The Great Charles Dickens Scandal

Michael Slater. Yale Univ., $30 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-11219-1
Even the reputedly spotless reputation of the much revered Charles Dickens couldn’t get through his bicentennial celebration without an eminent Dickens scholar bringing the skeletons out of the novelist’s closet. Biographer Slater (Charles Dickens) once again raises the old-news rumors—to which a previous biographer, Claire Tomalin, devoted an entire book, Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (1991)—of Dickens’s scandalous relationship with a young woman after the breakup of his marriage in 1858. This terse, plodding, exhaustive effort, more suited to an academic article than a full-length book, chronicles that relationship and the life of the rumor, examining both Dickens’s own efforts to contain it as well as its long afterlife. After 1934, when his last living heir died, amateur Dickens sleuths, biographers, journalists, and critics—notably George Orwell and Edmund Wilson—attempted to ferret out the facts behind Dickens’s relationship with this mystery woman. Was this indeed the young actress Nelly Ternan, or could it have been his younger sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth, or perhaps his first crush, Maria Beadnell? After surveying the more than 150 years of speculation, Slater admits that we may never be able to solve the nature of Dickens’s relationship with Nelly (did they have a child together? was this merely a platonic relationship?), though he’s convinced, based on recent evidence, that Dickens and Nelly were indeed lovers. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/10/2012
Release date: 11/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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