The Invisible Woman (Book review 3) – In a theatrical world


(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!)

In Victoria era, strolling players, especially actresses, were branded deplorable, feckless or avaricious in many ways negatively. One of the reasons for this perception is that traditionally in Elizabethan times, women are rarely seen on stage and all characters were almost customarily played by men.

However, like Dickens once stated, “Never think ill of those Gaslight Fairies who minister our amusements”; the public might have misjudged and underestimated the competencies, the virtues, and the intelligence that actresses gained and possessed from their occupation. First, they might not have holistic education as Victorian ladies above ranks; they were as resourceful as those in possessing abundant knowledge coming from their workplace, especially on the linguistic field. They cultivated their love of literature and reading from memorizing the lines, poems, monologues from scripts adapted from classics and works of other playwrights since they were of very young age. Secondly, they were of much determined characters; they withstood firmly on their grounds. Kate Perugini (daughter of Charles Dickens) described the Victorian ladies of the day that they were like dexterous angels in carrying duties of household chores and affairs like embroidery and letter-writing with such “enforced idleness”. On the other hand, actresses had the talents and assiduity to be estranged from these matters and chose to stick on their world of acting industry.

For such strong characters as they were, they might not be the luckiest ones in finding eternal loves as ladies of other classes, whether that men played favour on them or not. This case happened most of the time; almost all strolling players had the predilection of ending up having dead ends with their loved ones. For example, in the case of Mrs. Jordan, if she was an aristocrat in closest relations to the royals, or that if she was successful in not being a mistress of the future William IV, her children might have succeeded in being apparent heirs to throne (rather than Queen Victoria), more so she came into terms with her clandestine lover and ended up losing some of her children so as to separate from him. Another actress Fanny Kelly never married; Fanny Kemble divorced from her husband. But they both have their intention of returning to their first love of acting. The Ternan family played on this tradition as well. Thomas Trollope, the famous tragedian, ended up admitting to lunatic asylum after the failure of his managerial duties at Newcastle Theatre, which, at that time, Nelly was only six years old. This did not mean they had to blame their destiny or thought it as a blot in the head for long, The Ternan family remained strenuous in contributing amusement to the public.

Being an actress in London was seen as an advantage and regarded as in the higher rank than other actresses playing in the north. In Mrs. Ternan’s case, she didn’t seem to be succeeding in Convent Garden as an actress as much as in Scotland and Ireland.

The Invisible Woman (Book review 2) Nelly and the family


The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin was the book I got last year. I have to admit that I would not have grabbed this book from my shelf if it had not been for the upcoming new movie adapted  from this biography of Nelly Ternan shown in theatres. I will 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!

Nelly Ternan was born into the family that actively participated in the acting industry, so she must have been a prodigy or inherited with an acting talent. Her mother, Frances Jarman, was also from an acting family of strolling players. She married to a tragedian, Thomas Ternan and was conceived of three beautiful darlings. The eldest being Fanny, the wise and witty, even the most knowledgeable of all. While being a governess to Bice, daughter of widower Thomas Trollope, who was the older brother of Antony Trollope, she somehow married to the Father and lived a congenially life thereafter. She published several novels in Household Words presided over by Dickens’s management. The second eldest daughter, Maria, was the valorous rather than a virtuous one. She married to an Oxford Merchant but with her adventurous vibe, she got herself separated from her husband most of the time and went travelling globally. Nelly, was probably the most vulnerable from her looks but she was also determined about her own life. She had infallible beauty which must have attracted Dickens from the start.

The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin (Book review 1)


Charles Dickens is one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian Era. He arouses my interests in reading Literature and English novels as my pastime activities. He fascinates me in his writing of different themes and topics underpinning social injustice between classes and notoriety of authoritative institutions in his times. The settings that we always first encounter at the beginning of his novels are all intriguing as well as insightful. In Little Dorrit, we are drawn to a scene setting in Marshalsea Prison; in Our Mutual Friend, he depicts an underprivileged family’s living by digging up bodies in River Thames thereby earning their own bread; in Oliver Twist, it underlines the hardship and deprivation of children living in workhouses; in Hard Times and Nicholas Nickleby, they satirically deal with the pedagogues/brainwashed regime of education institutions; especially in Nicholas Nickleby, it was my first time that I found myself so ingrained in reading a classic. The length and breadth of describing the teaching methods (for instance, spelling lesson on the word “cleaning”) of Mr. Squire was peerless, and my acquaintance of Poor Smike gave me great abundance of compassion. Since then I have come across several novels of his, and my favourite is Dombey and Son and The Pickwick Papers (Pickwick Papers stands my favourite as including so many paranormal short stories told in pubs!) . Although I am not a thorough reader of Dickens (still finding his novels always difficult to read), and still have Bleak House untackled, I still have lots of interest in his works, the period that he live in, and especially stories that happened in his lifetime. Therefore last year I got myself this biography – The Invisible Woman – telling the anecdotes and famous secret affair with a young lady who was 27 years his junior: Nelly Ternan, and it was a surprise read: unexceptionably enjoyable and engaging. However there are so much information for me to absorb and digest, so I have jotted down bits and bobs of the story which is rather lengthy. Here you go!


HAVE been reading a novel by Wilkie Collins lately (cannot tell you the name yet), and the plot has been interesting and engaging so far. I have done some researches on him while reading the novel, and realised that almost every close relative of his is an inborn painter! Like father, like son, ain’t it?

Charles's impression of his elder brother Wilkie
Charles’s impression of his elder brother, Wilkie Collins

Charles Allston Collins (1828-1873) – Although he has close connection to members of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he was never made an official one. To me, he was a victim of unrequited love! After being rejected by Maria Rossetti, he was married to Dickens’s daughter, Kate.

The Good Harvest (1854)
The Good Harvest (1854)
Convent Thoughts (1850-51)
Convent Thoughts (1850-51)

Kate was also a painter of the 19th century. I believe she must be a beautiful woman as she was portrayed several times by a fascinating Pre-Raphaelite artist called John Everett Millais. Millais is one of my favourite members of the Pre-Raphaelite Club.

Kate Perguini
Kate Dickens (by Perugini)
The Black Brunswicker (1880) Kate was used as a model in the above painting by Millais
The Black Brunswicker (1880) Kate was used as a model in the painting by Millais

After Charles’s death, Kate was remarried to another artist, whose name was Charles Edward Perugini.

A painting by Perguini

So many connections right? Wilkie Collins was Dickens’s son-in-law’s brother. And who knows that Charles Dickens, in fact, didn’t like Pre-Raphaelite paintings! What an irony to him when he saw his daughter appearing on those paintings of Millais! Do you know if there were any more connections between these two novelists of the Victorian era?