Category Archives: Biography

Dickens 205: writers in books and in the flesh

Image associéeThe bibliography of Charles Dickens includes more than a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories (including Christmas-themed stories and ghost stories), several plays, several non-fiction books, and individual essays and articles. Dickens’s novels were serialised initially in weekly or monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.

He is often called the “creator” of Victorian age, having described and “conserved” it for the future generations. When we read his books at school and in childhood we don’t really imagine him a real person. We seldom do that with writers of the decent past. When it concerns “the pillars”, the giants, the great masters, we tend to imagine them made of bronze or stone, but not of flesh and blood. But they were humans once.

Specialists in literature theory distinguish several types of authors: author as a real person, a human being; author as someone who created a text, creative personality, everything that is called poetics belongs here; finally – author’s point of view, his presence in the text not to mix up with narrator or storyteller.

At the library, thinking about recommendations what to read and watch Image associéeon the occasion of Dickens’ anniversary we looked at the book by Claire Tomalin about Dickens and his relationship with Nelly Ternan. And then there was a question: should we try to know more about writer’s real lifes? Or should we be satisfied with their works and what we can learn and find out in these works? Of course, there’s no definite answer to this. It depends on the researcher, and we think, if the aim is to learn about the time and not to judge someone, if the aim is to feel this connection with someone who lived long or not so long ago, then there’s probably nothing bad in our interest.

Our suggestion is to read talented works like Tomalin’s, which is not only the story of Dickens and Nelly, but a great excursus into theatrical world of England of the second part of the 19th century.

There are also a lot of works of fiction where writers are shown as characters and this is another curious direction of exploring the theme. Real people in fiction and fiction in real life – exciting reading is guaranteed!

In the British Book Centre:

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Claire Tomalin’s multi-award-winning story of the life of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is a remarkable work of biography and historical revisionism that returns the neglected actress to her rightful place in history as well as providing a compelling and truthful portrait of the great Victorian novelist.
 The book is based on the life of the author Henry James. Lodge populates his novel with several of the most famous figures of English literature from the time of the book’s setting in the late nineteenth century.
 The novel features the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as its protagonist. It is a deep, complex work that draws on the life of Dostoyevsky, the life of the author and the history of Russia to produce profoundly disturbing results.
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The novel depicts the life and character of Christopher Marlowe, one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan era.
The novel recites amateur Gustave Flaubert expert Geoffrey Braithwaite’s musings on his subject’s life, and his own, as he looks for a stuffed parrot that inspired the great author.
The book concerns three generations of women affected by a Virginia Woolf novel. The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband’s birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, who plans a party in 2001 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover.

Writer: Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch (15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999)


In the library:

  • “The sea, the sea” (Vintage, 2009) – winner of the Booker Prize,1978
  • “The Black Prince” (Vintage, 2006), winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
  • “The Bell” (Vintage, 2004)
  • “Under the Net” (Vintage, 2002)
  • “The message to the planet” (Vintage, 2000)


Iris Murdoch was Irish-born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist. She lived a life entirely dedicated to her art while creating works whose importance is still relevant in the world today.

As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text. Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease.

In 2001, she was portrayed by Kate Winslet (as a young Iris) and Judy Dench (plays the author later in life) in the biographical film “Iris”,  based on her husband John Bayley’s memoir.



Biography: BLAKE by Peter Ackroyd


Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
Published to rave reviews in England, Ackroyd’s moving and luminous biography of William Blake (1757-1827) serves as an ideal point of entry into the poet and artist’s visionary world. Withdrawn, secretive, detached from ordinary affairs, Blake, a London hosier’s son, began having mystical visions around age eight and came to see his life as a revelation of eternity. While eking out a living as an engraver, he stripped away levels of conventional perception to create a universe of mythical figures, muses and angels, or prophets and bards who stand alone against the world. For Ackroyd, biographer of Dickens and T.S. Eliot, Blake’s tragedy was that he had the capacity to become a great public and religious poet but instead turned in upon himself, gaining neither reputation nor influence in his lifetime. Combining meticulous scholarship with uncanny psychological insight, this marvelously illustrated biography (with color and b&w plates of Blake’s paintings, drawings and engravings) presents him as a prescient social critic who, long before Freud, saw warfare as a form of repressed sexuality, and whose prophetic epic poems offer a cogent vision of humanity’s spiritual renewal.

“I think Blake is the most powerful and most significant philosopher, or thinker, in the course of English history.” Watch the Five Minutes interview with the author, in which Mr Ackroyd shares his passion for London, history and writing.


“[William Blake] originally conceived Songs of Experience as direct satires of Songs of Innocence, poem for poem, but in the process he found more general possibilities of expression. At first he printed both of the Songs as separate series, but  then linked them together with a new title page, ‘Songs Of Innocence and Of Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul’. These are opposites in more than one sense, however, since many of the Songs of Experience are etched upon the other side of the copper plates for Innocence. Two contrary states could be held, as an object, in the hand. It was of course a way of saving copper, and therefore money, but it also indicates Blake’s vei:y practical and material handling of his vision. There are contraries and oppositions at every turn – not only is Experience etched on the back of Innocence, but Blake used a different calligraphy and a different method of printing colour. There may even have been copies of the combined volumes in which Experience preceded Innocence. The technical process is also of extraordinary importance, because Blake was actually writing backwards upon the copper on the back of the poems he was partlys atirising. He was sculpting words as if they were as much images of his ideas as the illustrations beside them; he was seeing words as discrete objects, not as transparent signifiers of meaning.”

This book is currently available at the British Book Centre, The Interdistrict Public Library System of Saint Petersburg.