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.