He told me that all the good simple people in his novels…are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. Only two people? I asked.
—  Fyodor Dostoevsky on Charles Dickens, as quoted in Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin.

“This is a tale of woe, this is a tale of sorrow, a love denied, a love restored to live beyond tomorrow. Lest we think silence is the place to hide a heavy heart, remember to love and be loved is life itself, without which we are naught.”

The Invisible Woman (2013)

For anyone looking to find out more about the life of Jane Austen then I cannot recommend Claire Tomalin’s biography highly enough. The meticulous research shines through the pages and brings you one step closer to discovering the woman behind the novels… 

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To the child, for whom books were a refuge, offering a world that sometimes made better sense than the one she had to find her way about. To the girl whose imagination took off in startling directions as she began to see the possibilities of telling stories of her own. To the energetic young woman who loved dancing and jokes, and dreamt of a husband even as she apprenticed herself to novel writing with all the force of her intelligence. To the 25-year-old who decided she did not like people and could not write any more; and who was tempted to make a comfortable, loveless marriage, and put the temptation behind her. To the loving sister and aunt who always made time for her family even though she would sometimes have preferred to be left to think and write in peace. To the woman who befriended governesses and servants. To the published author in the glow of achievement and mastery of her art. To the dying woman with courage to resist death by writing in its very teeth. To the person who on occasion preferred to remain silent rather than cut across the views and habits of those she loves; and who kept notes of what people said about her work, to read over to herself.
—  Jane Austen: A Life - Claire Tomalin

Today marks the 379th anniversary of the birth of the English diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703).  For a decade, beginning in 1660, an ambitious young London civil servant kept an astonishingly candid account of his life during one of the most defining periods in British history – Pepys’ writings, an inadvertent masterpiece, would establish him as the greatest diarist in the English language.

Check out Claire Tomalin’s magnificent biography of Pepys.  Against the backdrop of plague, civil war, and regicide, with John Milton composing diplomatic correspondence for Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren drawing up plans to rebuild London, and Isaac Newton advancing the empirical study of the world around us, Tomalin weaves an account of a figure who has passed on to us much of what we know about 17th-century London.


Ralph Fiennes’ film The Invisible Woman, based on the book by Claire Tomlin, is about Charles Dickens’ love affair with Nelly Ternan.  I’m super excited, simply because I love anything regarding Charles Dickens.  Also, Fiennes really looks like Dickens in all the screenshots I’ve seen.  I will be seeing this film when it comes to the theatre.

It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art.
—  Charles Dickens (from Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin)

Berlin 2013: Sony Classics Acquires Ralph Fiennes’ Dickens Drama ‘Invisible Woman’

The British film details the love affair between Charles Dickens and a young actress.
The Hollywood Reporter, 2/9/2013 by Pamela McClintock

BERLIN - Sony Pictures Classics has fallen hard for Ralph Fiennes’ Charles Dickens romantic drama The Invisible Woman, striking a deal to distribute the film in the U.S., insiders confirm to THR. Fiennes directs and stars in the film opposite Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander. Invisible Woman revolves around the secret love affair between Dickens (Fiennes) and a young actress (Jones). Michael Barker and Tom Bernard’s SPC also acquired rights to Latin America and South Africa. The pact was made with CAA and WestEnd Films, which is shopping Invisible Woman at the European Film Market in Berlin.

The movie, now in post-production, is based on Claire Tomalin’s 1990 non-fiction book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. According to Tomalin, Dickens was 45 and at the height of his popularity when he met the 18-year-old Ternan, embarking on a 13-year affair that ruined his 20-year marriage and lasted until his death. Aided by his friends, the clandestine relationship remained a secret until decades later.

More in The Hollywood Reporter.


The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens - Claire Tomalin

I was introduced to Claire Tomalin’s work after my book club opted to read her take on Mary Wollstoncraft. I was the only person out of nine that enjoyed it (“dire” was the most go to term). I bizarrely thought it was fascinating, despite not being a biography kinda girl.

The Invisible Woman was perhaps even more intriguing (far fewer lengthy passages on obscure feminist writers), but no less sad. 

It’s the story of Charles Dickens’ mistress Nelly, all but obliterated from memory and history thanks to Dickens’ zealous followers and the writer’s own penchant for burning letters. 

Pieced together, it weaves together a life of blanks and leaves you asking far more questions than it answers (did Nelly love Dickens? Did she have any kind of life of her own? What was her character like really?).

I am now even less inclined to read Bleak House than before.

Though Tomalin’s breadth of knowledge is wonderful, it is the clarity of the writing and the absolute singularity of purpose that made this such a delightful book: Tomalin wants to explain. She does not want to tell you how clever she is, how much research she had done, nor engage in controversy or best anyone. This is an exploration of Pepys, not an academic cockfight.

Denise Mina selects Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self for her Year in Reading feature.