David Copperfield, who appears in Jane Eyre Gets Real, also “starred” in his own novel, written by the great Charles Dickens. In this classic, Copperfield’s father dies when David is very young and his stepfather is cruel, even brutal. As #FathersDay Sunday, June 17 approaches, David reflects on the children of his literary creator.
Charles Dickens and his wife Kate had 10 children. A few of them including son Charley were alcoholics with gambling addictions. Frank stuttered and walked in his sleep. Katey, the eldest daughter, would grow up to marry Charles Alston Collins, a painter and the brother of author Wilkie Collins. Alston Collins was rumored to be a homosexual. Kate herself almost certainly had OCD; even before her marriage, she was compelled to count furniture and check under the bed several times a day. (She would later remarry Charles Edward Perugini and become an artist herself but that is a story for another occasion).
Though Charles doted on all his children when they were born, the older they grew the more they disappointed him. Henry, the eighth–no pun intended–went to Cambridge and became a lawyer. But he was really the only one to attain conventional success. Plorn, the baby boy, was always of a very nervous temperament; nonetheless, Plorn, when he turned seventeen, was sent by Dickens to make his own way in the harsh Australian outback. Daughter Mamie never married; after Dickens’s death she became mysteriously involved with a clergyman and his wife and traveled with them, as part of a charity called–wait for it–Muscular Christianity. It was thought Mamie was being exploited by this couple for her inheritance.
A great deal of why Dickens’s children might have lacked self-esteem, and therefore the ability to tackle adult life, can be traced to Charles’s affair with Ellen Ternan. This relationship caused him to separate from Kate, his most devoted and once-beloved wife, and to remove the children from her–in a stunning act of self-centered Victorian patriarchy. So the children grew up in a fractured household, torn between love for their long-suffering mama and respect for their strict father, whose great expectations for them all were, sadly, never realized.