When I was in elementary school, I was reading on the college level. I always had my nose in one book or another. Books were my safe place, and they were where I could let my imagination roam free. One of my favorite authors at the time was Charles Dickens.
I loved how his books would transport me back to Victorian England. I absolutely devoured Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. And who doesn’t love A Christmas Carol?
I’m not going to lie, though. Reading books from the 19th Century can be a challenge. Their rhythm and syntax seem foreign to the modern eye. It takes a great deal of effort to get into the flow of a Dickens novel, but I always felt it was worth it.
I think that challenge also appealed to me because my self-esteem at the time was rock bottom, and here was something I could excel at. It felt good to be the smartest person in the room at a time when little else felt good to me. Because of that, Dickens has always had a special place in my heart.
So imagine my sadness when this idol, too, took a nosedive off his pedestal the other day. I was surfing aimlessly through Youtube, as one does, and came across a video entitled Why Dickens’ Wife Left Her 10 Children and the Writer. What I learned therein, plus a lazy internet search, has left a sour taste in my mouth for this great writer.
Catherine Dickens met Charles when she was 19, and they soon fell in love. They had their first child 9 months after they were married. She sounds like a fascinating woman. She acted in several of Dickens’ plays, and wrote her own cookbook which included advice for wives, as those books often did back then. It was a best seller entitled What Shall We Have for Dinner?
She did suffer from post-partum depression, though, which must have been ghastly, considering she proceeded to have 10 children in the next 15 years. And she was understandably heartbroken when her daughter Dora died at 8 months old.
We know from Dickens’ diary that he didn’t want to have 10 children, and by the 5th one, he started blaming Catherine, as if she were immaculately conceiving all those kids to irritate him, or something. And he couldn’t understand why she might have reason to be depressed.
As Charles became more and more tired of Catherine, as she aged, gained weight (after 10 children? Say it isn’t so!), and became more (in his ironic words) plain, he tried to have her institutionalized based on a fake diagnosis. Fortunately, the doctor would not cooperate. Poor, suffering Charles. That would have been it for me, but Catherine persevered.
The last straw for her, it seems, was when the postman accidentally delivered a bracelet to their home that Charles had intended to give to an 18 year old starlet. It later came out that Charles had been secretly renting a house for that girl, Ellen Ternan, and her family. For a year. A year! And yet he not only insisted that there was nothing untoward in that relationship, but he also demanded that Catherine go to Ellen, give her the bracelet, and apologize to her for her behavior. (Yeah, right. That’ll happen.)
Needless to say, Catherine divorced Charles, which was practically unheard of back then. So were rights for women, it seems, as she was only allowed to take her oldest son with her when she left.
As further proof of his douchebaggery, Charles discouraged the rest of the children from visiting her, and when two of his daughters got married, he made sure that Catherine was not invited to the weddings. He also prohibited the children from telling her when her 4th son, Walter, died.
Bill Cosby. Benjamin Franklin, and now Charles Dickens. It seems that all of my ex-heroes treated their wives abominably. It makes me wonder if there’s anyone left to admire.