Niagara Gazette

Columns

January 28, 2014

CALLERI: 'The Invisible Woman' details a scandalous relationship hidden from the public

Niagara Gazette — Asked to ascribe a single representative word to the literary works of Charles Dickens, it’s probable most people would say “orphans.” The loss of a parent or parents is essential to an appreciation and understanding of much of his writing, especially his books “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist,” and to a slightly lesser extent, “David Copperfield.” But no one should question that the experiences of children living on their own is a mainstay of Dickens’s fiction.

It’s ironic; therefore, that Dickens himself was a player in a real-life drama involving children (his own), as well as an eighteen-year old named Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, who most people considered a child. No one thought of her as an adult, certainly not in the Victorian Era.

Dickens and Nelly Ternan, are the subject of “The Invisible Woman,” which is based on the non-fiction 1991 work of the same name by Claire Tomalin. The book details the relationship between the writer and his muse that was kept so quiet that Ternan’s existence couldn’t be found in many public records. Once she was with Dickens, she virtually disappeared. The interesting movie is directed by Ralph Fiennes, who also stars as Dickens. Felicity Jones is Ternan.

Dickens loved the theater as much as he loved writing his popular serial tales for British newspapers and magazines. He was also an amateur actor and enjoyed performing, often giving well-attended dramatic readings of his stories. He had a solid creative relationship with writer Wilkie Collins, and he published some of Collins’s work in his literary journal. They would also collaborate on plays.

In 1857, Dickens is 45 and has long been married to his wife Catherine with whom he has ten children. He and Collins are involved with the production of an historical drama called “The Frozen Deep,” which Collins has written, and to which Dickens has contributed structure and large amounts of dialogue. Playing a part onstage is Ternan, a young actress who is starting to earn a following in England. Dickens is struck by her beauty.

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