Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mean as the Dickens

Charles Dickens is a well-known, beloved author, who penned classic and great works. Although he was a dedicated writer, he wasn't the friendliest husband a Victorian lady could ask for.
Maria Beadnell

When Charles was a young man, only eight-teen, he met a girl named Maria Beadnell. Vivacious, coquettish, and sweet, she stole Charles's heart, but—alas! Maria's parents did not believe this match was suitable. She was sent to school in Paris. Her memory, with Charles, always remained. The short-lived romance inspired David's feelings for Dora in his novel, David Copperfield.

While Dickens was working at the Morning Chronicle, he met George Hogarth. This man had a daughter only three years younger than Charles. Her name was Catherine. She was very sweet and lovable, but not as flirtatious as Maria. Nevertheless, Charles took her as his wife in 1836.

Catherine Dickens
Once the couple were happily married, Catherine's younger sister moved in (as was custom in those days.) The sister's name was Mary. She passed away at only seventeen in 1837. This devastated Charles. Mary was reflected in several of Dickens's characters, such as Rose Maylie and Little Nell.

Catherine and Charles had ten children. Obviously, that was not an easy job for Catherine to keep up with, so another sister of hers, Georgina, moved in. Georgina was a big help to the tired Catherine. Meanwhile, the relationship between Dickens and his wife was growing tense. Raising children cost money, and Charles was now having money-troubles. He blamed the birth of his kids on Catherine. His wife was growing older, just as he was, and he did not find her attractive anymore. She also became fatter—but what do you expect after ten kids‽

In 1855, Charles got a letter in the mail. It was from a woman named Mrs. Winter. It turned out it was Maria Beadnell, who was obviously now married. They met each other, and Charles was surprised to see his childhood sweetheart in her forties—and yet, she was still preserved all of the youthful vivacity! His memories of her when she was young did not live up to the older woman he saw. Somewhat disappointed, I imagine, he didn't talk to her very much after that.

Ellen Ternan
In 1857, Charles, forty-five years old, fell in love with an actress named Ellen Ternan, who was eight-teen—about the same age of his daughter, Kate. (Classy, Charles. Very, very classy.) Ellen was charming and liked to read. Poor Catherine had lost Charles's affections (by this time, they didn't even share the same bedroom). Can you imagine Catherine's reaction when she opened the mail, and saw a beautiful bracelet addressed from her husband to some other girl? I would have been so angry, and I really don't blame Catherine if she was too. Although Charles denied his having an affair, it was all too obvious for his wife.

In 1858, the unhappy couple separated. This caused a scandal for Dickens. The children were, too, separated from their mother, except for Charley, the oldest. They never really talked again. On her deathbed, to her daughter, Kate, she gave her the love letters Charles had written to her. She said to her, “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once.”

Charles Dickens is, even today, a very influential and popular author. He has inspired countless writers with his famous, moralized works. Though he is surely a master in the art of literature, he is but an ignoramus when it comes to being a good husband.
Dickens as a young man, Daniel Maclise


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