(I try to recall the points I had jotted down in my notebook but if I have missed out any points or have misunderstood bits of the book please let me know!)
Dickens met the Gaslight Fairies Ternans in 1857 and remained close-knitted with them, especially with Nelly until his death in 1870. Dickens, notably known as a passionate amateur in the theatrical world, first met the family when working on a project of acting out The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins, his close acquaintance on both literary and on personal terms. In it Mrs. Ternan starred as the nurse, Maria played the heroine Clara that was previously played by Dickens’s daughter Mamey. Nelly depicted the character named Lucy, Clara’s friend, previously played with Georgina Hogarth (Dickens’s sister-in-law), and Dickens played the main character who in the end his virtue “triumphed over the evil tendencies”. Wilkie on the other hand played the rivalry of his love interest Clara. After the show, Maria was praised by Dickens for her overwhelmingl performance, and inspired him for the next novel A Tales of Two Cities in which Sydney Carton was portrayed as the hero of sacrifice. It is the letter to Miss Coutts complimenting Maria’s acting skills in his character ,
I never saw anything like the distress and agitation of her face…it had a natural emotion in it which was quite a study of expression…the tears streamed out of her eyes into his mouth, down his beard, all over his rags – down his arms as he held her by the hair… at the same time she sobbed as if she were breaking her heart, and was quite convulsed with grief.
As Claire Tomalin states, in A Tales of Two Cities, Dickens tried to picture the flawless countenance of Lucie Manette with Nelly as a blueprint reference, “a short, slight pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that met his own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity…of lifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it included all the four expressions”.
After the performance, it seemed that the Ternans had been given financial assistance from Dickens, including that Fanny was given financial help to study abroad and Dickens acted as an agent to get a governess job at Trollope’s. The Family originated lived in Park Cottage around Northampton Park in 1855. They moved to Berner’s Street under Dickens’s assistance to be near the theatres in 1858. However, at that time vice always happened on the street near theatres (nicknamed as Flesh Market in a roundabout way) where deals were talked through between gentlemen and the fallen women. Without being chaperoned Ternans were instantly thought as prostitutes and humiliated so often by the police as they were on their way back to the place of abode from work.They then moved to Houghton Place, Ampthill Square in Mornington Crescent in 1860 on Nelly 21st birthday. In 1866, Nelly was found discreetly cohabited with Dickens under the name of Mrs. Tringham and in Dickens’s late years they moved to Windsor Lodge in Peckham.
In 1858 Catherine and Charles were legally separated. All children agreed to live under Dickens’s roof. Only Charley remained with his mother. Kate Dickens married Wilkie Collins’s brother Charles in 1860. Around that time scandal between Dickens and Nelly Ternans was already got on the gossip papers. The Most intriguing one must be the 1865 Staplehurst Rail Crash on the way from Folkestone to Charing Cross. This accident took its toll on 10 deaths and 40 injuries. Dickens was found that during the time when the accident occurred, he helped treating the suffering passengers. But not only that, he was reported to be accompanied by Nelly and her mother in the first carriage after they were back from France. Although Dickens and Mrs. Ternan remained unscathed, Nelly endured fracture of her upper arm. She also lost her watch-chains and Dickens once wrote a letter to the station master at Charing Cross to help him find the lady’s jewellery.