The Bebelle Life – more thoughts on Claire Tomalin’s Dickens



In a haze of editing, I finally ( and sadly) finished Claire Tomalin’s brilliant biography of Dickens. Not usually being other than a fiction reader, I was completely swept up in the wonderful portrayal of Dickens – and if I could basically sum up as a wonderful man if you were poor/orphaned/ his friend/daughter or mistress or a distressingly callous  man if you were his wife and sons. But what Tomalin gives best of all is a thorough light and shade of a man who was complicated, portraying all his faults along with his feats with equal measure, which makes an exhilarating read. She loves her subject with a clear eye and is free from the sycophantic rapture that sometimes occur when a biographer falls in love, as it were, with their subject.

My favourite chapter, The Bebelle Life, detailed all the wonderfully researched life of Nelly Ternan and Dickens and the possibility of their child. Tomalin research is so absorbing and the pages just fly. It is a chapter that stands somehow alone, like a brilliant aside – filmic, dramatic and suspenseful. It would make the perfect film, I thought. Little did I know, after some quick research, that Tomalin’s previous book on the same subject, The Invisible Woman is currently in post production, with none than Ralf Fiennes directing and performing as Dickens and Felicity Jones as Nelly.

Can’t wait.




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