Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Think Piece: What the Dickens!

If Charles Dickens had lived in London in this day and age, I am confident he would have his phone hacked habitually after catching character actress Miriam Margoyles’ Dickens’ Women.

He would have been number one tabloid fodder, thanks to his own romantic aspirations, but I doubt he fell into bed with young women as often as he fell in love.

Sure, he had 10 children with wife Catherine, nee Hogarth (pictured below as a young woman), before turning his marriage into a train wreck, but I wonder if his liaisons with much younger women were as intimate as has been suggested.

It is just a theory – I am not Dickensian scholar – but I came away from the Delicious Miss M’s Brisbane show wondering if the pre-eminent Victorian storyteller was a victim of his own success and over-the-top (OTT) imagination.

His passion for teenage women began a year after his marriage in 1836 to Catherine, when her 17-year-old sister, Mary, came to stay and soon after died in his arms.

The event turned him into the starry-eyed lover of a young and innocent girl, who was no more than a ghost haunting his mind, and a writer consumed with the sort of desire associated with the unattainable.

There’s nothing more seductive then something one can’t have and there’s no relationship more impossible then one with someone who is no longer alive.

That is unless you have an extremely vivid imagination and the ability to create conversations, encounters and the like in your own tortured mind. Even then it is just a manifestation of one's self.

Thanks to something that happened in his childhood, when his mum didn’t act to pull him out of the hated boot-blacking factory as the family’s dire fortunes improved, Dickens believed ‘a women’s place was in the home.’

Well, at least mothers and wives, while nubile and beautiful young treasurers were free to wander the corridors of the imagination just behind the  mind’s eye.

Another early bad experience was when he was denied his first sweetheart, Maria Beadnell, who was sent overseas rather then be exposed to the then seemingly callow young man.

When Dickens finally ditched Catherine, after 22 years of marriage, he organised a re-union with Maria, who was then a widow, only to discover that she was no longer the teenage incarnation he adored.

The meeting apparently lasted only a few minutes.

Dickens last great love was a 19-year-old actress, Ellen Ternan, whom he met when he was 45, and there are all sorts of stories in books and plays about their relationship and a possible infant.

He certainly spent a lot of time with her, and supported her in many ways, but there’s more than a little doubt about an intimate relationship, which appears to be based on pure speculation.

I came out of the Dickens show musing on the old Rodgers and Hart standard, Falling in Love with Love Is Falling for Make Believe, but whatever Dickens had at the end of the day our legacy is even greater.

We can still savour the magic of Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Bleak House and many more.

Let’s hope that my lingering memory of the show is wrong and Dickens had some really splendid amorous adventures in his 58 years on this earth, sharing the genius of his imagination.

Ms M’s wonderful one-hander has left Brisbane, but will be touring regional areas of NSW throughout April.

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