The title of this post is a pun on “The Author Who Lived,” the title of the doctoral dissertation I’m working right now, which in turn is a pun on Harry Potter’s famous nickname “The Boy Who Lived.” (My dissertation is about Charles Dickens’s and J. K. Rowling’s unusual relationships with their audiences; you can read a piece of the proposal here.) All I want to do right now is to share with you a quote I was delighted to come across in my Dickens research. It was written late in Dickens’s career/life by the respected critic Charles Eliot Norton. The first sentence could be interpreted as a snide back-handed compliment, but keep reading; it isn’t. I know there are writers who would disagree with me, but I think Norton in this statement gives Dickens the greatest praise anyone could give a writer. And perhaps the second-to-last sentence will remind you of someone else.
No one thinks first of Mr Dickens as a writer. He is at once, through his books, a friend. He belongs among the intimates of every pleasant-tempered and large-hearted person. He is not so much the guest as the inmate of our homes. He keeps holidays with us, he helps us to celebrate Christmas with heartier cheer, he shares at every New Year in our good wishes: for, indeed, it is not in his purely literary character that he has done most for us, it is as a man of the largest humanity, who has simply used literature as the means by which to bring himself into relation with his fellow-men, and to inspire them with something of his own sweetness, kindness, charity, and good-will. He is the great magician of our time. His wand is a book, but his power is in his own heart. It is a rare piece of good fortune for us that we are the contemporaries of this benevolent genius.