Review: The Turning Point by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst



The Great Exhibition of 1851 is often seen as a pivotal moment in British history, when the country fully embraced modernity, Lucasta Miller said in the FT. But according to literary scholar Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, the year was also a “turning point” for Charles Dickens: jump “.

Until then, he was known as a “casual boulevardier who told linear tales of danger and redemption on children,” Kathryn Hughes said in The Guardian. But towards the end of the year he embarked on Dark house, which would establish him as “one of the great social documentarists of the 19th century”. In this’ informative book ‘, Douglas-Fairhurst explores Dickens’ growing engagement with society and his expanding artistic vision.

Dickens was certainly very busy in 1851, Laura Freeman said in The Times. In addition to publishing his weekly newspaper, Household words, he moved, put on a play, founded a writers’ charity and oversaw the management of “Urania Cottage”, a refuge for fallen women in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

He even found the time – with his wife Catherine, mother of ten children – to publish a cookbook. In the midst of it all, he visited the Great Exhibition, but was not impressed: the Crystal Palace, he wrote, was “the most gigantic Humbug ever mounted on a people who have suffered for so long”.

Nonetheless, Douglas-Fairhurst maintains that Dark house became something of a fictional version of the Great Exhibition, said Tom Williams in The Spectator: “one that told a story about the nation that was home to such a variety of people and events.” Full of relevant details and sharp ideas, Turning is a “fascinating” biographical work.

Cap Jonathan 368pp £ 25; Bookstore of the Week £ 19.99

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