The Relevance of the Shakespeare Authorship Question — Viewed in Relation to Biographies of Dickens: “There were two people in him, he told me…”

What’s the need for knowing more about the author of the Shakespeare works?

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Well, in today’s issue of the New York Times Book Review (November 6, 2011), there’s a critical survey of two new biographies of Charles Dickens, who has been called the most central and yet the most eccentric literary figure of his age; and the reviewer, David Gates, quotes from a letter by Fyodor Dostovyevsky written some years after meeting Dickens in 1862:

“He told me that all the good, simple people in his novels … are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love …

A picture of Dickens at age 18

“There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite.  ‘From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel, I try to live my life.’”

As Gates observes, this confession by Dickens is amazing, but only “because it’s the image-conscious Dickens himself coming out and saying what anybody familiar with his work and his life has always intuited.”

Charles Dickens - a complicated man

Reading certain works such as Hamlet, King LearOthello and the Sonnets, we have intuited some of the author’s inner conflicts (realizing it or not); and while it’s difficult, nay, impossible to learn any of the causes from what’s known about Will of Stratford’s life, there’s plenty in the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford to help explain – and better understand – the writings of Shakespeare.

Edwin Forrest (1806-1872) as King Lear

This is just one more example, among uncounted others, of why we keep hungering for biographies of authors – in this case, Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (Penguin) and Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist by Robert Doughlas-Fairhurst.

The first biography of Dickens appeared two years after he died in 1872, at 58, “and its successors keep coming,” Gates writes, adding, “The Dickens biographies published just in the past 25 years make an impressive stack.  Given his uncanny genius and the vivid complexity of his life, that’s not a complaint.”

Right.  And one day, I predict, we’ll be saying the same thing about biographies of Edward de Vere.

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