Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Great Dickens Scandal

The author of a new biography chronicles how the writer’s affair with a much younger actress was revealed to the world only after the death of Dickens’s last surviving child.

From a piece in the Daily Beast...

Shortly before Christmas 1933 Dickens’s last surviving child, the 84-year-old judge Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, was knocked down by a motorcyclist. He died a few days later. For years he had striven to ensure that the story of his father’s 12-year relationship with Ellen Ternan, an actress 27 years his junior, should be kept under wraps. It had been mentioned in the press, on both sides of the Atlantic, when Dickens and his wife legally separated in 1858. The following year, however, Ellen left the stage and disappeared altogether from public view. In 1870 Dickens died, mourned by the whole nation as a truly great and good man, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Six years later Ellen, after deducting 10 years from her actual age, married a schoolmaster and became the mother of two. She died a highly respectable widow in 1914. Fourteen years later she figured in a novel called This Side Idolatry, depicting Dickens’s life up to 1858. He discovers Ellen behind the scenes at a theater weeping with shame over the scantiness of her stage costume and quickly becomes infatuated with her. This is the last straw for his long-suffering wife and the novel ends with her denouncing him and telling him to go to his “painted actress.”

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