Why Dickens’ Wife Left Her 10 Children and the Writer


Catherine Dickens is far less known than her
legendary husband, Charles. When you think about Victorian novels, his
name is the first one to pop up. But the story of Mrs. Dickens’ life is very
much like a novel itself. A woman of many talents, a devoted wife and
mother of 10, she made a desperate move and divorced her husband. For many years Dickens’ biographers treated
her as foolish and impulsive, but it’s high time you knew the truth about her! The Dickens you say? Well, I’m about to… Catherine Hogarth was born in Scotland in
May, 1815. She was the first of 10 children brought up
in a good, intelligent family. Her father, George Hogarth, was a musical
critic and a journalist. In 1830, the Hogarths moved to London, where
5 years later, George got the position of editor of The Evening Chronicle, where he
became acquainted with Charles Dickens. He gave the young and talented writer a job
in his newspaper. Hogarth also invited Dickens to his home in
Kensington, where he met 19-year-old Catherine. She was a smart and beautiful young woman,
and Dickens liked her at once. Charles was dreaming of a loving, close-knit
family and Catherine was perfect for the role of a good housewife, a thoughtful mother and
an intelligent friend. Charles invited Catherine to celebrate his
23rd birthday. After that, she started liking him too and
soon agreed to marry him. A year later they got married and were happy
– just like all newly-weds are. They were young, free and joyful. No domestic or financial problems would distract
them from enjoying each other. They would go to theaters and parties. Charles called Catherine his “best half”,
“wifey” and “Mrs. D.” He wrote in his diary that he would never
be as happy as in their small flat on the 2nd floor, even if he became rich and famous. 9 months after the wedding, in 1837, the Dickens
had their first-born – Charles Jr. Catherine was sick and could hardly breastfeed her baby,
which caused her to struggle with postpartum depression. Charles tried to support his wife and was
happy to have an heir. But Catherine was afraid that her son wouldn’t
love her because she didn’t nurse him herself. Later, Catherine had 3 more children. Before the birth of their 5th child, the couple
visited America. Dickens had had huge success there; his novels
immediately became bestsellers. But he didn’t get paid for any of them because
of the tricky copyright rules. So he had to travel across the Atlantic to
settle that matter. Charles and Catherine traveled on a ship that
hardly made it to the US: they met several harsh storms, a fire on board, and the ship
ran aground when they came to Nova Scotia. Though the journey was full of hardships,
Catherine stayed cheerful and persevering. Charles wrote to his friend that she had never
lost courage or felt gloomy. She adapted to any circumstances without complaint. Catherine was not only a brave traveler, but
a good actress, an excellent cook and even a writer. She acted in Charles’ amateur plays and
wrote and published a cookbook, What Shall we Have for Dinner? The book had a lot of menus for complex and
simple meals, recipes and advice on housekeeping for young wives. The book was a bestseller and was re-edited
several times until 1860. Hmm. What could go wrong for a happy family blessed
with so many talents? Well, when Catherine gave birth to their 5th
child, Charles was no longer happy about having a large family. For the first time, he complained about having
so many children. He wrote in his diary that he was hoping to
not have any more. But life doesn’t always go how you hope
it will: within 15 years, Catherine had given birth to a total of 10 children and had 2
miscarriages. No wonder she was under so much stress and
looked nothing like the young and pretty woman Charles married. Charles blamed Catherine that they had so
many children. After all, she came from a huge family too. His best half was getting more and more on
his nerves. Finally, Charles concluded that they weren’t
made for each other. He would tell his friends that his wife was
cold and apathetic. Too narrow-minded. Too stout, too plain. Too nervous, too possessive. And yes, she was always crying and was a bad
mother. After the birth of their youngest son, Charles
saw to it that they had no more children. He ordered their bedroom to be divided and
put bookshelves in the hallway. Soon after that, in spring, 1858, a fatal
mistake put an end to the Dickens’ marriage. A bracelet that Charles had bought for a young
18-year-old actress, Ellen Ternan, was delivered to their house instead. The postman mixed up the address and Catherine
immediately knew that her suspicions were correct. She confronted Charles, but instead of apologizing,
he said that it was quite common for him to give small presents to actors who took part
in his plays. Why would his dear wifey be mad? Charles insisted that Catherine should go
to Ellen, give her the bracelet and apologize for her insulting behavior. Catherine had had enough. She left Charles forever. Later it became clear that Dickens had met
Ellen a year before that and had rented an apartment for her, her mother and her sisters. The actress accompanied him everywhere, though
there was no romantic relationship between them at the time. Charles officially announced his divorce in
1858. In a family magazine “The Household Worlds”
he addressed the readers, explaining that he’d come to a friendly agreement with his
ex-wife. The thing is that the Victorians treated marriage
as something that couldn’t be broken. But if it did happen, a woman had no rights. That’s why it was only the eldest son Charles
Jr. who left the family house together with Catherine. According to the laws of that time, all the
other children had to stay with their father. Dickens didn’t approve of the meetings with
their mother. Though he wouldn’t openly forbid them, he
insisted that both daughters didn’t invite Catherine to their weddings. They also didn’t tell her about her 4th
son, Walter, passing away. The society condemned Catherine and considered
her unworthy of her famous genius husband. How can one love a plain woman who doesn’t
look after herself, is always in a bad mood and doesn’t want to live up to her husband’s
demands? A genius has a right to choose someone better,
doesn’t he? There were few people who felt sorry for Catherine:
after everything she went through, she could hardly stay healthy, pretty and cheerful. Kate, the second daughter, wrote that there
wasn’t anything awful about her mother. She had faults like all humans, but she was
also a kind person and a true lady. She’d been afraid of her husband and had
no right to speak up or talk about her feelings when they were together. Catherine lived alone till the end of her
life. She outlived Charles by 9 years and passed
away in 1879. Before her death, she gave her correspondence
with him to Kate and asked her to pass it on to the British museum – so that the world
would know that he’d loved her once. She was buried in the Highgate Cemetery in
London, close to her daughter, Dora. It was only 139 years after Catherine’s
death, in 2016, that her great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Hawksley, who is an author and lecturer
herself, defended her. She said that Dickens’ biographers hadn’t
done justice to the woman who was a good wife and mother but had a very uneasy life with
Charles. They lived many happy years together, but
the burden of housekeeping and multiple pregnancies did little good to Catherine while huge literary
fame changed Charles for the worse. Another proof of that is the correspondence
found in 2014 by professor John Bowen. He works at the University of York and specializes
in 19th-century fiction. The discovered letters show that before getting
an official divorce, Charles tried to institutionalize his wife based on a fake diagnosis. He tried to convince a doctor to declare Catherine
insane. Fortunately, he never succeeded with his plan,
and while she was blamed for the end of their marriage, she can at least rest in peace now,
knowing the truth behind it all finally came out. Do you feel sorry for Catherine or do you
think Charles Dickens deserved a better wife? Let me know down in the comments! If you learned something new today, then give
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