Author Bio

Author Bio: Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens

(1812-1870)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 1812 in Hampshire, England, the oldest child of naval clerk John Dickens and his wife Elizabeth Barrow.  His early childhood was marred by poverty.  When Dickens was 12, his father landed in debtor’s prison; Charles left school to support the family by working in a blacking factory.  Although a windfall inheritance bought John’s freedom, the family’s growing financial needs kept Charles out of the classroom and in the marketplace.  Eventually, he found work as a freelance reporter in the London courts.  This began an illustrious career in letters for Charles.    Over the course of his writing career, Dickens edited several journals, wrote 15 well-respected novels, 5 novellas, countless short stories, and numerous non-fiction articles (Wikipedia).   With his pen, he developed a reputation for humour, wit, and sensitivity, publishing his first book, a collection of stories and articles called Sketches by Boz, under the eponymous pseudonym.  Historian R. H. Horne declared Dickens “manifestly the product of his age…a genuine emanation from its aggregate and entire spirit…a first-rate practical intellect, with ‘no nonsense’ about him” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).  While he was not a philosopher or an intellectual, Dickens’s sagacious observations about Victorian England and human nature won him many devoted readers.  Nevertheless, his personal experiences colored his perception of 19th c. culture, breeding a general distrust of landed wealth.  This “shadow of the Marshalsea” would remain upon Dickens all his life.         

Victorian England was a stratified society; Dickens perceived its excesses and shortfalls, characterizing them satirically in novels such as Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bleak House.  He found as much virtue in the poor as he found graft and corruption in the rich, and these observations found their way into social satires like A Christmas Carol, in which the notorious capitalist Scrooge learns from ghosts and angels to share his blessings with the unfortunate Bob Cratchit and his family.  It can be argued that Dickens virtually created the modern concept of Christmas with this novella.  While some critics have accused Dickens of creating shallow, one-dimensional caricatures, his critical reputation has endured.  Biographer Philip Collins notes: “The centenary in 1970 of Dickens’s death demonstrated a critical consensus about his standing second only to William Shakespeare in English literature which would have seemed incredible 40 or even 20 years earlier” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).   

Working in the genre of realism and in the shadow of the 18th c. picaresque novel, Charles wove somewhat allegorical tales that targeted the social ills of his time, lampooning ethical misconduct such as child abuse, unmerciful debt laws, and corporate graft, while showcasing true, Christian morality.  Encyclopaedia Britannica lauds him as “the conscience of his age.”   A professing Christian, he disliked pretentious religion, preferring instead the sincere faith of those like his character Amy Dorrit. 

However devout, in 1858, Dickens betrayed his wife of 22 years, Catherine Hogarth, who bore him ten children to pursue the young actress Ellen Ternan, with whom he maintained an affectionate relationship until his death (Biography.com).  His work with Ternan gave way to a love of the theater, and Dickens began to stage readings of his stories for the public.  This led to several international tours and great public acclaim.  Likewise, it placed considerable strain on Charles, who collapsed on stage in 1869 while on tour.  Although he recovered, he spent his twilight years, while outwardly cheerful, in reality sad and declining.  American Romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson commented that he was a man whose spirit was too large for his frame, and American author Mark Twain, a notable peer, called him a “pioneer” in the oral and written arts (Encyclopaedia Britannica).  He finished his peerage beneath the stage lights, delivering his final speech on his Farewell Tour with these famous words: “From these garish lights I vanish now forevermore…”  Dickens died in June of 1870 from a stroke; he was 58 years old.  Modern actor and Dickens historian Simon Callow depicts him in his renowned bio-theatrical, the Mystery of Charles Dickens, as an intelligent, energetic, optimistic, but haunted man who craved love and admiration.  He courted this in a distant but adoring public that reveres him to the present day.     

Works Cited:

Biography.com editors.  “Charles Dickens Biography.com.”  www.biography.com/people/charles-

dickens-9274087.  A & E Television Networks.  April 27, 2017.  Web.  September 18. 2017. 

 

Collins, Philip.  “Charles Dickens.”  www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Dickens-British-novelist.

Encyclopaedia Britannica.  August 29, 2017.  Web.  September 18. 2017.  

 

Wikipedia editors.  “Charles Dickens.”  www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens.  N.p.  September 16,    2017.  Web.  September 18, 2017. 

Author Bio: William Steig

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William Steig

(1907-2003)

Born to Polish-Jewish immigrants, American William Steig pursued a diverse career in the arts.  During his 94 years, he worked as a cartoonist, a sculptor, a children’s book author and illustrator, a movie animator, an ad man and a greeting card designer.  In his youth, Steig attended three colleges, but he never obtained a degree.  Instead, when the Great Depression left his father unemployed, Steig began work for The New Yorker magazine, where he remained for 60 years sketching some 2,600 drawings and 117 cover designs.  At 61 when most people are entertaining plans to retire, Steig began his career as a children’s book author and illustrator, eventually producing 25 books, two of which won the prestigious Newbery Medal and another the most notable award given in the children’s book industry, the Caldecott Medal.  Among his more notable titles are Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto, Abel’s Island, Brave Irene, Shrek, and Amos and Boris.  Never dumbing down his work for his audience, Steig’s narratives boast sparkling syntax and wit.  Steig received the Academy Award for Best Animated Short for his film adaptation of Doctor De Soto in 1984.  His book, Shrek, likewise was made into a Dreamworks animated film, which earned Steig healthy royalties during his final years.  In addition to his success in cartooning and children’s books, Steig credited himself with innovations in the contemporary greeting card industry, abandoning the saccharine sweet texts of his predecessors for what he termed “hate” cards.  With good-natured realism, Steig’s multi-faceted oeuvre radiates a wit and humor that continues to entertain adults and children alike.

 

Author Bio: William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

(1564-1616)

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts..." (As You Like It, 2.7.142-145)

The world knows William Shakespeare.  Author of the most beloved plays and poems in the English language, Shakespeare’s name has become a household word.  To speak it is to conjure up murderous villains, court jesters, hapless heroes, and fated lovers.  His is Macbeth, Hamlet, Brutus and Cassius, Romeo and Juliet, Prince Hal and his beloved Falstaff, Katherine the Shrew and her rough match Petruchio.  The world’s a stage, and these faces continue to strut and fret, timeless in their moment, eternal in their utterance.  So profound is the influence Shakespeare has had on the world through his art that his characters have become types, his plots patterns for other artists, his linguistics and syntax the stuff of style books.  Yet, few know that this towering author was born humbly and educated in public grammar schools through only the eighth grade.  Fewer still realize that he curated his spectacular stories from other literary narratives and history books. 

Third of eight children born to a glovemaker, William exceeded all expectations.  He married an older woman at the age of 19, one Anne Hathaway of Stratford.  Together they produced three children, two of them twins.  In the late 1500’s, Shakespeare ventured to London to pursue a career in acting and playwriting.  A member of Christopher Marlowe’s theater, and shortly thereafter James Burbage’s theater, he gained reputation and experience, coming to understand both the art and the audience it drew. 

He published poems such as Venus and Adonis (1592) before turning to theater with his The Comedy of Errors and Henry VI.  Contemporary reviews belie the envious admiration he inspired in his peers, who called him “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers.”  By 1594, Shakespeare had composed five plays, which he performed with Burbage’s acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  Recognizing genius, Burbage made him partner.  During this time, he wrote the parts of Romeo, Prince Hal, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth to be performed by Burbage’s son, Richard, who certainly had no notion of the great honor accorded to him in originating these historic roles.  While popular plays in Shakespeare’s time narrated ancient histories, William staged the history of the English people, in this way not only preserving the nation’s history, but in a real sense authoring it.  In narrating the stories, he influenced how particular historic figures would be remembered by future generations.  Was Richard III as dastardly as Shakespeare paints him?  He will ever be remembered so.  Was Prince Hal so cold to his friend, Falstaff?  Shakespeare didn’t merely record the histories of his people, he turned them into art, shaping his narratives to highlight themes, develop ideas, and censure behaviors accordingly.  Thus, in a real sense, he contributed largely to the sensibilities and self-perception of the English people. 

When Burbage lost his lease on the land that held his theater, he and his men deconstructed the theater in the secret of night and erected a new theater, the Globe, on the other side of the Thames.  There Shakespeare staged As You Like It, Henry V, and Julius Caesar.  When in 1601, the Earl of Southampton commissioned him to stage Richard II, he was accused of treason against the crown of Queen Elizabeth; however, he escaped with merely a hand slap from her majesty.  Essex, the leader of the coup, was executed and Southampton imprisoned.  Yet, Shakespeare, the upstart crow, remained the darling of the hour.  When Queen Elizabeth died, James I became the patron of Shakespeare’s company, which became known as the King’s Men.  It was for this Scottish king that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, and observant viewers will discover in the character Banquo’s mirror an homage to James’s crown.  The subject of the story, an ambitious soldier that usurps the throne and reigns in tyrrany until his betters put him down, seems a conscious effort to assure the king of his own devotion to the Lord’s chosen monarch. 

At 47, Shakespeare retired, returning to Stratford to build his family a house considered lavish in his day.  Although he continued to write until his death, he never returned to the London theater.  He died in 1614 at the age of 52 and is buried in the local church, where his resting place is marked with the crude epitaph: 

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,

To dig the dust encloased heare:

Blese be the man who spares thes stones,

And curst be he who moves my bones.

 

His artistic peers eulogized him, Ben Jonson perhaps most eloquently, who, doubting not his genius, wrote, “He was not for an age, but for all time.”

Shakespeare’s friends collected and published his works posthumously in 1623 in the First Folio.  Some of the plays it contains differ from previous manuscripts, since these exist largely from what men were able to copy down and actors themselves remembered from viewing and acting in the stage plays. 

 

Bibliography:

Evans, G. Blakemore.  The Riverside Shakespeare.  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.

 

Biography.com editors. “William Shakespeare Biography.com.” The Biography.com website, 5 August,

2017,  https://www.biography.com/people/william-shakespeare-9480323.  8 Nov. 2017. 

 

Bevington, David, John Russell Brown, and Terence John Bew Spencer.  “William Shakespeare – English

Author.” Britannica.com website, https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare.  8 November, 2017.