Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan met in 1857; she was 18, a hard-working actress performing in his production of The Frozen Deep, and he was 45, the most lionized writer in England. Out of their meeting came a love affair that lasted 13 years and destroyed Dickens's marriage while effacing Nelly Ternan from the public record.
In this remarkable work of biography and scholarly reconstruction, the acclaimed biographer of Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Pepys, and Jane Austen rescues Nelly from the shadows of history, not only returning the neglected actress to her rightful place, but also providing a compelling portrait of the great Victorian novelist himself. The result is a thrilling literary detective story and a deeply compassionate work that encompasses all those women who were exiled from the warm, well-lighted parlors of Victorian England.
©1990, 1991 Claire Tomalin (P)2012 Tantor
"Captivating.... An absorbing book about...a character who helps to illuminate the life of a great artist and the life of her times." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This is a story of Charles Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan. He was 45 and she 18 when they met in 1857. I almost got more interested in Claire Tomalin detective search for information about Nelly Ternan. Apparently both Ternan and Dickens destroyed most of the written material about themselves and lived in a discreet way. The divorce of the Dickens was shocking to Victorian England, so they kept a low profile. I found it interesting to note that a life in the theater (acting) was an unfavorable occupation and more so for women at the time, they were social outcasts and were thought of as whores. Things sure changed in the 20th and 21 century we put actors at the top of our society. Claire Tomalin did a great job trying to provide an accurate biography of the two but I am sure she had to do some speculation and deduction also. Wanda McCaddon did a good job of narrating the story. Tomalin's discussion of Dickens and his contemporaries was interesting as I had recently added to my wish list a book by Anthony Trollope, apparently he and Dickens were friends. Tomalin did a good job of bringing to life the era of the 1850s. If you enjoy literature and history you will enjoy this book.
In fairness, I began this book with the thought of how can a biography be written about a person that is almost lost to history. Claire Tomalin presented probably the best possible account of this mysterious figure. Unless some treasure trove of information about Nelly Ternan is found hidden away in a long forgotten vault, this book explains all we will ever know of her life.
Tomalin gives great detail of Ternan's family members who were all actors of some note, contemporaries, customs, and English society and views of the time. Also, a healthy amount of information regarding Dickens himself. Unfortunately, most things about Nelly Ternan are reduced to deduction, speculation, and supposition. One cannot fault Tomalin, as very little is known of Nelly Ternan, especially during the time of her involvement with Charles Dickens. So what is left is a "speculation biography".
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