The Great Charles Dickens Scandal

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Michael Slater

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A page-turning account of the scandal that almost ruined Dickens and how the story disappeared from history

Charles Dickens was regarded as the great proponent of hearth and home in Victorian Britain, but in 1858 this image was nearly shattered. With the breakup of his marriage that year, rumors of a scandalous relationship he may have conducted with the young actress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan flourished. For the remaining twelve years of his life, Dickens managed to contain the gossip. After his death, surviving family members did the same. But when the author's last living son died in 1934, there was no one to discourage rampant speculation. Dramatic revelations came from every corner—over Nelly's role as Dickens's mistress, their clandestine meetings, and even about his possibly fathering an illegitimate child by her.

This book presents the most complete account of the scandal and ensuing cover-up ever published. Drawing on the author's letters and other archival sources not previously available, Dickens scholar Michael Slater investigates what Dickens did or may have done, then traces the way the scandal was elaborated over succeeding generations. Slater shows how various writers concocted outlandish yet plausible theories while newspapers and book publishers vied for sensational revelations. With its tale of intrigue and a cast of well-known figures from Thackeray and Shaw to Orwell and Edmund Wilson, this engaging book will delight not only Dickens fans but also readers who appreciate tales of mystery, cover-up, and clever detection.

Michael Slater is emeritus professor of Victorian literature at Birkbeck College, University of London; past president of the International Dickens Fellowship and of the Dickens Society of America; and author of Charles Dickens. He lives in London.

"A sexy story resting on a bed of comprehensive scholarship and pursued with Sherlock-ian imagination.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“Slater’s work is a fascinating investigation into the nature of scandal itself as much as it is a look at the particular episode.”—Daily Beast 
"Wise, witty and highly entertaining."—Simon Callow, The Guardian
“Strangely riveting, even haunting . . . a scholarly detective story.”—The Boston Globe
"Impeccably sourced and dashingly narrated . . . Slater sinks his teeth into the dirty subject of reputation making—and breaking—with a relish that almost made me forget (I mean this as a compliment) that author's status as an eminent academic."—Miranda Seymour, Sunday Telegraph

"Impeccably sourced and dashingly narrated… Slater sinks his teeth into the dirty subject of reputation making - and breaking - with a relish that almost made me forget (I mean this as a compliment) that author's status as an eminent academic."—Miranda Seymour, Sunday Telegraph
“[Slater] examines decades of rumor and journalism to provide a history of the scandal as it has develpped since the author’s death.”—New Yorker Page-Turner blog

“A fascinating picture of not only Charles Dickens, but of the people who were (and still are) fascinated by him.”—PopMatters

"Exhaustively scholarly and very readable… Slater is… an astute and objective commentator…. This is a gripping account of a literary scandal." —The Lady
"Exhaustively scholarly and very readable . . . Slater is . . . an astute and objective commentator. . . . This is a gripping account of a literary scandal." —The Lady

"[An] elegant little history of how the truth came out, drop by scandalous drop."—John Bowen, Times Literary Supplement
“[Slater] happily tracks down and assesses the tiny accumulating pips and squeaks of the ‘scandal.’”—San Francisco Chronicle 
“You don’t need to know [Dickens’s] fiction to enjoy Slater’s zesty account of the life.”—The New Republic 

“An invaluable work for Dickens scholars, and an enjoyable read for anyone.”—Choice

“A tale of concealment, gossip, cover-ups, speculation and deduction.”—The Bookseller

“A careful account of all the evidence put forward from Dickens’s time to the present concerning the scandal. . . . Slater’s restraint is admirable.”—John R. Reed, The Historian

"Michael Slater revisits the layers of deception, gossip, commercial speculation, and academic work that grew around Dickens’s extramarital relationship with Ellen Ternan in order to track the unfolding of "the great Dickens scandal" from Dickens’s own lifetime to ours."—Sambudha Sen, Victorian Studies
ISBN: 9780300205282
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
232 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
16 b/w illus.
Charles Dickens

Michael Slater

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