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The Great Charles Dickens Scandal

The Great Charles Dickens Scandal

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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    The Great Charles Dickens Scandal
    Book Description:

    Charles Dickens was regarded as the great proponent of hearth and home in Victorian Britain, but in 1858 this image was nearly shattered. With the breakup of his marriage that year, rumors of a scandalous relationship he may have conducted with the young actress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan flourished. For the remaining twelve years of his life, Dickens managed to contain the gossip. After his death, surviving family members did the same. But when the author's last living son died in 1934, there was no one to discourage rampant speculation. Dramatic revelations came from every corner-over Nelly's role as Dickens's mistress, their clandestine meetings, and even about his possibly fathering an illegitimate child by her.

    This book presents the most complete account of the scandal and ensuing cover-up ever published. Drawing on the author's letters and other archival sources not previously available, Dickens scholar Michael Slater investigates what Dickens did or may have done, then traces the way the scandal was elaborated over succeeding generations. Slater shows how various writers concocted outlandish yet plausible theories while newspapers and book publishers vied for sensational revelations. With its tale of intrigue and a cast of well-known figures from Thackeray and Shaw to Orwell and Edmund Wilson, this engaging book will delight not only Dickens fans but also readers who appreciate tales of mystery, cover-up, and clever detection.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14231-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    Here is a sampling of Dickens-related headlines from the British press during the last ten years or so: ‘the dark side of dickens and the love that destroyed his marriage’ (Daily Mail, 11 September 1999); ‘dickens kept a keen eye on fallen women’ (Sunday Times, 1 July 2001); ‘dickens’s lover was hidden in a house bought by the author’ (The Times, 2 March 2005); ‘new play reveals a scandalous twist – how charles dickens had a secret teenage mistress’(Daily Mail, 12 July 2007); ‘the secret affair that almost ruined dickens’ (Daily Telegraph, 16 June 2008); ‘diamond ring could prove...

  7. Prologue: Dickens in 1857
    (pp. 6-10)

    When Dickens celebrated his forty-fifth birthday on 7 February 1857 he had been for twenty years the favourite story-teller of the English-speaking world. His novels, fromPickwick Papersonwards, and his series of Christmas Books, beginning with the immortalA Christmas Carolin 1843, had sold and continued to sell in such vast quantities that Anthony Trollope once jokingly wrote that he thought they must be consumed in families like loaves of bread or joints of beef. Since 1850 he had ‘conducted’ a weekly journal,Household Words, which sold for two pence, thus making it affordable by a wide range...

  8. CHAPTER ONE 1858: Enter rumour
    (pp. 11-26)

    As Thackeray was going into the Garrick Club one evening in late May 1858 he was greeted by some fellow-members eager to know if he had heard the sensational news that Dickens, after more than twenty years of marriage and the begetting of ten children, had separated himself from his wife Catherine. It was, they claimed, the result of an ‘intrigue’ between Dickens and his resident sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth, Catherine’s junior by eleven years. This was a very grave charge indeed – a question not just of adultery, which would have been bad enough, but of what would then have...

  9. CHAPTER TWO 1859–1928: Keeping up appearances
    (pp. 27-55)

    During the last ten years of his life Dickens continued to occupy a position of unique prominence in the life of the British nation. During his reading tours tens of thousands flocked to be dazzled and enraptured by his performances, as they did also in America. ‘It was as if some good genius had come among us from another world to dispense favours’, recalled the devoted Dickensian W. R. Hughes in his contribution to F. G. Kitton’s 1890Dickens by Pen and Pencil. During this last decade Dickens published two more best-selling novels,Great ExpectationsandOur Mutual Friend, and...

  10. CHAPTER THREE 1928–1930: Coming to the boil
    (pp. 56-68)

    The publishing firm of Mills and Boon (Harlequin Mills & Boon since 1971) has been famous since the 1930s for its ‘bodice-ripping’ romantic fiction, but in all that time it has surely never produced a novel that has proved quite as sensational as one that it published on 7 September 1928. The book was calledThis Side Idolatryand its author was a thirty-four-year-oldDaily Expressjournalist named Carl Eric Bechhofer Roberts. Beneath his name on the spine and title-page of the book appeared also the pen-name ‘Ephesian’ that he had already used in the two previous years for his biographies...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR 1934–1938: Boiling over
    (pp. 69-96)

    The year 1934 marked a turning-point in the history of the Dickens scandal. On 16 December 1933 Sir Henry Dickens was knocked down by a motorcyclist on the Chelsea Embankment and died of his injuries five days later. He was Dickens’s last surviving child and the popular press suddenly became even more Dickens-minded. There was already a heightened awareness of Dickens in the minds of newspaper editors and proprietors because of the circulation war then being waged between some of the leading dailies in which Dickens’s works were providing the ammunition – a remarkable indication of the cultural status they...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE 1939: His daughter’s voice
    (pp. 97-109)

    The manuscript that landed on Dexter’s desk was entitledDickens and Daughterand was the work of a former actress called Gladys Storey. Ten years earlier she had written a piece forThe Evening Newsof 29 May 1929 reporting the death in her ninetieth year of Dickens’s second daughter Kate Perugini. Storey had written of Kate’s ‘charming personality, her wit and humour, and her great gift for friendship’. She wrote also of Kate’s close involvement in the mainstream world of Victorian art in the latter years of the nineteenth century, both in her own right and through her two...

  13. CHAPTER SIX 1941–1958: Enter the scholars
    (pp. 110-127)

    Until the 1940s Dickens was very much below the academic radar in the English-speaking world. In 1948 Louis B. Frewer of the Bodleian Library referred inThe Dickensianto ‘academic, hidebound Oxford, where one mentions the name of Dickens almost in a whisper’. And indeed Oxford was still holding out against Dickens as late as 1960 when I was there as a graduate student. I wanted to make some aspect of his work the subject of my thesis and found myself being urged to find a more ‘solid’ topic. One of the few professional academics to devote a whole book...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN 1959–1966: The amateur contribution
    (pp. 128-147)

    From Dickens’s pocket diary for 1867 in the New York Public Library Professor Ada Nisbet had gleaned some dramatic new information about his relations with Ellen Ternan. But the tiny book proved to have still more startling secrets to reveal, as was shown by the eminent English actor and long-time Dickens buff Felix Aylmer in hisDickens Incognitopublished in 1959. Aylmer had examined the diary paying close attention to the minuscule daily entries that Nisbet had passed over as ‘inconsequential’. Quickly recognising that they were abbreviations mainly relating to journeys, Aylmer noted the regular recurrence of ‘Sl.’ as a...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT What Gladys knew: The Storey Papers
    (pp. 148-162)

    Despite all the facts unearthed by Morley about her early stage career and her post-Dickens years as a happy wife and mother, Ellen herself remained a somewhat shadowy figure. On 7 February 1957, however, readers ofThe Evening Newsdid get a glimpse of her as a person in her own right in an article contributed by a literary-minded barrister named C. G. L. Du Cann to a series the paper was running called ‘The World’s Strangest Stories’. His piece was headed ‘Was Dickens a Wicked Man?’ in allusion to Kate Perugini’s remark, reported by Storey, ‘My father was a...

  16. CHAPTER NINE Nelly visible
    (pp. 163-185)

    Like Aylmer, Katharine Longley was a great aficionado of detective stories and enjoyed referring to her ‘Marplish’ streak. Like Aylmer again, her first forays into matters Dickensian had been concerned with solving the puzzle posed by the unfinishedMystery of Edwin Drood. This led her on to becoming interested in that other great mystery of Dickens’s later years, the nature and history of his relationship with Ellen. As an archivist by profession, she had the research skills needed for investigating the subject and acquired another great advantage when she made the acquaintance of an elderly lady named Helen Wickham. Helen’s...

  17. EPILOGUE: Will we ever know?
    (pp. 186-191)

    In this book I have been tracing the excitement in the media and elsewhere concerning the gradual uncovering of the great secret of the last twelve years of Dickens’s life – his relationship with Ellen Ternan. The central mystery of the nature of this hidden relationship remains obscure but finds a ready focus in the question of sexuality. In his 1952 ‘Foreword’ to Nisbet’sDickens and Ellen TernanEdmund Wilson writes, ‘The unprejudiced reader of Miss Nisbet’s book will certainly come to the conclusion that, if Dickens’s relations with Ellen were, as the Dickensians insist, Platonic, he was an even...

  18. APPENDIX 1: Dickens’s Personal Statement, 1858
    (pp. 192-194)
  19. APPENDIX 2: The ‘Violated Letter’
    (pp. 195-198)
  20. Who’s Who
    (pp. 199-208)
  21. Select bibliography
    (pp. 209-210)
  22. Index
    (pp. 211-216)