Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Famous Writer/Cruel Man

"Great Expectations - The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb   Farrar, Straus and Giroux   239 pages   $25

Charles Dickens, 24, married Catherine Hogarth, 20, on April 2, 1836.  Nine months later, their first son was born and he would be followed by nine more siblings (and at least two miscarriages) during a 15 year stretch.  Clearly amusements in London during those years were few and far between.

Catherine's younger sister, Mary, came to help with the children.  She didn't last long as a mother's helper; after a night at the theatre, she suffered a fatal heart attack and died the next day.  She was 17 years old.  Dickens then insisted that when he himself died, he must be buried with her.  He wore her ring for the rest of his life to the probable dismay of his wife. 

Catherine, one of nine in her family, was not at a loss for more help; she recruited her sister Georgina to take Mary's place.

And then in 1857 disaster struck again.  Dickens fell wildly in love with an actress named Ellen Terman.  Shortly after they met, she retired from the stage and was supported by Dickens.

In 1858, he ruthlessly kicked his wife out of their home after having given her a nice settlement and a new home.  As a sort of final thrust, he refused to let her take the children.  The oldest son, Charley, was 21 and he elected to disregard his father's orders and visit his mother.

Dickens made nearly  a career of welcoming each new baby with enthusiasm and joy; never hesitated to prefer one child over the others, proclaiming said child, "My favorite."  As they grew to adulthood, each child, one by one disappointed him and he was not shy about expressing his bad impressions of every one of them in private and in public.  

As a result, only one (a son) turned out to be a success.  So much for Dickens' great expectations.  

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