Book Reviews

If you’ve read any Dickens, or watched ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’, then why not give this book a read. You will never read Dickens in the same way again, but perhaps it is about time. With recent scholarship pointing to some of Dickens’ more troubling attitudes, including sexist, xenophobic and racist attitudes, this book is timely in exposing the darker side to Dickens even while bringing light to the terrifying but loveable Jack Maggs.

Reviewer: Ms Fox

Jack Maggs, Peter Carey (1997)

Everyone has heard of Dickens and his cast of characters – whether it’s Oliver Twist and The Artful Dodger, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit or Pip and Magwitch. However, what people often forget is that Dickens’ characters were often inspired by real life people with their own lives and their own stories. Indeed, what many people don’t know about Dickens is that he stole stories from people – not in the poetic sense of the word, the ‘you inspired me’ sense of the word – but in the literal ‘I’m going to nick your life’ kind of way. With a keen interest in hypnotism, Dickens was known to put people he met into trances and to then use the things they said while in this trance state within his own stories.

This is something that Peter Carey, the author of Jack Maggs, found out about and got angry about. Specifically, Peter Carey got angry about how Dickens might have reduced a real person to create the caricature of the Australian convict, Magwich. As Carey described,

I wanted to reinvent (Magwitch), to possess him, to act as his advocate. I did not want to diminish his “darkness” or his danger, but I wanted to give him all the love and tender sympathy that Dickens’ first-person narrative provides his English hero Pip.

The result is this novel: Jack Maggs. In it, Carey succeeds in bringing to life Magwitch or Jack Maggs’ story with all the warmth that Dickens unfairly reserved for Pip alone in Great Expectations. With a tenderness, Carey uncovers the adventures, the brutality, the love and the pain that Jack Maggs undergoes to recover his own voice and power from a hypnotist-writer, determined to steal his story – and his soul.

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