The Author As Businessman


Paul A. Cantor raves about a recent biography of Charles Dickens:

True to his basic purpose, his is one of the best studies I know of the life of a professional writer precisely in his capacity as a professional writer. The book offers a minutely detailed, step-by-step account of Dickens's whole literary career, from his early and spectacular popular success with Pickwick Papers, to his establishment as a respectable man of letters, to his unprecedented and unparalleled domination of the literary scene, throughout the English-speaking world, for the rest of his life. Slater gives sales figures for almost everything Dickens wrote, circulation numbers for the periodicals he edited, the juicy financial details of the many contracts he madeand brokewith publishers on both sides of the Atlantic, and also attendance figures for the public readings Dickens started giving in the late 1850s. This book would be invaluable if it did nothing more than assemble all this vital data conveniently in one volume. What I would give to have comparable facts and figures for Shakespeare's literary career!

Slater provides an intimate portrait of a writer who flourished in the rough-and-tumble, topsy-turvy world of the Victorian publishing business. As such, his biography can help dispel a number of Romantic myths that have grown up about the nature of literature and art in general, myths that have distorted our understanding of creativity. Dickens is one of the supreme masters of the novel in the Englishor any otherlanguage. And yet he emerged right in the middle of the world of commercial publishing, and never left it for a moment throughout his literary career. As Slater documents, from the beginning to the end, Dickens wrote for a largely middle-class audience, and, far from denigrating the bourgeoisie in Romantic fashion, he embraced it and welcomed his role as its spokesman and champion.

(Painting: Dickens' Dream, by R W Buss.)