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23Oct

The Artful Dickens by John Mullan review – how did he do it?

How to convey sexual obsession and opium dreams? Entertaining and insightful essays on the skill of the supreme storyteller

Charles Dickens was a mesmerist, illusionist and master of sleight of hand. In private he performed conjuring tricks, such as pouring dried fruit, eggs and flour into a top hat and pulling out a steaming Christmas pudding. In public, he performed scenes from his novels, his party-piece being the murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist: audiences sat spellbound as, sweat coursing down his forehead, he bludgeoned the girl, again and again, to death.

His showmanship, John Mullan argues in this excellent book, applies equally to his fiction, where Dickens used the “impudent trickery” he brought to the stage to make ’em laugh, make ’em cry and make ’em wait on the page.

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