I’ve been busy reading some books this week, and one of the more tragic ones has been Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle. It gives the story of Catherine’s marriage to the famous author Charles Dickens a new voice and a new light, even though the sadness of the story is undeniable.
In Heera Datta‘s historical fiction account of the marriage between Catherine and Charles, Catherine takes the role of narrator, as she works through the many years and many children she had with Charles. She married him for twenty-one years, and faithfully served him as a wife and mother.
But then everything was recast as Charles found a new lady love in Ellen Turnan, an eighteen year old actress who would perform in the theater. Charles, enthralled with a whirlwind romance and intrigued by the pursuit of passion, lost sight of his wife and virtue during the last years of his life.
In addition to pursuing the actress several years his junior, Charles had a very public separation from his wife, and withheld her from custody of her children. Throughout the whole time, however, and even after his death, Catherine upheld Charles’ reputation as a virtuous man and loving family man.
Reasons to Read this Book:
1. Women’s Rights. If there’s one thing that makes me angry throughout the whole book, it is at how unfair it was of Charles to shun his wife after her faithfulness and her devotion to her children and their family. But times were different, over a hundred years ago, and it was hard to see how Catherine could have fought him on any of the issues when he was so well-respected by his audiences.
Reading this book really lets you see how people were expected to behave, and how power played a dynamic role, even in the home.
2. Charles Dickens’ Legacy. In all fairness, the book presents a side of Charles Dickens that seems to make his choice to betray his wife, while they are not good choices, seemingly appropriate for a man such as he. Datta’s work does a fantastic job of bringing him to life as much as Catherine.
It also does give me more insight into Dickens’ works, too, and makes it harder to read them in some ways. Kind of makes me think of how Nicholas Sparks separated from his wife. It doesn’t make me want to read his work anymore, as good as they might be.
3. Suffering and its many forms. There was a constant pull through the story of depression and unhappiness underscoring much of Charles’ life, even though Catherine would disagree. She was ever dutiful and compliant, but had very little support or influence. The differences in perspective, both in Charles’ and Catherine’s, and even in Kate’s, their daughter, who was a grown woman when the events around Ellen Turnan came around, really shows how suffering can be a reality hidden away from many people.
Overall, it’s a great book to check into for historical fiction, and it’s a fine voice that Datta has given to Catherine Dickens.
There is a special promo that is going on from March 28-April 4th! Don’t miss out!