Outside the Magic Circle
“A man is lucky if he is the first love of a woman.
A woman is lucky if she is the last love of a man.”
- Charles Dickens
Charles was lucky, Catherine wasn't.
Catherine was Charles Dickens’ wife whom he separated from after twenty-two years of marriage and ten children. Enamored of a young actress, Charles scripted a fiction about his marriage in which he was the long suffering husband to a woman who was unfit to be wife and mother. He spread this story through his powerful editor friends.
Catherine did not, could not, fight him. Even the law gave custody of minor children to fathers, and all her children, except one, were minor. She retreated into dignified silence which seems baffling today. But the strength of her agony is exhibited in her words to her daughter, to whom she gave letters written to her by Charles, and told her to give them to the British Museum, “so that the world may know he loved me once.”
Outside the Magic Circle is the story of Catherine and the repressive times she lived in.
When Charles picked up his powerful pen to malign me, and to deny our life together with well-constructed lies, he knew I would not expose him. I would not take his letters to the press, or give interviews, or write letters to editors. He knew me well, my husband, and also knew how to rid himself of me.
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I did not correct her about me being the mother of nine living children. At that moment, the children I had carried in sickness and brought forth in pain and hardship seemed like phantom children. They had been born but had drifted away like wraiths.
I said, “My marriage was not barren. I had a daughter but she died an infant.”
That night I realized a sorry truth. From now onwards I would have nothing to say to women except about the death of a child. The usual conversation of husband and children and household matters was forever closed to me.