The Dickens Boy
Vintage, $32.99 pb, 400 pp
‘When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.’ That gunshot of a quotation comes from the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. I suspect he means writers are traitors to biology – they have higher allegiances than blood ties. Art is their true spouse; their works are the favoured first-born.
Catherine Dickens had ten children by her husband, Charles. Each was named after a famous author or a literary creation of the author – a heavy nominal burden assumed at birth – and was given the best education money could buy. Aside from a daughter, Dora, who died at eight months of age, eternally immunising herself against parental disappointment, and Henry Fielding Dickens, who had a solid if not stellar legal career, the rest represent a generational catalogue of failure and mediocrity.