Dickens's miserable marriage, and four other Victorian couples (one happy)

Charles Dickens also had his midlife crisis, found himself old and broken and blamed it on his wife.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 May 2023 Friday 22:29
51 Reads
Dickens's miserable marriage, and four other Victorian couples (one happy)

Charles Dickens also had his midlife crisis, found himself old and broken and blamed it on his wife. She, Catherine, had made him work too hard to support the ten children he had given birth to throughout their marriage. That he had something to do with so much pregnancy seems to have never crossed his mind. Then he remembered his first girlfriend, so beautiful, so delicate, so everything that now was not the plump and tired matron who slept next to him, so he wrote to his youthful love, had a date with her... and found himself with another plump and tired matron. What a disappointment.

She could have blamed the passage of time, but no, it was Catherine who paid for it. She kicked her out of the house, took her children from her and dissolved her into nothingness while she wrote those stories of abandoned children and miserable families that have made us cry so much, this writer included. The one who cried the most, however, was Catherine.

The Dickenses' first child, Charles, was born nine months after the wedding, a fact that should have alerted the couple to their fertility. Also the birth coincided with the year in which Victoria ascended the throne of England. It was 1837 and the long Victorian era began, the object of study of the American academic Phyllis Rose, who, by contrasting the personal stories of five marriages of the time with the subsequent changes, came to the conclusion that marriage is the most political act that we can do in our adult life, because it involves all aspects and social norms.

In his analysis, the Carlyles play a special role, he one of the most enlightened minds of his time, she, Jane Welsh, beautiful, rich and capable; the two began a correspondence that ended in marriage to the surprise of Welsh, who saw the relationship as an exchange between equals. Nanay. Once married, Carlyle ceased to support his wife's intellectual concerns, which she was to devote to him full time. Revenge came after her death: the philosopher discovered her diaries and how unhappy he had made her—Carlyle's widely rumored impotence wouldn't help either. Sinking in guilt, he published them and spent the rest of his days vindicating her.

Effie Gray and John Ruskin never consummated the marriage either, a moment that the writer was continually delaying, it seems that he was traumatized by the sight of her naked body (specifically, her pubic hair). The meddling of the families of both only aggravated the problems derived from this let's say abnormal situation, Gray, a painter herself, went her own way, to the indignation of Ruskin, who filed for divorce, accusing her, a very common resource of the time, of "nervous problems".

But she did not count on Gray's mental clarity, who recognized her neuroses, but attributed them to the lack of sexual activity in the marriage, at which point her husband's limitations came to light. Gray obtained a divorce from her and married the great painter, John Everett Millais, with whom the Ruskins had formed a peculiar triangle, since no one slept with anyone. Ruskin, also an art critic, waited a reasonable time before beginning to criticize Millais's new paintings. Of course, everyone accused his ex-wife and now Millais of the artist's decline.

Most scholars agree, explains Rose, that sex was not part of the union between the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, who established a marriage between equals. Not so equal, because Mill became an indolent husband who left everything in the hands of his wife; and to redeem himself Mill attributed to his wife qualities that exceeded reality and even attributed to her wife the merit of her own work; the problem is that no one believed him and Taylor, also an accredited scholar, was greatly discredited.

The only successful marriage is the one that was never signed: the writer Mary Ann Evans, known as George Eliot, and the philosopher George Henty Lewes could not marry, since he already was. The story of why she couldn't break the marriage is very significant of the obstacles that couples encountered, especially them, but also them, before divorce ceased to be a taboo. Lewes and his legal wife Agnes Jervis had agreed to an open marriage, to the point that she, after having three children with Lewes, gave birth to four more by another man. Since the scholar's last name was listed on their birth certificate, she was considered an accomplice to adultery and a divorce was not allowed.

Victorian things and cases in this volume of hypnotic reading.

Phyllis Rose Parallel Lives. Five Victorian marriages. Leopard, 360 pages, 22.75 euros