by Susanne Dietze
In the aftermath of the gruesome English Staplehurst rail crash of 1865, only one first-class passenger car remained on the rails. One of its passengers was Charles Dickens, arguably one of the greatest figures of English literature. With him were two women, a young lady named Ellen "Nell" Ternan, and Ellen's mother.
Many scholars have dismissed Ellen as the married-Dickens’ platonic companion. Other evidence points to the contrary, identifying Ellen as the married author's true love. Either way, Ellen is receiving a lot of press this month, as February has been set aside to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth (February 7, 1812) in over 50 countries.
|Charles Dickens in 1858|
But he was also quite human. Dickens was a complicated person, the survivor of a brutal youth, an energetic man, a demanding father, and a not-so-doting husband. He parted from his wife Catherine in 1858, after ten children and twenty-two years of marriage, shortly after meeting Ellen Ternan.
He was forty-five; Ellen was eighteen, performing in The Frozen Deep, which he produced. Ellen is said to have been clever and passionate, interested in politics and literature. She left the stage shortly thereafter, and was supported by Dickens for the rest of his life, residing in houses he took under false names. She received £1,000 upon his death, as well as income from a trust fund ensuring she’d be well cared for throughout her life.
|Ellen Ternan, 1858|
What happened to Ellen? Six years after Dickens died, she married a pastor twelve years her junior (it’s said she told him she was 23, not 37. Sounds a little bit like actresses of today!). They had two children and ran a boys’ school.
Ellen hasn’t been forgotten, of course. The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, by Claire Tomalin, was published in 1991, inspiring an upcoming movie starring Ralph Finnes and Felicity Jones. Invisible no longer, Ellen’s name is forever linked to Dickens’—a complicated, flawed, gifted man by the standards of his time, as well as our own.
Have you ever read any Charles Dickens outside of a school assignment? Which of his books is your favorite?
Susanne Dietze has written love stories since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book, http://www.susannedietze.blogspot.com/.