“Where another fellow would fall into a footbath of action or emotion, you fall into a mine. Where any other fellow would be a painted butterfly, you are a fiery dragon. Where another man would stake a sixpence, you stake your existence. If you were to go up in a balloon, you would make for Heaven; and if you were to dive into the depths of the earth, nothing short of the other place would content you.”- Wilkie Collins


Nelly Ternan

Miss Ricketts (Nelly Ternan) met Alfred Gibson (Charles Dickens) in 1857. The foundation of love had already shambled between Dorothea (Catherine) and Alfred during that time: incompatibilities in temperament, battalion of children being too overwhelmed to be looked after, and indisposition to be a domestic goodness, in Alfred’s opinion, to say the least.

Incongruous with the biographies which usually depict the first encounter between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens through the playing of The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins on stage in Manchester, where there’s not much interaction on the characters they played; Miss Ricketts and Alfred met each other when performing Lord Royston. Miss Ricketts played Alma, and Alfred, in this case, was Lord Royston.

Lord Royston loves Alma more than life itself, but in a fit of madness he casts her aside. However, she remains faithful and true to him, and at the end they reunited. Even through he is dying – shot through the heart – he is able to take her in his arms and beg forgiveness.”…

“He took his cues so naturally – speaking so fast and with such passion…Then, at the very end, when he had to die in my arms, he held me with such desperate force and looked at me with such intensity that I could not remember a single line of my response. Tears poured from my eyes, while all the cast stood dumbly around…” (I suppose Lord Royston is actually Dombey and Son?)

Here, the author of this novel, Gaynor Arnold plays a clever trick. She re-creates a similar scene as The Frozen Deep; Alfred was still the one giving out interactions as in Dickens with the heroine; whereas that princess, who was supposed to be the younger sister of Nelly Ternan (Maria), was replaced by Miss Ricketts. Besides, Gaynor amends the death of Miss Ricketts’s father who kicked the bucket a year ago (Nelly Ternan’s one passed away while she was 9) – resorting their relationship more conceivable / excusable? Moreover, the story is designated to be told in the form of a meeting shared by Miss Ricketts and Dorothea, and Gaynor Arnold makes it nebulous whether their relationship was of a platonic love of not.

(Dickens’s letter to Miss Coutts praising the unexceptional skills of Maria Ternan) – “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.” 

Their romance kindled as exactly in the case of a paternal complex; and Miss Ricketts, in a meeting with Dorothea, stated the agitation in admiration of his talents as an actress, and entrapment of falling into Alfred’s passion and kindness in assisting her family financially. To my disappointment, not a single word of Staplehurst Rail Crash was exchanged.

Alfred confiding this secret of the affair and the status of his marriage to Michael O’Rourke (John Forster) – “He still maintained that I was in some ways the happier man because the ‘gilt of romance’ had never been rubber off my particular piece of gingerbread by the ‘slow attrition of dispute and disagreement.”

After the conversation, Dorothea tended to acquiesce the similarities of situation both she and Ricketts shared. There was restriction of freedom, the pretending  and stricken consolation to the anticipation of reunion with Alfred after long hours of solitude (no matter Dorothea’s case, abandonment or not); most importantly, in the protection of Alfred to be prevailed against a sullied state to the public, they were admittedly bullied in their circumstances.