Public lecture puts Dickens’ marriage under the spotlight

Charles Dickens’ strained marriage is the subject of a free public lecture presented on Wednesday 20 November 2019 by our Victorian Studies Centre.

Dickens married Catherine Hogarth in 1836, a month after the first instalment of The Pickwick Papers was published; they subsequently had ten children. Dickens was in some ways a wonderful, lively and entertaining father – doing party tricks, like boiling a Christmas pudding in a gentleman’s hat or producing a guinea pig out of a box of bran – but in other ways he could be demanding and overbearing, both to his children and his long-suffering wife.

Dickens grew increasingly impatient with Catherine and he began an affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan. In 1858 he separated from his wife – humiliating her further by announcing the split in his journal, Household Words, referring to “some peculiarity” in her character.

This public lecture will be delivered by the distinguished Dickens scholar, Professor John Bowen who has recently discovered evidence in some hitherto unknown letters which show that Dickens went even further than this and attempted to have Catherine placed in a mental asylum. This casts new light – or a new shadow – on the author’s marriage and his attitude more generally to his family and to the women in his life. 

John Bowen is Professor of 19th Century Literature at the University of York. His main research areas are in 19th and 20th century fiction, in particular the works of Charles Dickens and other major Victorian novelists, but he has also written on modern poetry and fiction, as well as essays on literary theory. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Charles Dickens, a Fellow of the English Association (FEA), and has given many keynote addresses and public lectures around the world.

Dr Julian North, Acting Head of the Victorian Studies Centre, said: “I am delighted to be able to welcome Professor Bowen to share with us his fascinating discoveries and to discuss the ways in which they might change our thinking about Dickens’s life and work.”

The talk, which is free and open to all, takes place in the Ken Edwards Building on the University campus, starting at 5.00pm. Tickets are limited so to be sure of a seat please book through Eventbrite.