Literary Pursuits


Sunday Feature20160110

In a new series, Sarah Dillon is a literary detective on the hunt for the story behind the story of how great works were written. She begins with Dickens's masterpiece, Great Expectations.

Begun in 1860, Sarah asks why Dickens was writing it so fast - he finished it in nine and a half months - and why he famously changed the ending. The answers take her on a journey to Dickens's home in Gads Hill in Kent, the office of his magazine All The Year Round in Covent Garden and on a night-walk around the streets of London, where Dickens drew on the energy of the city as inspiration.

Talking to Dickens biographer Michael Slater and scholars Juliet John from Royal Holloway and John Drew from the University of Buckingham, Sarah pieces together how Dickens's most private life is played out in the novel.

And she uncovers the fascinating events behind the writing of it - including an urgent necessity for money, an overwhelming passion, and a relationship that goes to the heart of the deepest psychological needs that Dickens had.

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Sarah Dillon discovers how Jane Austen's last completed novel, 'Persuasion' was written. The novel has sometimes been viewed as Austen's valedictory novel - written while she was suffering with her final illness. But Sarah Dillon uncovers a more complex story: dates of revisions on the manuscripts in the British Library confirm her sister's story that Persuasion was completed almost a year before Austen's death, but it was only published posthumously. By talking to Dr Kathryn Sutherland from St Anne's College, Oxford, Paula Byrne, author of 'The Real Jane Austen, A Life In Small Things' and writer Margaret Drabble, we go behind the scant details of Austen's life and uncover reasons for the delay: her last illness; the possibly personal inspirations for the plot of the novel; the state of her finances; her fascinating creative process; and the radical reaches and determination of her literary ambitions.

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James Joyce went to extraordinary lengths to publish first book, Dubliners. He personally rescued the manuscript from fire, lost a major standoff with his publishers over revisions, orchestrated a press campaign, wrote a despairing letter to the king of England and left Ireland for good. Sarah Dillon recounts the story, investigates the manuscripts and sees how Joyce astonishing literary career nearly fell at the first hurdle.