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Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 17 Jan 2012 10:48:27 -0800
TEXT/PLAIN (82 lines)
Friends of the Dickens Forum,

	Pat Vinci <[log in to unmask]> lists herself among those who
want the story of Dickens and Ellen Ternan put forward in a
non-castigating manner: 					(pjm)
In response to David Parker's expository post on the subject
of Dickens and Ellen Ternan, it is doubtful that many today object
to biographers putting the subject forward.  It's the way they do
this - by vilifying Dickens - that is objectionable.

Defenders of Dickens aren't necessarily putting Catherine down
nor are they proposing that Dickens and Ellen Ternan never became

With thorough research, a clearer picture emerges, as to what
possibly happened at the time of the separation, and it appears to me
to be much different story from what I have read in later biographies
of Dickens.

I commend Patrick for putting this matter forward on this List.  We
owe it to Dickens to present as accurate a picture of the situation as

Pat Vinci
Here is David Parker's Post:

Do you mind if I revive a thread of a month or two ago which, at the
time, I was unable to contribute to, distracted as I was by other

I'm referring to to the debate about whether biographers should
declare that Dickens and Ellen Ternan became lovers.  A subordinate
matter was whether it was proper to call Nelly Dickens's mistress.
Grahame Smith led the field in this debate, saying we shouldn't
suppose them lovers because we just don't know, and that mistress is
a demeaning term, lover much better.  I've the greatest respect for
Grahame, but I think he's wrong on both counts.

It's the business of the biographer to join up the dots.  He's no
mere handmaiden of the archivist.  He does what the archivist can't
do, and proposes hypotheses.  He has to evaluate sources, of course,
and construct the best hypothesis he can, but he can't be blamed for
constructing an hypothesis from partial and imperfect evidence.  The
only thing to do if you don't like it is to come up with a better

I take the view that far and away the best hypothesis about Dickens
and Nelly is that they eventually became lovers.  There is no perfect
evidence for this, but I think careful evaluation prompts us to
accept what there is.  The Gladys Storey papers, for instance, must
be judged with regard to Storey's obvious desire to have a scoop, and
show herself the confidante of the eminent.  But review the stuff
found in her cupboard after her death.  It includes notes on matters
not included in *Dickens and Daughter*, evidently because the Dickens
family didn't want them to be.  I'm thinking in particular of notes
on Sir Henry Dickens's conviction that his father and Nelly were
lovers.  The biographer needs to ask what sort of writer forges data
about her subject, and then doesn't use it, but puts it into a
cupboard, perhaps to be discovered after her death.  It seems to me
that the only reasonable assumption is that Storey's notes were
genuine records of what she actually found out.

I could look at other evidence and come up with a similar judgment,
but let this do for now.  I maintain that the hypothesis that Dickens
and Nelly were lovers is a good one, that the evidence is abundant
albeit calling for care in its use, that biographers shouldn't be
blamed for putting it forward.

As for the discussion about lovers and mistresses: lover is the more
neutral term.  It would be the only appropriate one if Nelly had
continued to support herself as an actress, and had conducted her
relationship with Dickens as an equal.  But the evidence suggests her
removal from the world of the theatre was his achievement, that he
set her up in a home of her own, and paid all or most of her
expenses.  This is a situation in which the term mistress tends to be
used.  I think it appropriate here.

David Parker