The Other Dickens

The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 376
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    The Other Dickens
    Book Description:

    Catherine Hogarth, who came from a cultured Scots family, married Charles Dickens in 1836, the same year he began serializing his first novel. Together they traveled widely, entertained frequently, and raised ten children. In 1858, the celebrated writer pressured Catherine to leave their home, unjustly alleging that she was mentally disordered-unfit and unloved as wife and mother. Constructing a plotline nearly as powerful as his stories of Scrooge and Little Nell, Dickens created the image of his wife as a depressed and uninteresting figure, using two of her three sisters against her, by measuring her presumed weaknesses against their strengths. This self-serving fiction is still widely accepted.

    In the first comprehensive biography of Catherine Dickens, Lillian Nayder debunks this tale in retelling it, wresting away from the famous novelist the power to shape his wife's story. Nayder demonstrates that the Dickenses' marriage was long a happy one; more important, she shows that the figure we know only as "Mrs. Charles Dickens" was also a daughter, sister, and friend, a loving mother and grandmother, a capable household manager, and an intelligent person whose company was valued and sought by a wide circle of women and men. Making use of the Dickenses' banking records and legal papers as well as their correspondence with friends and family members, Nayder challenges the long-standing view of Catherine Dickens and offers unparalleled insights into the relations among the four Hogarth sisters, reclaiming those cherished by the famous novelist as Catherine's own and illuminating her special bond with her youngest sister, Helen, her staunchest ally during the marital breakdown.

    Drawing on little-known, unpublished material and forcing Catherine's husband from center stage, The Other Dickens revolutionizes our perception of the Dickens family dynamic, illuminates the legal and emotional ambiguities of Catherine's position as a "single" wife, and deepens our understanding of what it meant to be a woman in the Victorian age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6514-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Constructing Catherine Dickens
    (pp. 1-18)

    The daughter and granddaughter of cultured Scotsmen and women—intellectuals, writers, and musicians who highly valued family life—Catherine Hogarth was an animated and well-read nineteen-year-old, and a devoted sister and cousin, when she met Charles Dickens in 1835. For forty-two of her sixty-four years, she lived apart from the famous man who has come to define her, spending her first two decades as Miss Hogarth and her last two as the estranged wife and widow of “the Inimitable.” Yet we know her solely as “Mrs. Charles Dickens.” Recognized by the one relationship that brought her into the public eye,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “The Mind of Woman Occasionally Asserts Its Powers”: CATHERINE HOGARTH AMONG ENLIGHTENED PATRIARCHS, 1815-1835
    (pp. 19-49)

    “Kate & Mary Hogarth to tea.”¹ With this brief and mundane entry for 30 August 1832 in the journal of Mrs. William Ayrton, Catherine Dickens enters the archival record, a seventeen-year-old girl paying a social call at 4 James Street, Buckingham Gate, London, with her thirteen-year-old sister in tow. More than two years pass before Kate’s own voice is heard—in her two earliest extant letters, which she wrote to her cousin Mary Scott Hogarth of Scremerston, near Berwick, in 1835. At nineteen Catherine Hogarth sounds much like Catherine Morland, the teenage protagonist of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), who is...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Becoming Galatea: COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE, 1835-1837
    (pp. 50-76)

    The quest of the male artist to create a perfect female subject—and often a perfect wife—is a familiar cultural motif, one that dates from ancient Greece and the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Disgusted by the faults of womankind and resolving to live unmarried, Pygmalion sculpts his perfect female out of ivory and falls in love with her, hopelessly it seems. Fortunately for the artist, Aphrodite ultimately unites him with his beloved Galatea by bringing the female sculpture to life. But nineteenth-century versions of this myth often end less happily than the ancient one, particularly for the Galatea...

    (pp. 77-87)

    Variously interpreted as a simple moral tale for children, a complex narrative of Christian sacrifice and rebirth, and a homoerotic celebration of women’s love, Christina Rossetti’s poem about Laura, Lizzie, and the redemptive quality of their sisterhood reveals the perceived attractions and dangers of that relationship for Victorians. Drawing on idealized conceptions of womanhood, Rossetti’s selfless and virginal Lizzie purposely seeks the seductive goblin merchants in a nearby glen, hoping to purchase their “fruit forbidden” for the fallen and dying sister who has consumed it. When Lizzie refuses to eat with the men or “open lip from lip,” they pelt...

  9. CHAPTER 3 “Their Voices, Mr. Dickens’s Imperative”: MESMERIZED, 1837-1842
    (pp. 88-118)

    En route from Siena to La Scala, Italy, in late January 1845, Catherine sat beside her husband on the box of their carriage. They had been living in Genoa since July and were expanding their Italian vocabulary during the ride, with Dickens teaching Catherine some new words. After a few minutes of silence Catherine dropped her muff, and her husband looked her way. What he saw surprised him. Catherine had lost consciousness but had neither fainted nor fallen asleep. “Her eyelids quivering in a convulsive manner” and “her senses numbed,” she had unexpectedly entered “the Mesmeric trance,” he reported. Roused...

  10. CHAPTER 4 “Their Voices, Mrs. Dickens’s Expostulatory”: DISENTRANCED, 1843-1847
    (pp. 119-152)

    For Catherine, the process of awakening from a trance varied. Mesmerized by Dickens in Pittsburgh in 1842, she awoke easily, he claimed—most likely by means of the sweeping hand movements or the facial massaging he had seen other mesmerists use for that purpose. When she was en route to La Scala, Italy, in 1845, Catherine’s coming to consciousness was more protracted, with Dickens “rousing her, with some difficulty,” after she had unwittingly succumbed to his magnetic spell. But her awakening in its broadest sense—as an experience of disentrancement with her husband and with certain aspects of her married...

  11. CHAPTER 5 “Richer in That Respect”: OVERBEARINGS, 1848-1852
    (pp. 153-190)

    Three weeks before his death, in what was to prove his last exchange with Dickens, Francis Jeffrey replied to a letter he received from Devonshire Terrace toward the close of 1849—a report of “the well-being and promise of [the] children,” his six-year-old godson included, and news that Catherine was once again expecting, though she could have been little more than six weeks pregnant at the time. Delighted to receive “such pleasing accounts” of the children, Jeffrey was less pleased by the revelation that a ninth baby was on the way. Rather than offering his congratulations, he wrote of Catherine’s...

  12. INTERLUDE II “Catherine Georgina”; or, What’s in a Name?
    (pp. 191-209)

    In January 1868, nearly a decade after Catherine separated from her husband and, as a consequence, from Georgina, a new pupil was admitted to the North London Collegiate School for girls. “Student #1402” in the school’s admission book was the twelve-year-old daughter of a pianoforte dealer who lived on Harrington Street in Camden, one Edward Cornelius.¹ Yet it is the daughter’s name—and the identity of her mother—that have bearing on Catherine’s story. What the admission book didn’t note was that Catherine Georgina Ann Cornelius was the child of Anne Brown, long the lady’s maid of Catherine Dickens and,...

  13. CHAPTER 6 The Meaning of “Our”: SLEIGHTS OF HAND, 1853-1858
    (pp. 210-249)

    Gathered with friends and family members in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1849, Catherine watched as “the Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rhama Rhoos”—her husband, dressed as an Eastern conjuror—performed a series of magic tricks. She saw coins vanish and reappear, cards leap from a pack and rematerialize after being burned, a friend’s watch cut from a loaf of bread, and a plum pudding cooked in a hat that remained somehow undamaged in the process. In Dickens’s nimble hands, a wooden figure dubbed “the travelling doll” miraculously disappeared, leaving only its dress behind. As Dickens...

  14. CHAPTER 7 “As If She Were Sole and Unmarried”: SEPARATION, 1858-1870
    (pp. 250-296)

    On 4 June 1858 Catherine signed the deed of separation that her solicitor, George Smith, brought to her in Brighton. A densely written three-page legal document, the deed had been drawn up by Smith and edited by Frederic Ouvry, Dickens’s solicitor, as well as by Dickens himself. The itemized bill Smith submitted to “C. Dickens Esq.” the following month included charges for drawing up the deed and producing a fair draft but also for “attending at several places enquiring for the address of Mrs. Dickens” on 3 June (fig. 18).¹ Catherine’s solicitor had found it difficult to locate his client,...

    (pp. 297-310)

    Writing to “dear Miss Hogarth” in July 1856, on Helen’s twenty-third birthday, the contralto Charlotte Dolby wished Catherine’s youngest sister “many, very many years of happiness,” attaching her letter to a gift from Foster’s, the dressmaker’s, with “much love.” “Will you do me the favor to accept the accompanying head dress?” she asked. “I thought blue ‘forget me nots’ very suitable for your wear…hav[ing] observed that blue is your favorite color.”¹ Dolby’s gift proved well suited to Helen, less because of its color than its floral motif. Crowned with forget-me-nots, Helen defended the sister whom Dickens slighted and sought to...

  16. CHAPTER 8 Last Wills and Last Words: WIDOWHOOD, 1870-1879
    (pp. 311-337)

    In 1870, the year of Dickens’s death, England’s most famous widow was Queen Victoria, the ever-grieving “Widow at Windsor.” Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert had died of typhoid fever in 1861, at the age of forty-two. After Albert’s death the queen entered a prolonged mourning period that extended well beyond the conventional limits set for a widow’s bereavement in the Victorian age.¹ Not until 1866, after a four-year absence, did Victoria agree to attend the opening of Parliament and exchange her widow’s weeds for her robes of state. And even then she remained silent, having arranged for the Lord Chancellor to...

  17. Afterword: “Suttee Business”
    (pp. 338-342)

    Since the 1880s Catherine Dickens has been consigned to her grave prematurely, her death assumed to coincide with her husband’s in 1870—or with their separation twelve years earlier. Invested in what Annie Thomas terms “the suttee business,” Eleanor Christian, in her 1888 reminiscence, mistakenly claims that Catherine “did not long survive her husband,”¹ and later writers usually agree, even when they know that Catherine outlived her husband by nine years. In his play Widow of Charles Dickens (1953), Norman Holland compresses Catherine’s widowhood into the single day following her husband’s death, on which she meets and is quickly reconciled...

  18. Primary Sources
    (pp. 343-346)
  19. Index
    (pp. 347-360)