Great Expectations

The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens

Gottlieb, Robert, 1931-

(Book - 2012)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Great Expectations
Baker & Taylor
Opening a unique window to Victorian England, this study of the author as a father highlights the strange and surprising stories of each of Dickens's ten children, from Kate, who became a successful artist, to Frank, who died after serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

McMillan Palgrave
The strange and varied lives of the ten children of the world’s most beloved novelist

Charles Dickens, famous for the indelible child characters he created—from Little Nell to Oliver Twist and David Copperfield—was also the father of ten children (and a possible eleventh). What happened to those children is the fascinating subject of Robert Gottlieb’s Great Expectations. With sympathy and understanding he narrates the highly various and surprising stories of each of Dickens’s sons and daughters, from Kate, who became a successful artist, to Frank, who died in Moline, Illinois, after serving a grim stretch in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Each of these lives is fascinating on its own. Together they comprise a unique window on Victorian England as well as a moving and disturbing study of Dickens as a father and as a man.

Book News
Robert Gottlieb had a long and distinguished career as editor and presiding genus of several venerable literary concerns: the New Yorker, Simon and Schuster, and Alfred A. Knopf. As a writer, he has been both critic and biographer. Here, he takes on a project purely for pleasure, an account of the lives of the children of Charles Dickens. If this is a vanity project, there are few writers better equipped to carry one off, and few with more excuse to rest on their laurels. Gottlieb writes in a skillful, informal style well designed to engage general readers. But between undistinguished lives and patchy records, there is not much to say about any of Dickens' children. Luckily, there were a lot of them. Where information is lacking, the author supplies speculation, but lightly, without insisting on it. He divides the book in half: a short before-and-after chapter for each offspring, with a midpoint at Dickens' death. Dickens tended to ship off his sons to distant continents as early as he could get rid of them, so his death is a bit of an arbitrary point in their lives. It works, however, in large part because his children seem not to have inherited his talent, but rather his tendency to die young from circulatory disease. One son became a successful lawyer in the Victorian mode (not much appreciated today), and one daughter became a successful painter in the Victorian mode (not much appreciated today). Gottlieb tends to take boys a little more seriously than girls, and is generous but not too generous to Dickens, whose idea of parenting seems to have been a holiday show for an audience he was annoyed to discover still hanging around afterward. If the book has a larger theme, it is that the lives of his children may have been sad to average, but far from being the tragedies painted by some Dickens scholars, they were merely ordinary. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

& Taylor

Opening a unique window to Victorian England, this thought-provoking study of the author as a father and as a man highlights the strange and surprising stories of each of Dickens' 10 children--from Kate, who became a successful artist, to Frank, who died after serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 0374298807
Branch Call Number: 823.8 G
Characteristics: 239, [5] p. : ill. ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

Gottlieb tells the often sad stories of Dickens's ten children in this "smart and accessible biography" (Publishers Weekly, October 2012, #1).

From the critics

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Jan 31, 2015
  • uncommonreader rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Quite light, and no new information, but an enjoyable read.

Mar 28, 2013
  • bwortman rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

A biography of Dickens' ten children is no easy task and Gottlieb creates a highly readable book. Dividing the book into the childrens' lives while Dickens was alive and after his death is an intriguing structure although providing their lifespans in both halves of the book rather than just the first would have made things a little clearer for me. The children themselves are interesting cast of characters with disparate lives in the army in India, Australian sheep stations, and as painters (among others). However, Gottlieb makes broad sweeping statements about the nature of each of the children without providing substantial enough evidence to keep some of them from rubbing me the wrong way. Additionally, the lack of any citations in text irritate me as well. An interesting introduction but not a thorough academic source for individuals interested in the Dickens children.


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Gottlieb, Robert, 1931-
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