The great novelist and journalist Charles Dickens wrote famous novels such as “A Christmas Carol,” “Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities” in which he was always sympathetic towards poor and undeserving, especially women. Those novels have been translated into Japanese and have become classics in Japan as well. About 150 years after Dickens’ death, however, some new discoveries were made by researchers that revealed his scandalous stories in his life.
Dickens had a companion named Catherine and the mother of his 10 children, but later in his life was pursuing an affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan. After Dickens and Catherine separated in 1958, he was careful of his image and legacy and said to have destroyed the letters and papers of 20 years on a bonfire in his back yard. The details of their separation had been, for the most, kept in the dark. But letters revealed recently by John Bowen, a professor of 19th-century English literature at the University of York in northern England, cast the episode in a new and cruel light.
According to the “Times Literary Supplement” on February 19th this year, Dickens sought to banish Catherine and even tried to have his wife imprisoned in an asylum. He failed, however, as he could not come up with enough proof of insanity. Catherine herself rarely spoke of the separation. Nearly a decade after her husband’s death, she confided in Edward Dutton Cook, a theater critic and her neighbor in Camden, north London. The letters Professor Bowen analyzed were based on those conversations and, according to the professor, are some of the first documents discovered that present her perspective.
“Reading the material was quite difficult, to be honest,” Professor Bowen wrote in a statement from the University of York. “Dickens is a literary great who I have studied and admired for many years but some of the letters made very uncomfortable reading.” Relationships sometimes fail morals and common sense. “This is a great man who set out to do good in life and he did do great things,” Claire Tomalin, who has written biographies of both Dickens and Ms. Ternan, told The Times of London this past week. “But when he went off the rails, he started behaving very badly.”