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Charles Dickens Tried to Banish His Wife to an Asylum, Letters Show

LONDON — As a great novelist and a master journalist, Charles Dickens maintained tight control over what the public learned about his 1858 separation from his wife, perhaps the most scandalous story in his eventful life.

But letters revealed this past week cast the episode in a new and cruel light. Dickens, they suggest, not only sought to banish Catherine, his companion of two decades and the mother of his 10 children, while pursuing an affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan.

He also tried to have his wife imprisoned in an asylum.

“This is a stronger and more damning account of Dickens’s behavior than any other,” John Bowen, a professor of 19th-century English literature at the University of York in northern England, wrote in The Times Literary Supplement on Tuesday. The article accompanied the publication of an analysis of letters held at Harvard.

Dickens, a celebrity in his own time, was careful of his image and legacy. In the 1860s, he burned the letters and papers of 20 years on a bonfire in his back yard. Many of his contemporaries acted similarly. Still, scholars and biographers continue efforts to pierce the privacy of his life and his relationship with women.

Read entire article at NY Times