Sorting Through Scandal: The Charles Dickens Affair
Charles Dickens is perhaps the most beloved figure of British literary heritage. His writing has become a revered aspect of Great Britain’s national identity, one entrenched with the warm Victorian traditions of family, hearth and home. Michael Slater, in his new biography, The Great Charles Dickens Scandal connects Dickens’ celebrity with the endless gossip about the author, writing:
Any association of him and his work with the even remotely salacious is therefore bound to have for us an interest that seems destined never to lose its piquant savour.
In 1858 Dickens legally separated from his wife, but it was not until 1933, when Dickens’ last surviving child passed away, that the truth began to surface. Sir Henry Fielding Dickens had worked tirelessly to prevent rumors of his father’s affair, but upon his passing, there was no more defense. Since then, the vague story of Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan, an actress 27 years his junior, has spread like wildfire. Slater, in this text, takes on the daunting tasks of sorting through details of the affair and chronicling those who have sought to expose it.
Scholars of Victorian Britain, readers of classical literature, and professional gossipers have discussed Dickens’ affair for years, citing the juxtaposition between his reputation as a symbol of the family and his actual actions. Scandal is always entertaining, especially when shrouded in such well-protected mystery, but maybe even more interesting is the effect Dickens’ affair had on his art, and thus on the British literary canon. Most reports claim that Ellen and Charles made each other miserable, and she even told a confidant that she “loathed the very thought of the intimacy.” It has even been reported that Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens had a son together, who then died in infancy. Slater and others have claimed that Dickens’ blatant unhappiness can be seen in his later writing and that many of his darker heroines are based on his young lover.
The public is and has always been completely enchanted with Charles Dickens, both as a figure and as a writer. Michael Slater in The Great Charles Dickens Scandal is employed with the task of sorting through his life and the resulting influences on his writing. Slater recently published a piece with The Daily Beast and his book is a tremendous effort, but it remains clear that some aspects of Dickens’ life will always remain unturned.
Goodreads members in the U.S. and Canada now have a chance to win a copy of The Great Charles Dickens Scandal, from now until December 14, a great holiday gift for any lover of the Victorian era!