens an opportunity to raise his station in life. Art was no longer the province of the wealthy or those lucky enough to secure patrons. The new, middle-class jobs of the Victorian economy provided a respite from energy-sapping, working-class vocations like factory work; as a clerk, Dickens had free time to pursue his hobbies, a comfortable, adequate salary, and connections to people who could aid or facilitate his career as a writer.
Becoming Dickens shows that talent is not enough to achieve success. A stroke of bad luck like, say, having been born into a world with a shrinking economy where the divide between rich and poor is widening, could have destroyed any hope of young Dickens being able to put his talent to use.