The NY Review: who was Charles Dickens
The NY Times: Description is Prescription
Wikipedia: William Wordworth and his Relationship with Annette Vallon
Poem Hunter: Three Years She Grew
Since I have been listening to Dickens for quite a while, this has never failed to impress me. The article in the NY Review by Robert Gottlieb clarified this:
Dickens’s treatment of Catherine, we now have to acknowledge, is an inexcusable blot on his personal history and his character, as well as an indication of the powerful psychic derangement he was undergoing in mid-life. They had married young, after his anguished and fruitless courtship of the pretty, flirtatious Maria Beadnell, who led him on, then shooed him away, obviously not deeply smitten by this handsome, entertaining—and callow—boy who was making his way as a court reporter, but had no real prospects. It’s easy to see in retrospect that his feelings for her were calf love, but they were passionate, long-lasting, and led to intense humiliation. No doubt to salve his wounded feelings he quickly turned to Catherine Hogarth, from a family of some distinction—her father was the editor of The Evening Chronicle, a newspaper for which young Charles was now writing. Catherine was placid, admiring, and easily led, and his wooing of her was hardly fervent. What he was looking for, after the emotional upheavals of Maria, was a wife rather than a lover, a family of his own, and a settled establishment. His need to locate himself in middle-class domesticity was so strong that he simply allied himself with the first appropriate girl who came along.
In many ways, and for some years, it seems to have been a happy (and was certainly a comfortable) relationship. His letters to her are affectionate; she’s a stalwart helpmate on the fraught American tour of 1842, despite her severe distress at leaving her four little ones behind in England; and she’s liked by everyone, even if she doesn’t make a highly vivid impression. But by the time she was well along in her child-bearing years—seven boys and three girls, to say nothing of several miscarriages—she had grown overweight, nervous, and sickly. (Can we be surprised?)
As the family grew, Dickens—although he was charmed by and cherished his children when they were little—grew more and more beleaguered and vexed. (In his letters, it’s always Catherine who’s responsible for producing all these babies; apparently he had nothing to do with it.) Yet he’s in total charge of all decisions about them: their mother is not even involved in choosing their names. What can Catherine have thought when he gave the name Dora to a newborn daughter just five days after having written to her, “I have still Dora to kill—I mean the Copperfield Dora….” What can we think?
The article about Tolstoy (Description Is Prescription) by David Brooks is not much better.
One hundred years ago, Leo Tolstoy lay dying at a train station in southern Russia. Journalists, acolytes and newsreel photographers gathered for the passing of the great prophet. Between 3:30 and 5:30 on that freezing November morning, Tolstoy’s wife stood on the porch outside his death chamber because his acolytes would not let her in. At one point she begged them to at least admit her into an anteroom so that the photographers would get the impression she was being allowed to see her husband on his final day.
Wordsworth was not much better, but at least Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy tried to do the right thing by his illegitimate daughter and her French mother:
In 1802, he visited Calais with his sister Dorothy and met Annette and his daughter Caroline. The purpose of the visit was to pave the way for his forthcoming marriage to Mary Hutchinson. Afterwards he wrote the poem “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,” recalling his seaside walk with his daughter, whom he had not seen for ten years.
His poem Three Years She Grew was about a sentimental as you can get - themes of death, endurance, separation and grief – for a woman who never really existed.
Sentimentality – John Neihadrt, told told his poetry classes (and I have never forgotten this) amounted to murder.