- The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Dickens by Brian Murray (Continuum, 2009).
Murray has written a fresh, lively, comprehensive treatment of Dickens's life and works -- and all in 171 pages. This fascinating book includes a biographical sketch, synopses of all Dickens's major works along with details about their background and their reception, essays about everything from his religious views to his psychological makeup to his feelings about animals to his rivalry with Thackeray, copious quotes and illustrations, and all sorts of other tantalizing little tidbits. The section "Dickens on Film" in particular is a treasure trove, with critiques and insights on Dickens films from the 1890s all the way to 2005. Thoughtful and readable, this book has something special to offer both longtime Dickensians and those who are new to Dickens's work.
- Dickens, Christianity and The Life of Our Lord: Humble Veneration, Profound Conviction by Gary Colledge (Continuum, 2009).
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about Dickens's religion. Colledge, a pastor and teacher in the U.K., has done us all a valuable service with this book that cuts through the fog to examine what Dickens really believed. He uses The Life of Our Lord as "an index of sorts" to guide him, acknowledging that Dickens wrote it for his children and never intended to publish it, but arguing that it shows how carefully Dickens thought about his faith and which aspects of Christianity he considered most important. Colledge makes a fairly persuasive case against the popular idea that Dickens embraced Unitarianism, and an even stronger case against those who claim that Christianity made little or no difference in Dickens's thinking.
While Murray's book is written for a general audience, Colledge's is definitely in an academic vein, and readers with no interest in religious history or theological hairsplitting will find it hard going. But one can hope that his carefully researched and reasoned study will have an impact on the cultural conversation, and that people will come to realize that Dickens's faith was a deeper, richer, far more vital part of him than one would gather from all the stereotypes and misunderstandings.