Charles Dickens had three professional careers: novelist, journalist and public Reader. That third career has seldom been given the serious attention it deserved. For the last 12 years of his life he toured Britain and America giving 2-hour readings from his work to audiences of over two thousand. These readings were highly dramatic performances in which Dickens's great gift for mimicry enabled him to represent the looks and voices of his characters, to the point where audiences forgot they were watching Charles Dickens. His novels came alive on the platform: at the end of a reading, it seemed to many that a whole society had broken up rather than that a solitary recitalist had concluded. This book tries to recreate, in greater detail than hitherto, the sense of how those readings were performed and how they were received, how Dickens devised his stage set and tailored his books to make them into performance scripts, how he conducted his reading tours all around the country and developed a quite extraordinary rapport with his listeners. No single study of this late career of Dickens has drawn to such an extent on contemporary witnesses to the readings as well as tried to assess in some depth the significance of what Dickens called 'this new expression of the meaning of my books'. 'I shall tear myself to pieces', he said as he waited eagerly to go on stage for his performance, and that is ironically what he did, in ways he perhaps had not quite intended: he fractured into dozens of different characters up there on the platform, and as he thus tore himself to pieces his health collapsed irretrievably under the pressures he put upon himself to achieve these masterly illusions.