Charles Dickens in Love
Garnett’s aim is to put the women Charles Dickens loved—Maria Beadnell, two Hogarth sisters (neither of them his wife), and Ellen Ternan—into their proper Victorian context. From the early infatuation with Beadnell to the unwavering trust in Georgina Hogarth, we get a whirlwind tour of Dickens’ heart.
As expected, the greatest space is devoted to his last and longest love, the actress Ellen Ternan. In today’s social media-driven world, an affair like theirs wouldn’t remain secret for a week, much less the dozen years the two were involved. However, Dickens and Ternan chose their few confidantes wisely, and those who knew and enabled the liaison destroyed nearly all documentation of it.
Garnett pulls from the ashes of letters, deciphers coded diary entries, and reads much personal information into the later novels to show readers a tantalizing picture of Dickens’ final decade. While Ellen may have rarely been at his side, she was always foremost in his mind. In spite of the paucity of evidence in places, and difficulty in tracking notes and attributions (in chapter order, but unnumbered, at the end of the book), and the need for the text to be wrestled by a firm editorial hand, this nonetheless makes for a fascinating read.