The Dickens Boy – A Book Review

Cover courtesy Amazon .com

Thomas Keneally is a prolific well known Australian author. In fact many of you not from Australia will be familiar with his work as he was the Man Booker prize winner in 1982 for his non fiction work Schindlers Ark, later republished as Schindler’s List and on which the film of the same name is based. He has subsequently been shortlisted for the Man Booker on three other occasions for The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest and Confederates, as well as many other awards. Many of his books take a bit of history and weave it into a well developed piece of fiction. It was with interest then that I sat down to read The Dickens Boy.

It was history that I had never heard of previously but on a little research found it to be true. Plorn ( Edward Bulwer-Lytton) the youngest son of Charles Dickens (of Great Expectations and others fame) was sent to Australia to be made into a man when he was still a teenager (16). One of his older brothers, Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens, had been sent previous to Plorn. It was supposedly so that their inability to apply themselves would not reflect badly on their father and showed that Dickens, who sent some of his characters to Australia, believed in the power of Australia to strengthen character.

Plorn arrived in Melbourne in 1868 and was sent to a sheep station at which he did not last long – he got into an argument over dinner and left immediately. Another property near Wilcannia in N.S.W. was found for him and here he grew up. He arrived with what for him was a terrible burden – he hadn’t read a word of his father’s work and to his dismay, he found Charles Dickens was as famous in the remote bush of Australia as he had been in England. This thread held the book together as he played countless cricket matches and came across bushrangers, other criminals, those escaping the world in an environment where the men were tough and the women almost non existent. It shows well the difference in the class system of England and that of Australia.

I found it interesting the differences between the brothers and how they saw the life they had left. It looked at Charles Dickens and the possibility that he was street angel home devil. I loved the descriptions of country (an area of Australia that most would consider inhospitable and wonder that any life could survive let alone sheep) and the life Plorn found himself in – so different from the life he had left. I did however struggle to get through the first half. It was setting the scene but it could have been set just a little quicker. The second half I found had more interest. I enjoyed the characters. Written in the first person narrated by Plorn it was spoken in the vernacular of the time which suited the style of narration.

Would I recommend this coming of age novel – Yes I would but be prepared to be captivated by the characters and country whilst feeling, initially at least, that nothing much happens in the bush. Probably well captured reality.

The type of countryside Plorn found himself.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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15 Responses to The Dickens Boy – A Book Review

  1. noelleg44 says:

    I was immediately caught by the title, especially since I’ve never stopped to think about what Dickens’ children might have become or thought about their father. Thanks, Irene!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes it wasn’t something that I had ever thought about either yet children of famous people are often interesting due to the fame of their parents. In real life Plorn only lived to 49, stayed his entire life out in what I would consider desert country apart from a stint where he represented the people of the area in the state government.

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  3. Your review has piqued my interest! I will definitely get the book. Thank you Irene! 💐

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome. Would love to hear your thoughts when you read it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will certainly let you know Irene. 🤗 Just a quick question: did Plorn ever return to England and then return and end up staying in Australia?

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      • Wendy he died in Moree Australia at age 49. He stayed in the outback all that time apart from some time when he represented the area in the NSW parliament. His brother married twice, the second wife a Melbourne socialite. He fell on hard times and ended up travelling the world lecturing about his father. He died in the United States. For me this was all totally new information – surprised not a mention was made when I went to school.

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      • Our schools should be focussing on our native home-grown heroes, as well as the transplanted ones like Plorn, to give our children pride and interest in our culture, our land and history. Thank goodness for Thomas Keneally’s research and books. Another transplanted Aussie writer who loved the Australian culture and way of life, as you no doubt know, was Bryce Courtenay.
        Thank you for your response on Plorn and his brother. I took the liberty to research Plorn’s name. It means ‘talent, caretaker and attractive,’ and I also learnt that he was his father’s favourite son.

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      • You’ve told me a couple of things that I hadn’t read. That must have been hard for Dickens to send him to Australia if he was the favourite and he never saw him again.
        In those very early days there were no home grown apart from our indigenous culture and in my school days very little was known about them. I think that is changing to the point in some schools the local language is being taught as well as English and the dreamtime stories are being told.

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      • Yes, I was delighted when I read about some schools introducing the area’s aboriginal language to students. I don’t mean to hog the comments section, but I was recently enlightened by the fact that when indigenous folks go on ‘walkabout,’ they are taught to follow the story trail through signs and markings (no google maps) and to keep going until they reach the end, and that could take weeks or months. It is a major part of their culture and they are expected to go ‘walkabout’ at some stage in their lives. Due to the lack of a given timeframe, many were then accused of irresponsibility in not meeting the ‘white man’s’ work schedule.
        By the way, I meant ‘home-grown’ as generations of Aussies living on the land or working in the outback and that could mean both Anglo Australians or indigenous Australians. Apologies for not making myself clearer.
        Bouquets to you 💐 for the interesting discussion on Plorn and Dickens. I did feel for Dickens, knowing that he never saw Plorn again.

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      • I have really enjoyed the discussion Wendy. Yes I wasn’t sure what you meant but it is clear now. The older I get and the more I talk to people and hear their histories and their families I am very aware that so many stories of our past will be/have been forgotten. I love reading about those times. I know how tough it is still for many and I find it hard to fathom how our early settlers achieved so much with so little.

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  4. Marsha says:

    Wow! How desolate the countryside looks. Even the trees are parched and stunted. I love your review and have never heard of the author so I’ll put this on my bucket list. Have you heard of the new challenge, “What’s on Your Bookshelf?” I think you’d enjoy it. Three Australian women and a Canadian host it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tip Marsha. I’ll have a look for the site. It sounds interesting. I am trying to slide back in slowly keeping it low key until I work out how much time I have. I want to manage it a bit better than I have in the last few years. It was fine when we were all well but it is not quite so free and easy now.
      Yes the country is desolate. I was watching something on television about Broken Hill ( a town in the same area) and how it has the biggest solar project on earth. They said the years rainfall is 250mm. They have huge properties so the animals can find enough feed. You sound as though you have moved to a dry area also?

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