Category Archives: History

Suffragette Toys: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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A card game – similar to ‘Old Maid’

When I was growing up, I wanted science-based toys and books, and I was very lucky to have supportive parents who gave me a chemistry set and a bug catcher (among other outstanding gifts) for my birthday and Christmas presents. Dolls didn’t appeal to me, as I preferred living creatures like babies, puppies, and kittens – I ended up studying zoology at university to obtain a Bachelor of Science. I often wonder if there were girls from earlier era felt the same way. This got me to thinking about suffragettes.

Suffragettes were a social  and political phenomenon existing for over a century. Doll and toy makers would have to be tempted to capture the likeness of suffragettes in their items. Just a quick investigation turned up quite a few games and such. The suffragettes made a few dolls and games to sell at rallies to raise funds. Others were made by those politically against women’s suffrage, and were often less than flattering, if not downright scary (like the Jill-in-the-Box).

However, if I had been around in that era, I would have been purchasing suffragette toys for my daughters.  Because you can aspire to be someone you know nothing about. What I like about these toys is that they show the women active and involved, not passive. Even if they hadn’t seen representing suffragettes, they showed women with agency.

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Althof Bergmann suffragette drummer toy

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George Brown hoop toy

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Mechanical tin suffragette selling pamphlets.

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Suffragette Kewpie doll

 

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Filed under History, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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Suffragette Chain Link Jewellery at its finest, as it also incorporates the three colours of the Suffragette Movement: Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes).

It is a well known fact that suffragettes were targeted by their governments as troublemakers, and often spent time in jail, and they were subjected to some awful treatment. They were meant to be humiliated and silenced by this strategy. Instead, suffragettes saw jail time as a victory, that they were considered dangerous enough to incarcerate.

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Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, while in jail.

In previous blog articles, I have mentioned suffragette jewellery. Some people argue that the suffragettes were vocal, and would never stoop to subterfuge by wearing symbolic jewellery. I have to agree with this viewpoint. I believe suffragette jewellery was worn with pride, to support the cause, and I believe some suffragette jewellery supports this hypothesis: the Holloway Prison Pin, Chain Link Jewellery, and Edith Garrud’s Boadicea Brooch.

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The Holloway Prison Pin, also known as the Holloway Brooch.

The Holloway Prison Pin  – designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst – was presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had suffered imprisonment. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU on the 29th of April, 1909. The broad arrow – the symbol of the convict – was enamelled in purple, white and green, the colours of the suffragette movement. Some of the brooches were marked with dates of imprisonment. The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue published on the 16th of April, 1909, where it was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’.

The Jail Pin

Jail Door Pin

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The Hunger Strike Medal

After the Holloway Prison pin, the suffragettes were inspired to issue pins and medals for other indignities suffered by the women when they were imprisoned for wanting equal rights. To my mind, it is the Hunger Strike Medal that represents the greatest sacrifices made by those imprisoned; hunger strikers were often force fed. Some of the women were also sent to mental asylums, because being vocal about wanting the vote is a sure sign of madness.

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Image from the textbook – Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History Study

Chain brooches didn’t just symbolise imprisonment. It also stood for the chains that held the women back in society. The chains that held them back from education and legal rights, as well as the right to vote. Mind you, the government was happy to tax women, but not so thrilled to give them a voice in parliament.

Chain brooches came in many shapes and forms. Some were more decorative than others, but even the most simple chain brooch was layered with meaning.

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Of course, the suffragette movement was big on pins and brooches. They could be sold to raise funds, worn to show support, or awarded for outstanding sacrifices. It is a form of wearing your heart on your sleeve.

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Edith Garrud’s Boudica brooch was also described as the Suffragette’s Victoria Cross.

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A Woman in Chains

Chains are often part of a Steampunk cosplay outfit. Never was there a better reason to wear them than to celebrate the Suffragettes.

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Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Hand-in-hand; Victorian-era Hand Jewellery

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Turquoise and diamonds in the form of two hands clasping, circa 1835

 

In the Victorian era, jewellery was worn not just for ornamentation, it was often worn because it meant something to both the wearer and/or the people who saw her wearing the piece. Hands were a popular symbol. They could be clasped in love or friendship, or clasping items with their own symbology.

The ring below is an early Victorian-era  Betrothal Ring, circa 1840. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a gold heart on the central band. An Early Victorian Gold Clasped Hands Betrothal Ring. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a Gold Heart on the central band. Circa 1840.jpg

Flowers had a whole range of meanings, depending on the the types of flowers.

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Ivory hand clasping roses – symbols of love – and forget-me-nots.

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Ivory earrings clasping roses and forget-me-nots.

Snakes represented eternal love or wisdom.

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Coral and gold pin

A hand grasping a rod was seeking guidance or comfort in time of need.

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Mourning jewellery often depicted crossed hands, hands in prayer, or hands clasped ‘across the divide between life and death’.

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Victorian-era Whitby jet brooch depicting crossed hands.

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Gold and hair mourning jewellery

 

A hand clasping a key was clasping the key to a lover’s hear.

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This hand is clasping a key to a watch and was most likely worn as a watch fob. Note the use of tinted gold for the decoration.

 

Pointing hands were charms of protection.

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It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this sort of jewellery could be used to intensify characterisation, or even become part of a plot point!

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Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Mourning, Steampunk, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Henry Savery: Australia’s First Novelist

The first novel published in Australia was a crime novel, Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery. It was published in Hobart in 1831.

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Henry Savery’s tomb stone on the Isle of the Dead, Port Arthur, Tasmania

Henry Savery  was born in Somerset, England on the 4th of August, 1791. His father was a successful banker. He grew up to be an unsuccessful businessman … so unsuccessful, that he resorted to forging bills of credit. These bills eventually amounted to over £30,000. He tried to flee to America with 1500 pounds of his partner’s money, but was caught after a rather dramatic arrest. He jumped from the boat that was to take him to America in an attempt to escape the police. He was originally sentenced to hang, but his influential family and friends managed to have that commuted to transportation. He arrived in Australia in 1825.

After his arrival in Hobart,  Savery was retained in government service and worked for the Colonial Treasurer. In 1828, his wife and son came to the colony, and arguments between the husband and wife culminated in Mr Savery’s attempted suicide. Soon after the arrival of his family, Savery was again imprisoned for debt. That was the final straw for his wife. She took their son back England within three months. This was the last Savery was ever to see of his wife.

However, it was while in prison that Savery took to writing. After his release, he was given the position of manager of Lawn Farm in New Norfolk. Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831 to reasonably good reviews from the colonial press. However, he couldn’t stay out of trouble. He managed to have his ticket of leave revoked for tarnishing the reputation of Governor Arthur in the newspapers. He gained a reputation for alcoholism and tried his old trick of forging bills to cover his debts. He was sent to Port Arthur, where he died on the 6th of February, 1842. There is some indication he may have taken his own life – after all, he had attempted suicide before.

It is generally agreed that his writing is more important for its historical value than its literary merit. – Wikipedia

The original edition of Quintus Servinton is extremely rare, with only three copies being listed in Ferguson’s Bibliography. These are held by Dr. W. Crowther, the Mitchell Library, and the Public Library of Tasmania. The book itself is of limited literary merit, but it was the very first Australian novel, and part of the action did take place in ‘The Colony’. For that alone, we should be grateful to Henry Savery.

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Modern reprint of Savery’s Opus.

 

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Filed under Australian Author, Historical Personage, History, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Diving into a research maze

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Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, circa 1880. Image from the Library of Congress

 

This is a story about how a writer can waste an entire day excited by an image, to come up empty handed. I come across the above image, of a pretty woman seated beside a man dressed in a diving suit, about twice a month. This is probably because the photograph conforms to the ‘Steampunk’ genre and aesthetic – contrasting a Victorian beauty with the ‘high tech’ of the diving suit. Then I stumbled across the photograph below, of the same woman wearing a dive suit!

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Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, in Diving Gear, circa 1880.              Image from the Library of Congress.

Well, I was excited. Maybe the young woman was an adventurer, like lady aviators, exploring under the horizon instead of above it. The only problem was the image of the young woman had been shared so many times, that I couldn’t follow it back to the original posting. Then I tried searching for ‘Victorian era woman diver’. Alas, I was both lucky and unlucky. It turns out this is the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, dressed as the Ocean Empress. So I discovered the original images in the Library of Congress, but no evidence of a lady diving adventurer.

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Mrs Mitchell, one of England’s first female deep sea divers, before beginning her workday inspecting ships’ hulls at the Tilbury Docks. (From “Ein seltener Frauenberuf,” Die Welt der Frau, no. 47 [1908]: 752.)

As far as I can tell, the earliest mention of female divers was around 1908, just missing the Victorian era. I do think the picture of Mrs Mitchell is more than awesome, however. Look at that confident smile! She had to be physically strong to even walk in that suit! If any of you know of earlier instances, please feel free to correct me.

In my Steampunk Work-in-Progress (yes, I know, you are all waiting for me to actually finish it), my protagonist actually does don a diving suit. The ‘modern’ diving suit was invented in the 1700s.  The British engineer, Augustus Siebe, developed the standard diving dress in the 1830s, the metal and glass helmet fitted to a full length watertight canvas diving suit, with tubes attached. The first commercially successful closed-circuit scuba tank was designed and built by the English diving engineer, Henry Fleuss, in 1878, while working for Siebe Gorman (founded and run by Augustus Gorman). His self-contained breathing apparatus consisted of a rubber mask connected to a breathing bag, with the oxygen supplied from a copper tank and carbon dioxide scrubbed by rope yarn soaked in caustic potash; the system’s functional duration was about three hours. This means that in 1871 – the era of my setting – it would not be too outrageous that she might have used a prototype of the scuba tank.

After all, it’s MY story. *grins* The fact it might not work as planned only adds to the suspense.

 

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Filed under Feminism, Historical Personage, History, Sarah Bernhardt, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

William Banting – the first Diet Guru

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William Banting was basically the person who invented diets. He spent his working life as an undertaker. (I am unsuccessfully suppressing the urge to make the joke that “he really did put the ‘die’ in diet”.) After he retired from undertaking, he weighted over 90kg (200 pounds) and he was only 165cm (5 feet 5 inches). He considered himself corpulent, even though he claimed he was an active man; he believed his problem was that the more he exercised, the greater his appetite grew. The physician Dr. William Harvey advised him to take up a diet that restricted starchy or sugary foods. This worked well for Banting, and he reduced his weight to a more manageable level.

overeating

Banting ate four meals a day and drank a generous amount of wine in comparison to his overall caloric intake. He limited his intake of low fat meats and restricted the types of fish and meat he could eat. He ate a lot of vegetables – particularly greens – and fruit. The emphasis of his diet was on avoiding sugar, sugary foods, starchy food, beer, milk and butter. This change in diet worked, and Banting reduced his weight.

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He wasn’t a man to keep his weight-loss secrets to himself. In 1869, he wrote a pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which he published at his personal expense, to distribute to friends and acquaintances. People shared the pamphlet around and word-of-mouth worked overtime. His self-published edition was so popular that he started to sell it to the general public. The third and later editions were published by Harrison of London. Such was the pamphlet’s popularity that the question “Do you bant?” entered the language.

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With the Atkins Diet, The Palaeolithic Diet, and the low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) are all based around the original Banting diet. Low-carbohydrate diets are dietary programs that restrict carbohydrate consumption, often for the treatment of obesity or diabetes. Please Note: It is important to always consult with your doctor or dietitian before embarking on a diet that restricts food groups.

 

 

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Ghosts as Big Business: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success!  Why were ghost stories so popular?

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Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?

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The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.

the-haunting

Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?

i-feel-a-presence

 

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Why do Victorian era fashion dolls have such small features? A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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A porcelain-head doll with cloth body and leather limbs, dressed in her original Victorian era clothing. 

Fashion dolls conform to what was considered beautiful in the era they are produced. The dolls are representative of the era that they come from, in both looks and the clothes that they wear. If a doll is deliberately ugly, like the cute troll doll, it is not a fashion doll. By studying a fashion doll, you get a much clearer picture of what was the standard for beauty in an era, because these ‘standards’ change frequently. I often laugh when someone is called a classic beauty – for which era?

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Take for an example how Barbie’s looks have changed. The original Barbie’s looks are very different to examples of the Millennial era Barbie. What was considered a ‘classic’ beauty in the 1950s is now considered a ‘vintage’ beauty. Women haven’t changed, but what is considered beautiful certain has. At the moment, big eyes and tiny noses in an heart-shaped or oval face are what are fashionable. In the 1980s, bushy eyebrows were queen! In the 1990’s, bee-stung pouts. Fashions change.

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In the Victorian era, small, regular features were the in thing. One of the reasons that many photographs of Victorian women show them with their lips tucked in severely is because they are trying to minimise their mouths in the same way modern starlets stand side-on to minimise their hips and show off their chests. As well, porcelain dolls were favoured because of their fine translucent skin tones, as a proper European Victorian-era woman was pale and interesting.

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Of course, little girls love their dollies no matter what they look like. (Unless, like me, you find dolls a little creepy.) Most dolls were passed down from sibling to sibling or from mother to daughter. Few Victorian dolls survived this journey because they were loved to death. On of my father’s cousins has a headless, articulated, leather doll with china hands and feet, cherished because his grandmother brought her over from Europe in the 1880s.

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Steampunk dolls are usually based on modern dolls with modern features. This isn’t a problem, since the dolls aren’t meant to historical recreations of Victorian toys. As well, Steampunk dolls aren’t confined to just wearing the height of fashion and can wear trousers and goggles and gadgets.If that isn’t a great step up, I don’t know what is!

pullip-steampunk-eos-doll

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Filed under Dolls, Fashion, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

The Artist Emily Mary Osborn: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

 

I write a lot bout the problems that women faced when trying to be professional scientists in the Victorian era, but female artists suffered from the same sorts of sexism and prejudice as their scientist sisters. The perfect example of this is the painting, Nameless and Friendless“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, etc.” – Proverbs, x, 15, painted in 1857. It depicts the reception of a young artist presenting her paintings to a dealer.

The artist has certainly drawn on her own experiences when painting this scene. The look of resignation on the artist’s face, her brother’s expression halfway between hope and resentment, the dealer pretending to find fault with her work … and the two men on the left, gazing at her with interest tinged with hostility.

 

Nameless and Friendless. "The rich man's wealth is his strong city, etc." - Proverbs, x, 15 1857 by Emily Mary Osborn 1828-1925

Nameless and Friendless. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, etc.” – Proverbs, x, 15; painted in 1857 by Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925 )

The title of the piece is also a hint, referring to the bible proverb: The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.

The young artist and her brother are poor, and trying to make a living in a world full of men that see her as a woman first, and an artist second.

Emily Mary Osborn wasn’t in quite the same straits as the young artist in this painting. She was favoured by several wealthy female patrons, and even Queen Victoria bought at least one of her paintings. I suspect she enjoyed the freedom her success gave to her, because she died unmarried at the age of 97. But it didn’t stop her from showing sympathy to Victorian era ‘damsels’, one of her favourite topics.

The Governess

The Governess

Presentments

Presentiments  

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Filed under Art, Female Artist, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

Charles Dickens’ Midlife Crisis: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

The ‘dick’ in Charles Dickens name is well deserved. As much as I admire his writing and his social activism, he was just a man, and not a very nice one where his wife and mistress were concerned. He treated them both quite shamefully, privately and publicly.

Catherine Hogarth Dickens in her prime

Catherine Hogarth Dickens

Catherine was the eldest daughter of George Hogarth. George Hogarth was a Scottish journalist for the Edinburgh Courant, later becoming a writer and music critic for the Morning Chronicle where Dickens was a young journalist, and later the editor of the Evening Chronicle. I may be a cynic, but I can’t help wondering if Dickens married Catherine as a way of furthering his own career.

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Catherine in her youth.

In many biographies of Charles Dickens, I have seen Catherine characterised as dull, ugly, compliant, and a terrible mother and housekeeper … all words used by Dickens when he was validating his separation from his wife of twenty years. And yet, in 1851,  Catherine Dickens published a cookery book, What Shall we Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons. It went through several editions until 1860. She took minor parts in plays produced by her husband. She had ten children – which would be a strain on any mother and housekeeper. Portraits of a young Catherine prove she was an attractive woman, and even in middle age she certainly wasn’t ugly. As usual, history has taken Dickens’ version to be the correct assessment of his wife; he blamed her for their ten children as if he had no part in their births.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens as a young man.

Catherine’s two younger sisters, Mary and Georgina, also lived in the Dickens household as companions and aids to Catherine. There has been much speculation that Dickens had romantic relationships with both of these women as well. Little Mary entered the household at fourteen, when Charles and Catherine married, and died four years latter at seventeen. If Charles Dickens did romance her, it makes him a paedophile at the very least, which is a distasteful prospect. Georgina was fifteen when took Mary’s place in the Dickens’ menagerie.

Catherine Dickens in middle age

Catherine Dickens in her middle age.

Like many married men today, Dickens shed his wife for a younger model when he had his midlife crisis. It became a well-known rumour that Dickens was behaving badly, and Dickens publicly humiliated his wife, children, sisters-in-law, and his mistress by putting letters of ‘explanation’ in various newspapers and magazines.

“Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now but to be forgotten by those concerned in it….By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been made the occasion of misrepresentations, most grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel – involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart…. I most solemnly declare, then – and this I do both in my own name and in my wife’s name – that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth”.

I translate this as “I am a literary genius and I can do what I damn well want!”

Ellen Ternan 1858

Ellen Ternan around the time she met Charles Dickens

Dickens’ mistress was eighteen when the affair started, while he was 45. Ellen Ternan was a from actress from a family of thespians. She has been described – again using Dickens’ very own words – as ‘clever and charming, forceful of character, and interested in literature and the theatre’. And the evidence? She remained invisible once she took the role of mistress; that doesn’t say ‘forceful’ to me. Dickens – who bitched that his wife had kept him poor by having ten children – was able to afford a residence for Miss Ternan, who lived there under an assumed named and Dickens visited her under an assumed name. Again, that isn’t very forceful. There is no evidence to her wit or cleverness, but photographs do show her to be a pretty woman. (And Ellen resembles Catherine Hogarth at a similar age.)

At the same time that Dickens became enamoured with this new paramour, he started finding fault with his wife. He insulted her intelligence, her weight, her looks, her housekeeping and labelled her an incompetent mother. He was a man running down the mother of his ten children, because he wanted her to be the villain of the piece. As a literary genius, he felt he deserved a pass card to take a young mistress and blacken his wife’s good name. Not cool, Charlie, not cool; then or now, a man in a midlife crisis is not a pretty sight.

Allen, Harry M., active 1907-1937; Charles Dickens, Aged 45

Dickens at 45.

And so, Dickens separated from the stoic Catherine, with him keeping nine of their children, the family home, and her sister Georgina, while Catherine went to live with their son, Charles junior. Some people have judged Georgina harshly for staying – to look after her sister’s children. Was Georgina siding against her sister, as the accepted theory? Or did she remain to give those children some security for her sister’s sake? Personally, I am inclined to believe the situation was complex, and Georgina loved those children for their own sakes, as well for her sister’s sake, and maybe even out of family affection for Charles Dickens. She remained with Dickens until his death, and went on to collect and publish his papers (with Mamie Dickens) after his death.

Georgina-hogarth

Georgina Hogarth

Charles Dickens died in 1870, aged 58, and Catherine died in 1879, aged 64. On her deathbed, Catherine gave the collection of love letters she had received from Dickens to her daughter, Kate, with the poignant parting shot: “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once”. Ellen Ternan married six years after Charles Dickens’ death, to man she kept in the dark about her role as Dickens’ mistress. They had two children, and it appears that Ellen accepted and treasured respectability in the last half of her life. The Dickens family were complicit in keeping their patriarch’s dirty little secret, until all his children were dead.

I can’t help but admire Catherine Hogarth for her grace and her forgiving nature. Even though Charles Dickens obviously broke her heart, she did not stoop to his level of name calling. I feel sorry for poor Ellen Ternan, who was ‘taken under the wing’ of a powerful, famous man who hid her away all the years of her youth. I am sympathetic to Georgina Hogarth, who put the Dickens children first, and I pity poor Mary Hogarth who died before her time. I do NOT feel any sympathy for Charles Dickens, who acted as if his midlife crisis was all the excuse he needed to act in the most dastardly manner.

I have witnessed this same process happening first hand, when married men want to justify  their bad behaviour. They demonise their wives, to make themselves the heroes in their own narrative. It is nasty and cowardly, laying blame on the wife rather than being a grownup and taking responsibility for your own actions. Dickens was a great writer, but he used the cliché that ‘the wife doesn’t understand me’ to ill effect in his own personal narrative. Shame on him. Lazy writing made real.

 

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era