Charles Reade, 1814–1884

Portrait

Biographical note

Novelist, son of a country gentleman of Oxfordshire, educated at Oxford, and called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn 1843. He did not, however, practise, but began his literary career with some dramas, of which the most remarkable were Masks and Faces, Gold, and Drink. He afterwards rewrote the first of these as a novel, Peg Woffington (1852), which attained great popularity. It is never too late to Mend appeared in 1856, his historical novel, The Cloister and the Hearth, generally regarded as his masterpiece (1861), Hard Cash (1863), Griffith Gaunt (1867), Foul Play (1869), Put Yourself in his Place (1870), and A Terrible Temptation (1871).

Critics have differed very widely as to the merits of Reade as a novelist, and have attributed to, and denied him the same qualities; but it will be generally admitted that, while very unequal, he was at his best a writer of unusual power and vividness. Nearly all are agreed as to the great excellence of The Cloister and the Hearth, Mr. Swinburne placing it “among the very greatest masterpieces of narrative.” Many of his novels were written with a view to the reformation of some abuse. Thus Hard Cash exposes certain private asylums, and Foul Play, written in collaboration with Dion Boucicault, is levelled against ship-knackers.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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