Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing

From The Guardian:

Clifford-Harper-illustrat-001 In terms of what we know about them, the contrast between our two greatest men of letters, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, could scarcely be sharper. Of Shakespeare, we know next to nothing; of Dickens we know next to everything. Dickens might well have wished it otherwise: speaking of his great predecessor, he wrote to a correspondent: “It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known about the poet. It is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should come out.”

The mystery of Charles Dickens is quite as profound as that of William Shakespeare, but it is essentially the mystery of art itself and of its roots in the deepest layers of experience and personality. Of the writer's external life, there is almost an embarrassment of riches. It was a life lived at full tilt. There are times in Michael Slater's indispensable new biography when one simply has to close the book from sheer exhaustion at its subject's expenditure of energy. It's like being sprayed by the ocean. Even Dickens was astonished at it: “How strange it is,” he said, “to be never at rest!”

More here.