Bold or careless?

There is a deep resemblance always between a writer and his work, but it has nothing to do with his expressed opinions or sentiments; it is rather that the form of his work embodies the form of his personality.

– Peter Ackroyd, Dickens, 232.

It’s sentences like this that got Ackroyd in trouble with some reviewers when his monumental biography of Dickens appeared in 1990. It takes a boldness or carelessness to make pronouncements and generalisations like this one. I can think of possible ways in which he’s wrong about particular authors, but it also has a feel of truth; in this case, he is talking of the ‘variegated mixture’ of ‘humour; poetry; declamation; melodrama’ in not just Oliver Twist but all of Dickens’ novels. To extend the idea: Borges is enigmatic, brief, timeless. Auster is playful yet intense, full of life’s strangeness. Oh, this is getting very subjective. Counter-argument: we mainly know authors through their work; the ‘resemblance’ is inevitable and misleading. But maybe Ackroyd has a right to his judgement, given the preface tells us that he’s read every extant letter etc of Dickens.

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About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian. View all posts by Nathan Hobby

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