It’s the Holidays; Listen to Oprah

The preeminent mistress of all book clubs has turned her readers ‘ attention towards the Victorian past. Yesterday, Oprah announced two Charles Dickens classics, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, rounding off the 2010 Oprah’s Book Club selections for discussion on Dickens to follow in January 2011.

Already Dickens is quickly remembered at the holidays for the eternally popular Christmas Carol and spin-off creations, and the bitter, hard winters in urban England that are fixed in our cultural imagination of the Victorian era. Without question, he was the most popular writer of his time, enjoying fame and recognition when many struggled to sell a story, and his prominence in the English language has burgeoned over the past two centuries.  As Robert Gottlieb wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books: “There are a few writers whose lives and personalities are so large, so fascinating, that there’s no such thing as a boring biography of them.”

This was the opening to a collective review of Dickens biographies, the most recent among them, Michael Slater‘s Charles Dickens. Gottlieb, who knows a thing or two about publishing books, Charles Dickens: Michael Slater goes on with the praise that “Michael Slater makes the most original contribution: his command of Dickens’s occasional writings and of his work as an editor seems complete.” Slater, who is Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck, past President of the International Dickens Fellowship, and former editor of its journal, The Dickensian, has served for many years as a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum, including several periods as Chairman; he has no shortage of expertise on his subject. Even to the native British audience, Slater’s tremendous work resonates as what the London Times called a “once-in-a-generation biography.”

Although Oprah herself has not read the two classic selections, fans of Dickens, old and new, will have more to contribute to the conversation from reading Slater‘s biography and discovering the joys and turmoils of this most highly esteemed novelist and writer.

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