For London’s National Portrait Gallery last year, writer and biographer Lucinda Hawksley was asked to provide a book on Charles Dickens and his friends. The result was Charles Dickens and His Circle, and it provides a valuable primer for understanding Dickens and the people who influenced him.
Hawksley is rather ideally suited to have written the book – she’s the great-great-great granddaughter of Dickens and has written a number of works about him and the family.
Hawksley moves forward chronologically, starting with George Hogarth (Dickens’ father-in-law), and Catherine Hogarth, who became Dickens’ wife; his early illustrators like George Cruikshank and Hablot Knight Brown (aka “Phiz”); and the people he knew as a young, up-and-coming writer. The short, readable descriptions (with accompanying paintings of the individuals) include artists, lawyers, writers, and philanthropists.
The writers include people from both sides of the Atlantic; Dickens met and maintained correspondence with American writers like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, and Edgar Allen Poe. On the British side, there are William Makepeace Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, and Thomas Carlyle, among others.
Each entry includes a concise text and photograph or illustration; Hawksley also has several introductory sections that include drawings and photographs as well.
In addition to her family connection, Hawksley has published The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter; Essential Pre-Raphaelites; Charles Dickens’ Favorite Daughter: The Life, Loves, and Art of Katey Dickens Perugini; and March, Women, March; among several other works. She’s also an art historian and public speaker, especially on environmental causes.
While each entry is concise, Hawksley manages to include interesting items that provide more in-depth understanding about the relationships and friendships Dickens developed and maintained (and sometimes set aside). Hans Christian Anderson was a guest at Dickens’ home, Gad’s Hill in Kent, and managed to seriously overstay his welcome. Poe believed Dickens had written an unflattering article about him; Dickens hadn’t, but Poe broke off the relationship. And when many friends began to avoid Dickens after the scandal of his separation from his wife, Edward Bulwer-Lytton did not; In fact, the two men became closer friends, because Bulwer-Lytton had been through his own scandalous separation.
Charles Dickens and His Circle is a fine introduction to Dickens and the people he attracted and was attracted to, who worked with him and influenced him, and helped to make him the great novelist he was.
Painting: Charles Dickens by his friend Daniel Maclise (1839).Maclise is one of the entries in Charles Dickens and His Circle.