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Charles Dickens as a Dad

As you may or may not know, Charles Dickens and I have had our ups and downs. We finally came to an understanding when I read (and loved) A Tale of Two Cities but before that, aside from the delight that is A Christmas Carol, I wasn’t sure that we would ever get along. I mean seriously, Hard Times?

Dickens' kids

According to Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, his children had a similar relationship with him.

To be fair, he did have nine children (he blamed his wife for the number of children they had, like he had nothing to do with it) that survived to adulthood. Maybe he was just overwhelmed with numbers.

So he had nine children, two daughters (Mamie and Katey) and seven sons (Charley, Walter, Alfred, Francis, Sydney, Henry, Plorn). Seven sons! What Henry VIII wouldn’t have given for seven sons. He was pretty decent towards his daughters, they really had no major complaints. But those sons of his – he was a hardass dad.

I don’t know much about Charles Dickens’ childhood but I know that he basically grew up in a workhouse and through sheer determination (and a whole lot of talent) he became the most famous novelist, possibly ever. His children, growing up wealthy with little to worry them, lacked that same gumption and it really bothered Daddy Dickens. So he shipped his sons all over the world and withheld his approval.

He also separated from his wife to set up a home with his mistress, and took the children away from her. If the children went to visit their mother, he barely spoke with them. Kind of manipulative really.

Considering this book covers nine people’s lives, it’s really short. Just 239 pages. It’s well written and actually a fairly straightforward read (I read it in a day, really helped pad my reading stats) but I couldn’t help feeling like it only scratched the surface. One of his daughters (Katey) ended up becoming a rather famous artist, while one of his sons (Henry) was a well respected judge (the only one of his children he ever felt amounted to anything) but their lives are still condensed into a few pages. Two of his sons died in the navy, two made a go of things in Australia and one of them was even a Canadian Mountie!

I’d say the best thing about the Dickens’ offspring is their names. Their first names are ordinary enough but their middle names! Tennyson, D’Orsay, Fielding, Haldimand, Bulwer, Lytton, Landor and…Jeffrey. I should point out that the youngest son, Plorn, was actually called Edward but Dickens’ nickname for him stuck so he was forever after known as Plorn.

Honestly I was surprised that Charles Dickens was such a tough and critical father but I guess he was a Victorian so maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. It’s definitely made me want to read more about him – Claire Tomalin’s biography of him has been on my list for ages so maybe it’s time to look for that one a little more actively.

Did you ever read about someone famous and come away surprised by the reality?