The Rag and Bone Shop
A fascinating tale about Charles Dickens’s relationship with actress Ellen Ternan, this novel is told from almost every point of view but that of Dickens himself. Wilkie Collins, Dickens’ fellow novelist, Georgina Hogarth, Dickens’ sister-in-law who made her home with Dickens and his wife, and Ellen Ternan all tell their stories in alternating chapters, leading to a Rashomon-like effect. The reader is left to figure out the truth.
It is undisputed that the Dickens marriage was not a happy one, and that as his wife Catherine gave birth to ten children and grew larger and more querulous, Dickens was tempted by her opposite, the slim young actress Ellen Ternan. We learn from Collins and Ternan that image was everything with Dickens. While Collins could freely indulge his bawdier tastes, Dickens was convinced that he could not appear as anything less than an upstanding family man to the British public and thus went to extreme lengths to conceal his affair with Ternan. His ruses had his poor sister-in-law convinced that they were done on her behalf, to divert attention from his love for her.
Rackham employs the different narratives to stunning effect. Even while denying Dickens his voice, he reveals all the contradictory facets of the man through those who loved him. As acolytes to the great man, the three narrators revolve around him, hoping for his praise and approval, perhaps proving that geniuses are a cut above the rest.