A New Novel Explores Dickens' Messy Life

Richard Flanagan's new novel explores the life and loves of the great Victorian writer

Illustration by Joe Ciardiello for TIME

Not many people know that Charles Dickens was an actor as well as a writer. A workaholic who was haunted by memories of his impoverished childhood, when he worked in a blacking factory, Dickens was never the most emotionally stable of men at the best of times, never mind at the worst. In 1857 his friend Wilkie Collins wrote a play about a failed Arctic expedition. Dickens became obsessed with it and, like a rapper who's tired of the recording studio, volunteered to play the role of the villain. Then he fell in love with his 18-year-old co-star and left his...

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