Was Charles Dickens a Complete Scoundrel?

Was Charles Dickens a Complete Scoundrel?


  • Total voters
    6
Feb 2019
108
Pennsylvania, US
#1
*Much of what you are about to read is based on speculation and/or asking you to perhaps speculate yourself... but speculation can be a fun intellectual exercise. ;)

Over the last week, I keep seeing articles about how some letters have revealed that Charles Dickens attempted to get his wife put away in an asylum while he was carrying on his affair with Ellen Ternan... I am somewhat incredulous, though, as the grounds of proof seem to only consist of a statement, apparently made by Mrs. Dickens to a neighbor, then from the neighbor to a journalist... all some 10 years after Dicken's death. It is only now coming to light since the letters to the journalist went to auction. This many times removed from the source (spoken when Dickens was gone and unable to counter) starts to seem like a lot of hear-say.

Are there any anecdotal stories that portray Dickens as being "no better than he ought"? Some circumstances to give added credence to this asylum story?


Strikes:

Against Him:

- He tended to burn personal letters and be interested in keeping his reputation clean.
- He had a falling out with the a psychiatrist friend who ran a lunatic asylum.
- Dickens was conducting an affair with an actress (how very Victorian of him) and had an odd fascination with his wife's dead sister. :think:

Against Her:

- She had 12 pregnancies in 15 years (10 surviving children... cause for lunacy right there. But Victorian "confinement" sounds maddening).
- She seemed to never express her emotions to others (repressed, depressed?)
- Dickens separated from Catherine in 1858, which was probably a long time coming and also very public, and enough to make anyone "loose it" a bit.
 
Feb 2019
108
Pennsylvania, US
#3
Charles Dickens changed the world.. so I think he was a great man
There is no denying this.... I love him. Whether he tried to send him wife to an asylum (perhaps it was needed!) or not... he really created art that encouraged humanity to rise to great things (though, they often were the small things... helping a street sweeper boy, or caring for your 'Aged P'... giving a homeless, simple grandfather and granddaughter a place by the fire...)
 
Jun 2016
1,668
England, 200 yards from Wales
#4
From what I have seen his conduct to his wife was pretty disgraceful, on the other hand when he was in a serious train crash (Staplehurst 1865) he seems to have made some considerable effort to help others.
Of course however much of a scoundrel he may have been that doesn't change his writing at all. Both 'his works were great so he was a good/great man' and 'he was a scoundrel so his books are devalued' are non-sequiturs I think.
 
Likes: Niobe
Sep 2014
773
Texas
#5
*Much of what you are about to read is based on speculation and/or asking you to perhaps speculate yourself... but speculation can be a fun intellectual exercise. ;)

Over the last week, I keep seeing articles about how some letters have revealed that Charles Dickens attempted to get his wife put away in an asylum while he was carrying on his affair with Ellen Ternan... I am somewhat incredulous, though, as the grounds of proof seem to only consist of a statement, apparently made by Mrs. Dickens to a neighbor, then from the neighbor to a journalist... all some 10 years after Dicken's death. It is only now coming to light since the letters to the journalist went to auction. This many times removed from the source (spoken when Dickens was gone and unable to counter) starts to seem like a lot of hear-say.

Are there any anecdotal stories that portray Dickens as being "no better than he ought"? Some circumstances to give added credence to this asylum story?


Strikes:

Against Him:

- He tended to burn personal letters and be interested in keeping his reputation clean.
- He had a falling out with the a psychiatrist friend who ran a lunatic asylum.
- Dickens was conducting an affair with an actress (how very Victorian of him) and had an odd fascination with his wife's dead sister. :think:

Against Her:

- She had 12 pregnancies in 15 years (10 surviving children... cause for lunacy right there. But Victorian "confinement" sounds maddening).
- She seemed to never express her emotions to others (repressed, depressed?)
- Dickens separated from Catherine in 1858, which was probably a long time coming and also very public, and enough to make anyone "loose it" a bit.
I am a Dickens fan but she didn't get pregnant by herself. However she did like to spend money. The fact he never committed her belays her accusation.
 
Likes: Niobe
Feb 2019
108
Pennsylvania, US
#6
I just find it interesting how fast the story (in it's original form, with no additional facts or statements from letters) has spread and been re-shared... just since the beginning of the week. No one considers that A) Catherine may have been suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts that she could hide from society, but not from her husband who knew her.... or B ) that this statement may be misconstrued or badly understood as it was passed from person to person.

It's vague at best, as transcribed from the letter:

"'She had borne 10 children and had lost many of her good looks, was growing old, in fact. He even tried to shut her up in a lunatic asylum, poor thing!' Mr. Dutton Cook continued. 'But bad as the law is in regard to proof of insanity he could not quite wrest it to his purpose.'” - Taken from the NY Times Version of this Story

They also like to cite how Dickens had a falling out with a friend who was a psychiatrist and had a asylum in London.

It smacks of hear-say! Maybe I don't know Dickens personality or range of what he thought morally justifiable (hence the thread), but I find it hard to make such damning conclusions based on this alone!
 
Feb 2019
108
Pennsylvania, US
#7
From what I have seen his conduct to his wife was pretty disgraceful...
I have a feeling that the norms for "wife treatment" might have been broader than they were today... but just looking for more information, I've seen people accuse him of 'controlling her life in every way!', 'he tried to put her under a trance when they were first married!', etc... none of it seems that far outside of what was part of Victorian marriage or Victorian type parlor tricks. I feel like men today might be horrified by his behavior, but I guess it wouldn't have been too far outside the realm of possibility that he could have beaten her or punished her, without much repercussion. I wish people could appreciate that fact!

When he was separated from her, he gave her a house, carriage and comfortable annual income...
 
Likes: bedb
Jun 2014
717
Republic of Ireland
#8
He was a great writer with human faults, like the rest of us. (the faults bit, I do not think any of us are great writers.) It's often the case that great creative people have also great faults.
Caravaggio for instance.
 
Likes: bedb
Feb 2019
108
Pennsylvania, US
#9
He was a great writer with human faults, like the rest of us. (the faults bit, I do not think any of us are great writers.) It's often the case that great creative people have also great faults.
Caravaggio for instance.
This is very true - and I even think "celebrity" tends to bring out the less attractive set of human traits... with this reasoning, you can negate much of his behavior as simply human failing. But seeking to basically imprison his wife (seemingly without justification) takes this beyond what I feel can safely be called "human faults" and into a sort of harmful intent. It takes it a step beyond what can "passively" happen (i.e. fall out of love and as consequence, separate; fall into love, and as consequence, have an affair; etc). I mean, the same reasoning could be used on all sorts of infamous people - 'Elizabeth Bathory had human faults', 'H. H. Holmes had human faults'... ;) just some ridiculous examples.

I also feel like, the poor guy shouldn't get such bad press if it really is all hear-say, which is what it seems to be!
 

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