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Posts Tagged ‘d’

Charles Dickens and his Secret Teenage Lover

Charles Dickens, one of the greats of english literature whose image was that of a pillar of Victorian morality would have been right at home with today’s sex scandals.

In 1953, when future biographer Claire Tomalin was studying English literature at Cambridge, she came across intriguing refrences  to a figure named Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, a young stage actress of minor reputation. In two separate distinguished biographies on Dickens both mentioned “this girl hanging about (the author), and they were both scathing about her,” Tomalin recalls. “She was (described as) this mercenary, who made Dickens’ kids unhappy, but to whom he seemed very attached. I sensed there was a story there.”. Cut to three decades later, Tomalin, then literary editor of the Sunday Times, mentioned her interest in Ternan to David Parker, curator of the Dickens Museum in London. He encouraged her to write Ternan’s biography.

Tomalin spent the next few years piecing together clues in letterrs, address books, diaries and photographs as she traced the arc of the secretive 13-year liaison between the great author and the actress. The result was her celebrated 1991 book, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens

Ternan met Dickens in 1857, when she, her mother and sisters were actors in a play he was producing. Dickens was 45; Trenan was 18. Anxious to preserve his image as a pillar of Victorian morality, Dickens purchased a house for her near London, where he visited her secretly. Dickens seemed both to revel in and regret the affair. Dickens and Ternan apparently destroyed all correspondence between them but Tomlin says, “there was plenty of material,” including details about Ternan in missives by Dickens children: Both his son Henry and daughter Katey, for example, “confirmed that (the couple) had a child,  and it died.” Tomalin believes that Nelly and the child, said to be a boy who did not survive infancy, had been sequestered in France.

In 1876, six years after Dickens death, Ternan, then 37, married a clergyman 12 years her junior;  they had two children, neither of whom learned of the relationship with Dickens until long after their mother’s death.

Having been rescued from obscurity by Tomalin, Ternan is about to to take center stage a second time; Ralph Fiennes will direct and star in a film adaption of  The Invisible Woman, with Felicity Jones in the title role, shooting is set to begin perhaps this Spring.

Looking forward to this movie and one other  thing I’m looking forward to are your comments on any of my earlier postings. Having your feedback will help me learn what you like and of even more importance what you don’t like so I can continue to make my blogsite a permanent part of your on line life.

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