To start off my Dickens discovery I read this fabulous biography of Charles Dickens, written by one of my favourite biographers Claire Tomalin. You can see my review of her book about Samuel Pepys here.

Tomalin had already covered Dickens in her previous book The Invisible Woman, a biography of Dickens’ mistress Ellen Ternan, which is being made into a film as we speak. So she covers this subject heavily in this book.

In Charles Dickens: A Life, Tomalin does a tremendous job. Not only does she cover his family background and personal life but also includes helpful summaries of all his writing and draws comparisons between events in his life and his writing. The ties between Dickens’ life and writing bind the book together perfectly.

She writes sympathetically of his sufferings during childhood, sent out to work at a very young age with big gaps in his education, his father being sent to debtors prison, moving continuously from house to house. She brings the reader back to these early years throughout the book, so that we can see the influence these events had on Dickens in later life. We also see how he keeps his early life a secret only really wanting it to be fully known after his death.

We see how early heart-break effected his ability to show affection and love for the rest of his life. His troubled relationships with his wife and his ten mostly unwanted children. Dickens form hugely strong friendships with many people and yet seemed incapable of loving those closest to him, his wife and children. It is in his relationships that as a reader I find myself disliking Dickens’ as a person. Poor Catherine Dickens his wife seems to be little more than an accessory to him from the offset. He felt he should take a wife therefore she did. He fathered 10 children with her during their 22 year marriage and then she was cast off, for Ellen Ternan with whom he had a 12 year relationship and possible had a son who died in infancy.

Although the book gives a very bad impression of Dickens’ behaviour regarding his marriage and dealings with his children it is impossible not to admire his greatness as a both a writer and through his good works. Tomalin’s vivid description of his working habits and non stop activity, really give the sence that Dickens’ was something very special.

I enjoyed reading the descriptions of Dickens’ walks around London and also the many houses which he lived in. The author really gives a sence of his surroundings and this adds to the general experience of the book.

The book features a fantastic conclusion and ties up the lives of everyone else featured in the book. Tomalin gives lots oif information on how our extensive knowledge of Dickens’ came to be, from the first biography by his good friend Forster to the accounts of his daughter Katey. She also mentions the gaps in our knowledge and the questions that will never be answered. Most of these relating to his relationship with Ellen Ternan, which all involved did everything they could to conceal.

I could write about this book all day. It is so packed with details of Dickens’ life that as a reader you feel that you know the man once you have closed the book for the last time. I would recommend everyone read this book, whether a fan of his work or not. The book gives a great snap shot at the time of Dickens and the way society worked across all classes. It also features some other prominent literary figures of the time including, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope who were friends of Dickens.

The book has definitely increased my interest in Dickens and Victorian London and made me want to read more.

Look out for more Dickens related posts coming up soon including my review of the Dickens exhibition at the Museum of London and my Dickens reading list challenge.

This week I have been ridiculously busy. On Sunday it’s my little girls christening followed by a big garden party at our house. We planned this a few months ago knowing we had loads of time to finish the house and get everything sorted. As with all my grand plans it has come round rather quickly and the last week has been more than a little crazy.

We only moved into the house 6 months ago and have been completing the renovation since we moved. The house is now near on perfect, however the garden was a huge mess and it’s taken a lot of effort to make it presentable.

My lovely husband is a handy sort and has built some beautiful picnic benches from scratch and painted them! Here they are in progress…

And here they are finished…

I’ll add some more photos once the rest of the garden is sorted. It’s still a work in progress here!

Meanwhile I’ve been cleaning and planning like mad and it’s all starting to come together! I am now in search of some last-minute bunting to decorate the three gazebos that we’ve put up and I’d like to make some pretty centre pieces for the tables.

Then it’s back to last-minute preparations for my next vintage fair which is now only a week away! After that I plan to do nothing but rest and read for at least a month!

One of my lovely friends just recommended this fab Facebook game created by the BBC. Lots of fun for Jane Austen fans!

Follow Mr and Mrs Darcy through all of jane Austen’s novels and decorate your own manor!

Play the game by going to http://www.facebook.com/janeaustengame

Has anyone else noticed a massive influx of vintage home style on the high street? It’s everywhere! Having bought and renovated a new house this year I am even more obsessed with home decor than usual, and have loved decorating and furnishing my new home to my taste. But the high street really isn’t the only option for a vintage shabby chic look. This style can be created, cheaply and ethically, by almost anyone.

I wanted to share a few of my recent projects just to show how easy it is. I love to buy furniture and fabric at car boots and charity shops and not only does the money go to people who need it, it also gives me the opportunity to own one-off pieces and learn new skills. The real secret is to have an eye for an items potential. I see old dark wood furniture all the time that really wouldn’t suit the look I’m going for. However carved features and nice shapes can really be brought out with a little paint.

Take this dark wood side board for example. I bought it for £80 from my local British Heart Foundation furniture shop.

Here it is again painted antique white. Such a beautiful piece of furniture for under £100!

We had so much fun doing it as well, and it only took a couple of days.

Here’s a few of our other recent up-cycles…

The chest of drawers cost £20 and we painted it with Laura Ashley pink and the gorgeous dresser was £70 and painted cream and pale duck egg.

Theres no reason to stop at furniture here’s a few things I’ve made recently…

The lavender bunnies were made from an old cardigan and stuffed with lavender from the garden and the stuffing from an old cushion, The pin cushion was made using an old tea cup and a scrap on fabric, and the clips are made from old dresses and my daughters love them!

I made this cushion using fabric patches and its backed with the fabric from a vintage pillowcase which I bought in a charity shop for 75p! The cushion pad inside was £1.50 from Primark.

Lastly here’s a skirt I made for my daughters teddy using an old dress and my net curtain cut offs.

I hope I’ve inspired you with a few of my ideas. I have so many unfinished projects underway at the moment including my antique chest and two victorian chairs. So will hopefully be able to post some more pictures soon.

The last few weeks have been very busy again. Being a mum, organising my next vintage fair, and being a complete history geek can mean I dont get a minute to blog. I have also joined the many thousands of women all over the world who have fallen for a man who goes by the name of Christian Grey!

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been to Brighton a couple of times in the last month to do some Princess Charlotte related research. This included two amazing talks, one on the life of Princess Charlotte and the other was about regency midwifery. Both were facinating and I learnt a lot. I will get round to this in another post soon, I promise!

I have done quite a lot of bargain hunting recently and tried out some new car boot sales and charity shops. Purchaes include a dresser, a very old antique chest, lots of frames, an antique draughts set and two victorian chairs, so I have lots of restoration projects to get on with! (yet again blog post on this soon)

I recently bought two stunning dresses from my favourite repro vintage shop Love ur Look and I’m so happy with them. I will definitely be wearing one of them to my next vintage fair on July 28th. Heres a pic of the dresses from their website…

This is the flyer for the vintage fair, if your in Wimbledon on July 28th I hope to see you there!
In the mean time I have a house to clean and a Dickens audio book to listen to. The sun is actually shining in London today so get outside and enjoy it while you can!