Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, a Biography by Simon Callow

Book ReviewSimon Callow’s biography of Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World
Title: Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World
Author: Simon Callow
Published: Vintage 2012

Perhaps no one alive today has done more to shine a light on Charles Dickens, the man and his works, than Simon Callow (Charles Dickens 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). Callow has achieved a most delightful and compelling biography.

Callow himself performs one-man shows of Dickens life, along with adaptations of selected novel scenes for the stage. This is appropriate because Dickens often thrilled audiences by acting out scenes from his novels when his public readings burst into dramatic performances. Callow carries on the tradition, becoming much more than a scholarly biographer, but a dramatic virtuoso who breathes new life into the 19th-century author and his creative genius.

Dickens wrote from life. The statement has become a cliché, but no one can say it more truly than Dickens. Callow does a marvelous job mapping the biographical facts with characters and scenes in the novels. Even Dickens’ famous detailed descriptions of quaint shops and other charming nooks of 19th-century London—they derived from intentional explorations of hundreds and hundreds of those shops with the express purpose of describing them later.

One of Dickens’ favorite pastimes was to walk London streets for miles and miles, hours on end, every day, sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone. He also haunted theaters and tried his hand at acting early in life. He was conversant with stage life and made use of that knowledge in his stories as well. Also notably, Dickens’ depictions of child labor came from his own consignment to forced child labor in a blacking factory.

Many of Dickens’ contemporaries recognized themselves and each other in the novels. Several of the novels’ lawyers, proctors, courts, and even specific court cases were lifted straight from the real thing. An anguished protest from one such person (Jane Seymour Hill) characterized in early chapters of David Copperfield (Miss Mowcher), moved Dickens to significantly improve her characterization in later chapters (197). He could modify characters and plot direction in-progress, because the novels first appeared as magazine installments over the course of a year or more.

Connecting the real-life elements with the stories makes Callow’s biography all the more compelling. The astounding breadth and variety of characters in Charles Dickens’ novels speaks to both the brilliant writing of the author and of the fascinating colorful culture of Victorian London.

Simon Callow provides a beautiful and thorough discovery of Dickens the exceptional human being, through his vibrant and compassionate telling of the life of the author. Callow also provides fascinating insights into Dickens’ superhuman energy, imagination and intellect. Callow’s biography gives a deep look into Dickens’ creative life, the interplay between creative output and personal circumstances, and the profound psychological battles Dickens fought throughout his life.

It’s hard to say which part of Charles Dickens’ genius was the greater: storytelling, artistic writing, descriptive detail, complex plot organization, sheer high-level imagination, mixing fantastical with real to make them indistinguishable. There is no end to the ways Dickens is remarkable. Callow highlights these qualities vividly, while keeping the main focus on the man himself, his motivations, his conscience, his physical and mental struggles, and his complicated personality. Callow brings us inside, where we really get to know Dickens on a personal level.

Simon Callow achieves his own remarkable work of genius in this biography of Charles Dickens. The work shows moving affection as well as deep understanding of its subject. Our lives are fuller because of Dickens’ novels. And we are fuller because of Simon Callow’s work of art in this biography.

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The Leopard, a Novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Book ReviewThe Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Title: The Leopard
Author: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Publisher: Pantheon Books (Paperback), New York (1960)
ISBN-13: 978-0-679-73121-4

Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard follows the life of Sicilian Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, around the time of Garibaldi, mainly 1860–1862. Garibaldi led a minor revolution which the novel portrays as a superficial non-event, except that it served to create an image of change. Don Fabrizio highlights the façade of change in the line “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” (28). Continue reading

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Autobiography of World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal

Book ReviewMikhail Tal
Title: The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal
Author: Mikhail Tal
Publisher: Everyman Chess (London)
Date: 1997, 2015

Mikhail Tal’s autobiography is in the form of an interview, Continue reading

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Patrick Brontë: Man of Sorrow

Book Review
Title: A Man of Sorrow: The Life, Letters and Times of the Rev. Patrick Brontë 1777–1861, 566 pages
Authors: John Lock and Canon W. T. Dixon
Publisher: Ian Hodgkins & Co. LTD, London (1979)
ISBN-13: 978-0906460047

Patrick Brontë

Patrick Brontë was born in Ireland in 1777 and educated at Cambridge where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1806. Later he married Mary Branwell, and had six children. Three of their children became the famous Victorian Authors Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre), Anne Brontë (Tenant of Wildfell Hall), and Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights). Continue reading

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Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister

Book Recommendation
Title: Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister
Author: R.M. Dancy, W.H. Werkmeister, et al.
Publisher: Springer; 1993

Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister

I attended this conference that is commemorated in this volume, where these essays were originally presented, at Professor Werkmeister’s “90th birthday celebration” and conference on April 5, 6, 1991, at Florida State University (I was a grad student in the FSU philosophy dept., and the director of publishing for FSU publications, at the time). Continue reading

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Wright on Wittgenstein

Book Review
Title: Wittgenstein
Author: Georg Henrik von Wright
Published: University of Minnesota Press 1982

 Ludwig Wittgenstein and G. H. von Wright

Ludwig Wittgenstein was G. H. von Wright’s professor, mentor, and friend. After Wittgenstein died in 1951, Wright became literary executor and spent thirty years collecting, compiling, editing, and publishing the works. Wittgenstein wrote a lot, but published very little during his lifetime, so the task of the literary executor was long and painstaking. Upon publishing the complete works in various editions from 1951 to 1981, Wright wrote the present book as a tribute to his friend and mentor. Continue reading

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Lenfest Dontates Newspapers to Nonprofit Journalism Institute

Journalism is near to the heart of most bloggers. I’ve worked as a reporter and as an editor at small newspapers (many years ago). I read lots of online news, in current affairs as well as professional and industry articles in my career areas. But I also still like to receive the Philadelphia Inquirer in my front yard, and read the actual paper paper. Continue reading

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Consultant versus Contractor

I recently read a LinkedIn post of an article by QA writer Johanna Rothman, “Differences Between Hiring a Contractor or Consultant.”

People commented that they didn’t get the distinction, or didn’t agree with it. Commenters either said there is no such distinction, or they objected to it as an unfair “class distinction.” This was weird to me, because nothing could be more “standard procedure” than companies using this common parlance. So now I’m writing about it too. Continue reading

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Remote Teams

I have led remote teams, been a member of remote teams, and accomplished several types of projects with remote teams. I will not bore you with another “Top 5 Tips for Remote-Team Success” or “Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid.” You can Google those and get plenty of advice that will be meaningless until you’ve worked a couple of remote team projects. In this post, I just want to talk briefly about how fun it can be. Continue reading

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The Honored Guest

With the 4th of July rolling around, here is my tribute to one of our lesser-known Founding Fathers: Thomas Paine. Like a good father, he suggested names for the new baby he was creating. In Common Sense, he used phrases like “United Colonies,” “American states,” and “Free and Independent States of America.” Finally, of course, everyone agreed on “The United States of America.” Continue reading

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The Secret Lives of Codebreakers

Book Review
Title: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers
Author: Sinclair McKay
Published: Penguin Group 2010

Recently I saw the 2014 film The Imitation Game about British Intelligence’s codebreaking of German communications during World War II. The movie was interesting enough that I went straight to Barnes & Noble and bought a book to learn more. I just finished reading The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, which was published a few years before the film came out. Continue reading

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The Education of Henry Adams

Book Review
Title: The Education of Henry Adams
Author: Henry Adams
Published: Modern Library 1931. Originally published 1918. Privately circulated 1907

Last December I wrote about Adams’ earlier work, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, which I recommended for its rich blend of philosophy, legend, architecture, personal observations, and mediæval history. The Education of Henry Adams is also rich in personal observations and history. Continue reading

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The Ides of March

March 15 is remembered as the Ides of March because of the assassination of Roman ruler Julius Caesar.

In B.C. 49 a power struggle divided the Roman Senate. Two influential leaders controlled military forces: Julius Caesar and a man by the name of Pompey. A civil war seemed inevitable. Continue reading

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Charles Dickens 203

Let us take a moment to remember Charles Dickens today, his 203rd Birthday.

When you read novels by Charles Dickens, and then read true accounts of mid-1800s London and look at photographs of the period, you’ll find his descriptions match reality very closely. Continue reading

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Poe 206

Edgar Allan Poe is not considered a top literary figure by many critics. He was considered even less during his lifetime. He was a critic himself, and his creative works did not earn him much of a living. Continue reading

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Mont Saint Michel and Chartres

Book Review
Title: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Author: Henry Adams
Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 3, 1986). Originally published 1904.

Henry Adams toured French mediæval gothic architecture, and apparently took a lot of notes, focusing on the Grande Cathedrals of Mont-Saint-Michel (built in the 1100s) and Chartres (built in the late 1100s to 1200s). The notes became the book. If that were the extent of the book, however, it could be summed with a few nice photos and captions. But there’s also 360 pages of mystery and fascination surrounding the architecture. Continue reading

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Marketing Deeper

Conventional views of marketing is that it’s shallow, purely promotional, and not deeply informative like other forms of information, such as research articles and manuals. There’s been a large gap between deeper learning versus glossy brochures. Today, good marketing is bridging that gap. Continue reading

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Content Marketing

When scientists publish articles in reputable journals, it enhances their reputation. When the scientist works for a company in the industry, it enhances the company’s reputation. That kind of knowledge leadership builds trust and indirectly generates revenue. No amount of marketing can create that kind of trust and customer loyalty, until now. That is precisely the kernel of truth upon which content marketing is built. Continue reading

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Decision Criteria

When you need to make a decision, it is often hard to filter the information overload, negative influences, and other distractions. To cut to the chase in a decision, eliminate what you don’t need from your attention. What’s left crystallizes into clear decision factors. Continue reading

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The Doublecheckers

Exhausted after fifteen hours of preparing a CD product that had to ship that day, one last little error was found, and fixed. “It’s good to go!” said the person who fixed it. It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night, we had been working on this since 8 a.m., pushing to meet the deadline. There was a sigh of relief by everyone, except for me and my lead Quality Assurance Analyst. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement—“No, not good to go.” Continue reading

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