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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens

1857 Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens wrote The Frozen Deep. The inspiration for the play came from the expedition led by Rear-Admiral John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage. Dickens offered to arrange its first production in his own home, Tavistock House. Dickens also wanted to play the part of the hero, Richard Wardour, who after struggling against jealousy and murderous impulses, sacrifices his life to rescue his rival in love.

Dickens, who grew a beard for the role, also gave parts to three of his children, Charles Culliford Dickens, Kate Dickens, Mamie Dickens and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. Dickens later recalled that taking part in the play was "like writing a book in company... a satisfaction of a most singular kind, which had no exact parallel in my life". Dickens invited the theatre critic from The Times to attend the first production on 6th January, 1857 in the converted schoolroom. He was very impressed and praised Kate for her "fascinating simplicity", Mamie for her "dramatic instinct" and Georgina for her "refined vivacity".

The star of the play was Charles Dickens, who showed he could have had a career as a professional actor. One critic, John Oxenford, said that "his appeal to the imagination of the audience, which conveyed the sense of Wardour's complex and powerful inner life, suggests the support of some strong irrational force". The Athenaeum declared that Dicken's acting "might open a new era for the stage". William Makepeace Thackeray, who also saw the production, remarked: "If that man (Dickens) would go upon the stage he would make £20,000 a year."

The temporary theatre held a maximum audience of twenty-five, four performances were given. A private command performance, with the same cast, was also given for Queen Victoria and her family on 4th July and three public benefit performances were given in London in order to raise money for the widow of Dickens's friend, Douglas Jerrold.

Dickens approached his friend, the actor and playwright, Alfred Wigan, about putting on a production of The Frozen Deep in Manchester. This time Dickens wanted the women to be played by professional actresses. Wigan suggested the names of Frances Jarman and her three daughters. The play was given three performances in the Free Trade Hall with Ellen playing the part that was originally performed by Kate Dickens. During the production Dickens fell in love with the eighteen-year-old Ellen Ternan.

The author of The Invisible Woman (1990) has argued: "A bright, penniless girl of eighteen who found herself admired by a rich older man had good reason to be excited. The role laid down by her society were suddenly reversed: having been always powerless, she now began to be in command. In Nelly's case the man she might command was also brilliant and famous, a charming and entertaining companion, and in a position to transform her life, which in any case held few counter-attractions." Dickens wrote to Wilkie Collins claiming that "there never was a man so seized and rended by one spirit".

Two months later Dickens moved out of the master bedroom and now slept alone in a single bed. At the same time he wrote to Emile De La Rue in Genoa, saying that Catherine was insanely jealous of his friendships and that she was unable to get on with her children. He wrote to other friends complaining of Catherine's "weaknesses and jealousies" and that she was suffering from a "confused mind".

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Charles Dickens in America

By 1842 Charles Dickens was an extremely popular writer in America. The public had read Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) in large numbers. The New York Herald Tribune explained why he was so popular: "His mind is American - his soul is republican - his heart is democratic." Despite the high sales of his novels, Dickens did not receive any payment for his work as the country did not abide by international copyright rules. He decided to travel to America in order to put his case for copyright reform.

His publishers, Chapman and Hall, offered to help fund the trip. It was agreed they would pay him £150 a month and that when he returned they would publish the book on the visit, American Notes for General Circulation. Dickens would then receive £200 for each monthly installment. At first, Catherine refused to go to America with her husband. Dickens told his publisher, William Hall: "I can't persuade Mrs. Dickens to go, and leave the children at home; or let me go alone." According to Lillian Nayder, the author of The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2011), their friend, the actor, William Macready, persuaded her "that she owed her first duty to her husband and that she could and must leave the children behind."

Dickens and his wife left on The Britannia from Liverpool on 4th January, 1842. Their ship was a wooden paddle steamer designed for 115 passengers. The Atlantic crossing turned out to be one of the worst the ship's officers had ever known. During one storm the smokestack had to be lashed with chains to stop it being blown over and setting fire to the desks. When they approached Halifax in Nova Scotia, the ship ran aground and they had for the rising tide to release them from the rocks. Catherine Dickens wrote to her sister-in-law: "I was nearly distracted with terror and don't know what I should have done had it not been for the great kindness and composure of my dear Charles."

The ship arrived in Boston on 22nd January. Dickens was impressed with the city and especially liked the "elegant white wooden houses, prim, varnished churches and chapels, and handsome public buildings." Dickens also observed that there were no beggars and approved of its state-funded welfare institutions. Charles Sumner, a young radical republican, gave him a tour of the city. The two men became close friends and Dickens approved of Sumner's strong anti-slavery views. Dickens visited the Asylum for the Blind, the House of Industry for the Indigent, the School for Neglected Boys, the Reformatory for Juvenile Offenders and the House of Correction for the State, and found them models of their kind.

Dickens was introduced to the writer, Richard Dana, who described Dickens as "the cleverest man I ever met." Dickens wrote that "there never was a King or Emperor upon the Earth so cheered, and followed by crowds and waited on by public bodies and deputations of all kinds." He found it impossible to go out for his usual daily walk as people "tried to snip bits off his fur coat and asked for locks of his hair".

Many people commented on Dickens's appearance. Peter Ackroyd has argued in Dickens (1990): "They noticed his shortness, his quick and expressive eyes, the lines around his mouth, the large ears, and the odd fact that when he spoke his facial muscles slightly drew up the left side of his upper lip... as well as the long flowing hair falling on either side of his face." The writer, Washington Irving argued that he was "outrageously vulgar - in dress, manners and mind." One woman described him as "rather thick set, and wears entirely too much jewellery, very English in his appearance and not the best English". Another commented that he had "a dissipated looking mouth with a vulgar draw to it, a muddy olive complexion, stubby fingers... a hearty, off-hand manner, far from well-bred, and a rapid, dashing way of talking."

After leaving Boston he visited Worcester, Springfield and Hartford. At a public meeting he complained about the pirated copies of his work being distributed in the country. The local newspaper was not sympathetic to his opinions and took the view that he should be pleased and grateful with his popularity. Later he issued a statement saying that he intended to refuse to enter into any further negotiation of any kind with American publishers as long as there was no international copyright agreement. This was a decision that was to cost him dearly.

Dickens also visited Philadelphia where he met Edgar Allan Poe. Dickens also liked Cincinnati, "a very beautiful city: I think the prettiest place I have seen here, except Boston... it is well laid out; ornamented in the suburbs with pretty villas." He then moved on to New York City. On 14th February, 1842, over 3,000 people attended a dinner in his honour. He sent his friend Daniel Maclise the Bill of Fare, which included 50,000 oysters, 10,000 sandwiches, 40 hams, 50 jellied turkeys, 350 quarts of jelly and 300 quarts of ice cream. At another dinner, organised by Washington Irving, he raised once more the subject of international copyright.

Dickens wrote to John Forster on 6th March: "The institutions at Boston, and at Hartford, are most admirable. It would be very difficult indeed to improve upon them. But that is not so at New York; where there is an ill-managed lunatic asylum, a bad jail, a dismal workhouse, and a perfectly intolerable place of police-imprisonment. A man is found drunk in the streets, and is thrown into a cell below the surface of the earth... If he die (as one man did not long ago) he is half eaten by the rats in an hour's time (as this man was)."

In Washington Dickens had a meeting with President John Tyler who had recently replaced William Henry Harrison who had died in office. Dickens was unimpressed with Tyler who was known as "His Accidency". Tyler commented on Dickens's youthful appearance. Dickens thought of returning the compliment but "he looked so jaded, that it stuck in my throat". Dickens found Tyler so uninteresting he declined the invitation to dine with him at the White House. However, he did time with Henry Clay who he described as "a fine fellow, who has won my heart".

Dickens found the habit of spitting out gobs of chewed tobacco on the floor, common with American men, "the most sickening, beastly, and abominable custom that ever civilization saw". In a letter to Forster he described a train journey where he encountered the habit: "The flashes of saliva flew so perpetually and incessantly out of the windows all the way, that it looked as though they were ripping open feather-beds inside, and letting the wind dispose of the feathers. But this spitting is universal... There are spit-boxes in every steamboat, bar-room, public dinning-room, house of office, the place of general resort, no matter what it be.... I have twice seen gentlemen, at evening parties in New York, turn aside when they were not engaged in conversation, and spit upon the drawing-room carpet. And in every bar-room and hotel passage the stone floor looks as if it were paved with open oysters - from the quantity of this kind of deposit which tessellates it all over."

Dickens took a stagecoach in Ohio: "The coach flung us in a heap on its floor, and now crushed our heads against its roof... Still, the day was beautiful, the air delicious, and we were alone: with no tobacco spittle, or eternal prosy conversation about dollars and politics... to bore us." He also met some members of the Wyandot tribe. He thought them "a fine people, but degraded and broken down".

Dickens wrote to John Forster: "Catherine really has made a most admirable traveller in every respect. She has never screamed or expressed alarm under circumstances that would have fully justified her in doing so, even in my eyes; has never given way to despondency or fatigue, though we have now been travelling incessantly, through a very rough country... and have been at times... most thoroughly tired; has always accommodated herself, well and cheerfully, to everything; and has pleased me very much."

Dickens was disappointed by what he found in America. He told his friend, William Macready: "This is not the Republic I came to see. This is not the Republic of my imagination. I infinitely prefer a liberal Monarchy... to such a Government as this. In every respect but that of National Education, the country disappoints me. The more I think of its youth and strength, the poorer and more trifling in a thousand respects, it appears in my eyes." He wrote to Forster complaining: "I don't like the country. I would not live here, on any consideration. It goes against the grain with me. It would with you. I think it impossible, utterly impossible, for any Englishman to live here, and be happy."

At the end of March they visited Niagara Falls. Dickens commented: "It would be hard for a man to stand nearer to God than he does there." He was less impressed with Toronto where he disapproved of "its wild and rabid Toryism". He also spent time in Montreal and Quebec before travelling back to New York City where he got to the boat to Liverpool. Dickens arrived back in London on 29th June, 1842.

American Notes for General Circulation was published by Chapman and Hall on 19th October, 1842. Thomas Babington Macaulay, who considered Dickens a genius, refused to review it for The Edinburgh Review, because "I cannot praise it... What is meant to be easy and sprightly is vulgar and flippant... what is meant to be fine is a great deal too fine for me, as in the description of the fall of Niagara." The book received mixed reviews but sold fairly well and made Dickens £1,000 in royalties.

The book was heavily criticised by the American critics. The New York Herald Tribune called the book the work of "the most coarse, vulgar, impudent and superficial mind" They especially disliked the chapter devoted to an attack on slavery. His friend, Edgar Allan Poe, described it as "one of the most suicidal productions, ever deliberately published by an author." In the last chapter of the book Dickens complained of the viciousness of the American press and the lack of moral sense among people who prized smartness above goodness. Despite these criticisms, the pirated copies of the book sold very well. In the two days following its publication in New York City, it is reported that over 50,000 copies were purchased. Booksellers in Philadelphia claimed that they sold 3,000 in the first 30 minutes of it becoming available.

Although Dickens was now a very successful novelist, he continued to be interested in social reform. Dickens also decided to invest some of his royalties in a new radical newspaper, The Daily News. Dickens became editor and in the first edition published on 21st January 1846, he wrote: "The principles advocated in The Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement; of education, civil and religious liberty, and equal legislation."

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Robert Seymour, Hablot Knight Browne and Charles Dickens

Robert Seymour was an illustrator who specialised in sporting scenes. In 1835 Chapman and Hall published a successful collection of his illustrations, Squib Annual of Poetry, Politics, and Personalities. The following year, Seymour suggested to William Hall, that he should publish in shilling monthly parts a record of the exploits of a group of Cockney sportsman. Hall approached Charles Whitehead to provide the words. He had just been appointed as editor of the Library of Fiction and was to busy to take up the offer. Whitehead suggested he should approach Charles Dickens about taking on this work.

Hall offered Dickens £14 for each monthly episode and added that the fee might rise if the series did well. John R. Harvey, the author of Victorian Novelists and their Illustrators (1970), has argued: "Dickens, however, had no intention of writing up anyone else's pictures. When the Seymour plan was put to him, he insisted that he should write his own story and Seymour should illustrate that." Dickens already had an idea for a comic character, Samuel Pickwick, a rich, retired businessman with a taste for good food and a tendency to drink too much. He was based on Moses Pickwick, a coach proprietor from Bath, a man whose coaches he used while working as a journalist. The first number appeared in March 1836. It came in green wrappers, with 32 pages of print material and 4 engravings, and priced at one shilling. The publishers sold only 400 copies of the first part of the project.

On his return from honeymoon Dickens began work on the second episode of The Pickwick Papers. On the 18th April he had a meeting with Robert Seymour. According to Peter Ackroyd: "Dickens asserted his proprietor rights over their venture by suggesting that Seymour alter one of his illustrations - a task which Seymour, no doubt against his wishes, carried out... Two days later, Seymour went into the summer-house of his garden in Islington, set up his gun with a string on its trigger, and shot himself through the head. He was, like many illustrators, a melancholy and some ways thwarted man. It has been suggested that Dickens's request to change the illustration was one of the causes of his suicide, but this is most unlikely. Seymour was used to the imperatives of professional life, and it seems that it was essentially anxiety and overwork which eventually killed him."

Dickens suggested that Hablot Knight Browne should be the new illustrator. As his biographer, Robert L. Patten, has pointed out: "Dickens recommended Browne for the position. Though the author was an exacting taskmaster, Browne supplied everything Dickens needed in an illustrator. He was a skilled and rapid designer, co-operative, witty, and self-effacing." John R. Harvey, the author of Victorian Novelists and their Illustrators (1970) has argued: "Hablot Knight Browne, was younger than Dickens, little-known, and pliable; and the collaboration was harmonious and happy."

After Dickens's introduced the character of Sam Weller, in the fourth episode of The Pickwick Papers, sales increased dramatically. Weller, the main character's valet, has been described as "a compound of wit, simplicity, quaint humour, and fidelity, who may be regarded as an embodiment of London low life in its most agreeable and entertaining form."

The illustrations by Browne were also helping to sell Dickens work. It was the etchings which were displayed in the windows of booksellers. Henry Vizetelly, later recorded in his autobiography, Glances Back Through Seventy Years (1893): "Pickwick was then (in 1836) appearing in its green monthly numbers, and no sooner was a new number published than needy admirers flattened their noses against the bookseller's windows, eager to secure a good look at the etchings, and peruse every line of the letterpress that might be exposed to view, frequently reading it aloud to applauding bystanders." By the end of the series it was selling over 40,000 copies a month.