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If Charles Dickens were alive today and chanced to drop in at the Plymouth Theatre for an evening's entertainment, he might have occasion to substantiate rather ruefully the age-old advice against indiscreet love-letters. One can easily picture the squirming anguish of a sensitive artist treated to a dramatic portrayal, or betrayal, of his most intimate moments. But time has spared him this embarrassment, and an inquisitive public will find added gratification of its curiosity about the truth of the hidden private lives of its great in "Romantic Mr. Dickens."
A difficult task in writing has faced H. H. and Margaret Harper in their attempt to construct an integrated dramatic work from the clues furnished in the correspondence of Dickens and Dora Spenlow. Twenty-one years of Dickens' life, the passing parade from poverty to success, and three romances are a lot of material; the resulting sacrifice of continuity and development to a more complete story shows quite plainly in spots. Further, there is a feeling that the dialogue of Dickens and his two true loves, Dora Spenlow and Caroline Bronson, waxes a bit rhapsodical in their secret trysts--too much of the grandly romantic style has flowed from the authors' pens.
Such criticism leaves much yet to be said in favor of the production. Robert Keith gives a generally delightful impression of Dickens with all his virtues and not a few of his faults. We are introduced to Dickens the courageous, Dickens the admirable, Dickens the lovable; but we may also catch glimpses of Dickens the proud and vain. Above all we get a clear insight into the struggles of a man whose sympathies and view of life were not those of the dominant forces of his day. And however successful his crusade on behalf of the "Oliver Twists" may seem to us, we see also his personal defeat by the standards and prejudices of his day--the frustration of his thirst for the completeness that love gives to life.
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