Catherine Dickens

Catherine Dickens

“Despise me by all means. But don’t envy me. To know his love and then lose it is a terrible thing: total darkness when one has been used to the brightest of light.”

“Lottie (Frances Dickens) a bright robin, Dorothea a gentle turtle-dove. The differences between them at first seemed immaterial, if not delightful; but later, when household chaos threatened to overwhelm us, I found myself wishing that the robin would deign to scuttle about and guide the turtle-dove a little in some active management of her duties…” – Alfred Gibson

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Tavistock House (1851-1860) (Photos from Dickens: Public Life & Private Passions by Peter Ackroyd)

Apart from the incompatibilities and different temperament which led to the downfall in the marriage of Alfred and Dorothea, and separation in 1858 (same year as The Great Stink – effluent discharged to The Thames making it reek in miasma), another grave matter, besides, was the powerlessness of women at the time. Here, as In Dorothea’s case, since the beginning of their marriage, it was her smattering of domestic management which embittered Alfred, whose opinion was that it was essential qualities while he busied in assiduous work and research and bemused the public. Later on, with agony of a house inundated with battalion of children conceived by Dorothea and the arrival of the younger sister Sissy’s (Georgia Hogarth) ministrations to the household, their relationship resulted in a breakdown and came to an irrevocably painstaking separation. Dorothea left Park House (Tavistock House) in 1860 and moved on living on her own, whilst the children were left in Alfred’s custody and Sissy’s care.

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Georgina Hogarth… “Well, he was embarrassed by you, Dodo. Good Heavens, we were all embarrassed by you……You behave like a madwoman, Dodo. Alfred was a Great Man. He needed a wife who could add honour to his name, who could understand his heart and mind.” (Photos from Dickens: Public Life & Private Passions by Peter Ackroyd)

Although this novel does not mention the set-up of partition wall ordered by Alfred (Dickens) to the servants, it is still exceedingly poignant in showing the indisposed Dorothea’s powerlessness to the situation and the deprivation of freedom, feelings, and control of her life, so was left in a claustrophobic environment on her own. The relationship and reunion with Sissy with her arrival at Park House with the expectations of rapprochement only aggravated in encroachment. The affection and happiness she longed for when marrying Alfred led to misery, incompatibility and dishonesty.

So ironic comparing with the lines back to the beginning of Dorothea’s first encounter with Alfred, when the description of herself was given in the first chapters, “I was a blue silk Rapunzel locked up in my Chiswick Tower.” And now it would be that “on an instant of bedding their brides had become transformed into veritable Bluebeard.”

“I lay there alone in the cold, waiting for him – for the sound of the door opening, the weight and warmth of him as he dipped in beside me. That night and every other, I waited for him. But he never slept with me again.”

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