Book Review: Charles Chaplin – My Autobiography

‘I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying...’

In the space of 18 months, I’ve gone from being ambivalent at best about silent cinema to a full-blown enthusiast. At the forefront of this sea change is my love for Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, the man responsible for some of the greatest works of cinema ever committed to film. I’ve devoured all of his classics and I’m now working my way through some of his lesser works and it was this newfound adoration that led me to Chaplin’s beautifully written autobiography. Let’s jump in…

Published in 1964 when Chaplin was in his mid-seventies, My Autobiography is a fascinating insight into early cinema, London during the Victorian era, and the political witch-hunts that pervaded Hollywood in the mid-20th Century. For a man with little formal education, it is surprising how rich and florid Chaplin’s prose is, even bringing a little Dickensian flair to his vivid descriptions of life growing up in extreme poverty in South London. His constant heartache regarding his mother’s ailing health is genuinely affecting, as is his familial bond with his beloved elder half-brother Sydney. In truth, it is this first third of the book that is the most enchanting, essential even. Whilst reading about Chaplin’s rise to fame is compelling, it is also fairly arbitrary, the little tramp lived such a full and interesting life that many of his major films are only touched on briefly, and many of his relationships, marriages even, are either ignored or only mentioned in passing.

That being said, for anyone that is serious about learning more about either Chaplin or early silent cinema, this book is a great starting point.