A Writer’s Friends: Lives Touched by Dickens

JAN / FEB 2012: BY By ELIZA GABE

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Little tidbits about authors that Dickens knew or met are the least I can do for this column. Hey, this format was good enough for Dickens’s novels

“He would take as much pains about the hanging of a picture, the choosing of furniture, the superintending any little improvement in the house, as he would about the more serious business of his life; thus carrying out to the very letter his favourite motto of “What is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” —Mamie Dickens, My Father as I Recall Him

Yes, the very daughter of the great Charles Dickens. She wrote a book about her father and edited two volumes of letters written by Charles Dickens with her aunt, Georgiana. Mamie chose to live with her father after he and his wife separated. She never married and lived as quite an independent woman.

“I know not how to describe him better than in the words of one of my first letters home: ‘Take the best out of all Dickens’s writings, combine them into the picture of a man, and there thou hast Charles Dickens.” —Hans Christian Anderson, A Visit to Charles Dickens

Hans Christian Anderson, author of some fairy tales that seem as old as time to us, such as The Little Mermaid and Thumbelina, first met Dickens at a party in 1847 in Britain. He visited Dickens again ten years later and stayed with him for about a month. He was very excited to meet this man, whom he very much admired. Perhaps Dickens influenced Anderson. Considering the differences in their writing, perhaps not. Anderson wrote fairy tales, which my writer’s conscience prompts me to add is no weak or unimportant thing in of itself, while Dickens attempted to capture the real world around him with his stories.

I cannot forget to mention Dickens’s relationship with Elizabeth Gaskell. It was through him which she published Cranford and North and South! He offered her a chance to write for his magazine titled Household Words, and that is how they were published. They both shared concern for the poor, and young lost women. Like Dickens, she critiqued the society around her. There is no doubt here that they inspired each other’s writing- in fact, she co-wrote some short stories with him.

Another good friend to Charles Dickens, who also co-wrote a short story with him and Elizabeth Gaskell, was Wilkie Collins, the author of the well known The Woman in White. It was printed in Dickens’s magazine All Year Round­, and the novel came right after Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Without Dickens, I don’t know if Collins would have had much success. They were very close, in fact his younger brother married one of Dickens’s daughters. He also advised Georgiana, the sister-in-law of Charles Dickens and probably Mamie when they were editing The Letters of Charles Dickens from 1833 to 1870. Dickens’s death in 1870 was one of the factors that led towards a decline in health for Collins.

Of course Dickens had to have his share of critics—George Eliot, also known as Mary Ann Evans, the author of Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda among others was one of his rival novelists. She critiqued the way he wrote about the poor, as did Henry James, the author of the well known The Portrait of a Lady. However, there almost seemed to be something personal to this. Mary Ann criticized Dickens when he separated from his wife even though she was with a married man.

And while Henry James gave Bleak House a very bad review, he also had to find fault in the way Dickens read his stories aloud when he traveled to America on a reading tour. I say maybe jealousy was involved? ♥

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