Monday, May 16, 2011

"I so loathed the old man's touch..."

I once posted on Dickens' extra-marital affair with Ellen Ternan here. Recently, an anonymous person left a very interesting comment--so interesting that I simply had to repost it for all of you to see. Here it is:

"Reflecting on Dickens' relationship with Ellen Ternan adds much to your study of his life and enjoyment of his works. He was discreet about the affair out of concern for his image in the Victorian Era and potential impacts to his literary and commercial success, revealing a great deal about his human nature and personality. She was also generally secretive about it but (gossip though it may be) is alleged to have said in later life "I so loathed the old man's touch".

Speaking of secrets, imagine Miss Ternan mourning his death for some time, passing herself off as a 23 year old at 36, marrying a 24 year old clergyman, and living out her life in Victorian respectability. Discovering after her death that she was older than known and had been an actress, her son burned her papers.

A web search will turn up photos of her at various ages, and even the grave to which she took her secrets. Likewise, of course, for Mr. Dickens, adding color to our considerations. It really is a shame that so much of Dickens’ papers were deliberately destroyed by him and others. Deprived of the sweet details in their own words, the whole truth regarding their feelings and motivations will forever remain a mystery. So, we pursue our reveries and console ourselves that the mysterious is yet more delicious than the known."

Whoever you are, thanks for leaving this comment, and, wow, it looks like you've done a ton of research on this whole Dickens/Ternan thing. Readers like you are the reason why I love blogging. Before you left your comment, I didn't even think about analyzing the affair from Ternan's perspective. Dickens seems like such an intriguing person now, perhaps even more intriguing than his novels.

15 comments:

mooderino said...

Curious to know why she had the affair if she hated his touch so much. Because he was a celebrity? I guess not much has changed then.

Very interesting post, cheers.

mood
Moody Writing

Jillian said...

I love the way you titled this post -- and like you, I love that sort of comment. I have a visitor who gives me all sorts of detail on Tolstoy and the writing of W&P, and another who tells me about the French Revolution. So valuable!

You know Claire Tomalin has a book out about the Dickens/Ternan story? I own it:

The Invisible Woman The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens -

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/390446.The_Invisible_Woman_The_Story_of_Nelly_Ternan_and_Charles_Dickens

Andi said...

Fantastic! Sadly, as much as I love Dickens I've looked into his personal life very little. Great to learn these tidbits.

Birdie said...

Discovering after her death that she was older than known and had been an actress, her son burned her papers.

*headdesk*
Although I understand (part of) the motivation for such destruction, the historian in me wants to shake the son until his teeth rattle. That said, I think if I ever became famous, I'd take the Dickens way out and burn all my own stuff.

Peggy said...

Jane Austen also carefully burned many of her letters. I think they should be allowed to die. We keep wanting to resurrect them, to discover everything about them as though that would make us feel closer to them and/or help us understand their work in a different way. Their legacy IS the work.

Besides, I can't help thinking if we knew them in real life we'd be disappointed.

Chrisbookarama said...

That was a great comment! Maybe there is such a thing as knowing too much about the authors we love.

Audra said...

Sadly, I am one of those people who conflates artist with work so I hesitate to read too often into the personal lives of authors (esp those I like) in case I learn something I don't want to know. However, not being a wild Dickens fan, I found this tidbit fascinating (and very sad).

You have such awesome anonymous visitors. I'm quite jealous!

Trisha said...

What a fantabulous comment! And definitely an interesting subject, completely outside my sphere I must admit.

Zibilee said...

As much as I love Dickens, I had very little knowledge of this affair, and find the comment to be extremely edifying and interesting. I am going to have to do a little bit of my own research on this now!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I visited the Dicken's House Museum in London a few years ago and learned about this for the first time. It's easy to forget the authors are just people and they often have complicated lives. I love learning more about the details!

simplerpastimes said...

This is really interesting--I don't think I had ever known anything about this segment of Dickens' life before reading about it here.

Anonymous said...

Dickens was a dick! I mean that as respectfully taken as it can possibly be. Dickens turned to Ternan, only after he relegated his own wife to obscurity, seeing her as the reason for the "impending death" of his literary genius (he may be untoward, but he is a genius). He left her to rot, in comfort, but rot none the less, alone. He even forbade their children from seeing her. Which they did, mostly, until his death. After which, they all returned to her (rightfully so). Ternan was possibly a model for the more oppositional female characters in his later work. She was with him for the ride. A young wolf clinging to the coattails of a winter's lion chasing the boneyard, which is steadfast. "...he comes, he comes.". This line was made by John Charles Hawthorne Dickens for John Charles Hawthorne Dickens' "procession" as it were.

Anonymous said...

Correction: Charles John Huffam Dickens :)

Joseph said...

Curious to know why she had the affair if she hated his touch so much. Because he was a celebrity? I guess not much has changed then. Very interesting post, cheers. mood Moody Writing

Scaturro said...

Fantastic! Sadly, as much as I love Dickens I've looked into his personal life very little. Great to learn these tidbits.

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