A page-turning account of the scandal that almost ruined Dickens and how the story disappeared from history
Charles Dickens was regarded as the great proponent of hearth and home in Victorian Britain, but in 1858 this image was nearly shattered. With the breakup of his marriage that year, rumors of a scandalous relationship he may have conducted with the young actress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan flourished. For the remaining twelve years of his life, Dickens managed to contain the gossip. After his death, surviving family members did the same. But when the author's last living son died in 1934, there was no one to discourage rampant speculation. Dramatic revelations came from every corner-over Nelly's role as Dickens's mistress, their clandestine meetings, and even about his possibly fathering an illegitimate child by her.
This book presents the most complete account of the scandal and ensuing cover-up ever published. Drawing on the author's letters and other archival sources not previously available, Dickens scholar Michael Slater investigates what Dickens did or may have done, then traces the way the scandal was elaborated over succeeding generations. Slater shows how various writers concocted outlandish yet plausible theories while newspapers and book publishers vied for sensational revelations. With its tale of intrigue and a cast of well-known figures from Thackeray and Shaw to Orwell and Edmund Wilson, this engaging book will delight not only Dickens fans but also readers who appreciate tales of mystery, cover-up, and clever detection.
Michael Slater is emeritus professor of Victorian literature at Birkbeck College, University of London; past president of the International Dickens Fellowship and of the Dickens Society of America; and author of Charles Dickens. He lives in London.