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The Great Charles Dickens Scandal [Hardcover]

Michael Slater

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Book Description

Oct. 8 2012

Charles Dickens was regarded as the great proponent of hearth and home in Victorian Britain, but in 1858 this image was nearly shattered. With the breakup of his marriage that year, rumors of a scandalous relationship he may have conducted with the young actress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan flourished. For the remaining twelve years of his life, Dickens managed to contain the gossip. After his death, surviving family members did the same. But when the author's last living son died in 1934, there was no one to discourage rampant speculation. Dramatic revelations came from every corner—over Nelly's role as Dickens's mistress, their clandestine meetings, and even about his possibly fathering an illegitimate child by her.

This book presents the most complete account of the scandal and ensuing cover-up ever published. Drawing on the author's letters and other archival sources not previously available, Dickens scholar Michael Slater investigates what Dickens did or may have done, then traces the way the scandal was elaborated over succeeding generations. Slater shows how various writers concocted outlandish yet plausible theories while newspapers and book publishers vied for sensational revelations. With its tale of intrigue and a cast of well-known figures from Thackeray and Shaw to Orwell and Edmund Wilson, this engaging book will delight not only Dickens fans but also readers who appreciate tales of mystery, cover-up, and clever detection.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (Oct. 8 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030011219X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300112191
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #344,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A sexy story resting on a bed of comprehensive scholarship and pursued with Sherlock-ian imagination.”—Kirkus (starred review)


“Slater’s work is a fascinating investigation into the nature of scandal itself as much as it is a look at the particular episode.”—Daily Beast 
(The Daily Beast)

"Wise, witty and highly entertaining."—Simon Callow, The Guardian
(Simon Callow The Guardian)

“Strangely riveting, even haunting . . . a scholarly detective story.”—The Boston Globe
(The Boston Globe)

"Impeccably sourced and dashingly narrated . . . Slater sinks his teeth into the dirty subject of reputation making—and breaking—with a relish that almost made me forget (I mean this as a compliment) that author's status as an eminent academic."—Miranda Seymour, Sunday Telegraph
(Miranda Seymour Sunday Telegraph 2012-09-23)

“[Slater] examines decades of rumor and journalism to provide a history of the scandal as it has develpped since the author’s death.”—New Yorker Page-Turner blog
(New Yorker Page-Turner blog)

“A fascinating picture of not only Charles Dickens, but of the people who were (and still are) fascinated by him.”—PopMatters


“[Slater] happily tracks down and assesses the tiny accumulating pips and squeaks of the ‘scandal.’”—San Francisco Chronicle 
(San Francisco Chronicle)

“You don’t need to know [Dickens’s] fiction to enjoy Slater’s zesty account of the life.”—The New Republic 
(The New Republic)

“An invaluable work for Dickens scholars, and an enjoyable read for anyone.”—Choice


About the Author

Michael Slater is emeritus professor of Victorian literature at Birkbeck College, University of London; past president of the International Dickens Fellowship and of the Dickens Society of America; and author of Charles Dickens. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Great Charles Dickens Scandal is a short book about Dickens long relationship with Ellen Ternan his mistress Jan. 28 2013
By C. M Mills - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A few years ago this reviewer read Michael Slater's biography of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). Slater is one of the greatest Dickens scholars in the world. Slater is the Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck University of London. He is lectured on Dickens and written many books on the great Boz.
In "The Great Dickens Scandal" Slater presents a careful study of the affair Dickens engaged in with Ellen Ternan. Dickens was the father of 10 children married to Catherine Hogarth Dickens. Mrs. Dickens was fat and over 40 when the dashing Dickens acted in a Manchester 1857 theatrical production of "The Frozen Deep" penned by Wilkie Collins the author's close friend. Ellen was blond, bright, witty and had a lovely figure. She was in the acting profession along with her actress mother Florence. She had two siblings Fanny (who married Tom Trollope, novelist Anthony's brother) and Mamie. Dickens may have fathered a child by Ellen but whether the baby died at birth is up for speculation. Ellen may have given birth in France. Dickens kept up his relationship with her until his death in 1870. She may have been the thirteenth person preent at his internment at Westminster Abbey. She and Dickens were passengers on the wrecked Staplehurst train wreck on June 9, 1865 five years to the day prior to the author's death on June 9, 1870.
This book is a dry examination of the evidence on Dickens and Ellen's life culled from memoirs of the author's children, friends and literary scholars. Slater is to be commended for his outstanding research. However, the book would most appeal to Dickens scholars or someone very familiar with the life and works of Charles Dickens.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another well-written and well-balanced study of Charles Dickens and Nellie Ternan Feb. 19 2013
By Margarette Maranto - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As always, Michael Slater maintains a non-judgmental stance, meticulously including all available and pertinent data on the question of Dickens's relationship to the actress, Ellen Ternan, in his finaly fifteen years of life. Slater's famous sense of humor is not always on display, but he accomplishes his goat of laying out the facts and letting the reader decide for himself. A must for those curious to know all there is to know about Nellie and Charles.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Take Jan. 5 2013
By Theresa J. Elders - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I admire the author's staunch defense of the novelist...even though I think Claire Tomalin's meticulous research weighs heavily in favor the Dickens' maintaining Nelly Ternan as his secret mistress for a decade. This was no platonic friendship...even Dickens daughter, Katey, knew what was going on.
5.0 out of 5 stars Info on Dickens Love Affair Oct. 3 2013
By J. Rich - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good information on Dickens and how he treated his wife , his children, and the public during his affair with an actress.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historical Forensic Analysis Jan. 1 2013
By D_shrink - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is not going to be giving anything away when I say the scandal involves whether Charles Dickens did or did not father two illegitimate sons with two different women, one of whom was his sister-in-law, as this is laid out at the beginning of the book, but it takes 200+ pages to document it.

Charles Dickens lived from 2/17/1812 till 6/9/1870. He married his only wife Catherine Hogarth circa 1836-37 and divorced her about 1858. He claimed she had gotten fat, was unattractive, and dull witted, yet she managed to bear him 10 children (7 boys and 3 girls) so he must NOT have felt that way during all those years.

Charlie's first love was Maria Beadnell whom he courted from the time he was 18-21. She was quite a looker, we are told, but found another, yet after 20 years or so wanted to take up with Charlie again. Before seeing her, he had immortalized her as DORA in his novel David Copperfield written in 1849-1850. It seems once he saw the beautiful Maria after twenty years and who was now somewhat more rotund than Charlie had envisioned he changed his mind, but not before wooing her prior to that second sight. :)

Shortly after marrying Catherine a younger sister, Mary, came to live with them in 1837. Charlie was once again smitten, but alas poor Mary died shortly thereafter at the tender age of 17.

Next in line was Catherine's next youngest sister Georgina, who arrived at the Dickens' household to help big sister Cathy with her growing band of younguns. Charlie had hit the big time by then and young Georgina simply worshiped the ground he walked on. In fact, after he kicked Cathy out in 1858, Georgina stayed behind for years to help him raise the younguns. Isn't that what younger sisters and aunts would normally do? By then Charlie was claiming Cathy had been a bad mommy and Georgina was much more suited to helping with the kids.

Next we have the femme fatale that most people believe Charlie led astray. Her name was Ellen "NELLY" Lawless Ternan, and she was 17 when Charlie first met her. He hired her, her older sister, and her mother to act in a play he had written called "The Frozen Deep". This occurred in the year 1857 when Charlie was 45 and young Nelly only 17-18. Is it just me, or do others see a pattern that has emerged with Charlie and young girls about 15-17, and one may notice that he seems to like to keep things in the family too.

There are two sides to what you can believe about Charlie's intentions - was he just being paternalistic with ALL these young damsels, or was he a lecherous middle aged cad? In modern terms, think Rock Star and young female fans, then judge for yourself!

The two illegitimate kids Charlie may or may not have fathered were named Charles Peters Hogarth with his sister-in-law, Georgina; while the second son was named Francis Charles Tringham [a name Charlie often used to keep his identity secret] and who was supposedly born to Ellen [Nelly] at Lying-In Hospital York, England on 5/10/1867 and was reported to have died in infancy. Seemingly that they both have Charles as part of their names is probably just a coincidence also.

The author has copious notes and anecdotes about either side you may take on this issue. In either case, I think it makes no difference as to whether you like A Christmas Carol and Tiny Tim or not.

The book was very well researched by a most learned scholar, yet I found the reading dry and not terribly germane to the world of today. It's a mystery alright, but it AIN'T like reading about Jack the Ripper. However, this should be a must read for those interested in the life of Dickens! Look at the difference between the world of the 1860s and the big announcement yesterday of the expected arrival for Kim and Kanye. Maybe Charlie wasn't like a rock star after all.

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