From classics such as A Christmas Carol , Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, we owe a lot of our classic literature to the mind of Charles Dickens. Dickens was an influential writer during the Victorian era, and even had a whole literary term associated with his writing style: Dickensian- in reference to his witty characterizations and depictions of poor working classes. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid some of the very clear flaws of Dickens, specifically in his misogynistic actions. From treatment of his wife to awful character-building of female characters in his writing, Dickens proved that he definitely is not an advocate for the rights of 50% of the world’s population!
His Mistreatment of Dear Wife, Catherine Dickens
Poor, poor Catherine Dickens. Like her husband, she also was a writer. They married soon after meeting, and had 10 children! Catherine’s sister Mary Hogarth lived with the couple for a year, where she and Charles had a suspiciously close relationship, despite living under the same roof as Catherine. Although Mary died soon after moving in, many historians say Charles was attached to her mores than his own wife. He included her as a character in his books and even alleged to have a larger role in his writing than Catherine! Shady, Charles Dickens. Real shady.
More than just his shady relations with Catherine’s sister, Charles lost a lot of his previous passion for Catherine throughout the years, pinning blame on her for their 10 children and financial struggles as a result. Additionally, he wrote constantly about her “incompetence” as a mother and wife, and how she was sole reason of their later separation. And with no accountability for his own faults? How rude!
In the course of their growing estrangement, Charles had affairs with many other women- one being Ellen Ternan- who was almost 30 years younger than him! Rumors also spread that he allegedly had an affair with another of Catherine’s sisters, Georgina. She had to move out after their divorce, and most of their children stayed with Charles. Poor, poor Catherine Dickens, indeed.
His Misogynistic Character-Building: Mrs. Jellyby
Although Mrs. Jellyby is not a figure in our history books, she was a satirical character in one of Dickens novels, Bleak House. Her characterization in the novels is a wealthy philanthropist who worked to help the poor and needy tribes in Africa, often ignoring those in where she lived. She was Dickens’s characterizations of hypocrisy and performative charity. However, Jellyby is alleged to be a criticism of female activists at the time, from Dickens’s perspective. If his mistreatment of Catherine is not clear enough of his sexism against women, his depictions of women through his novels, particularly Jellyby- a parody of women’s activists in the 19th century- prove his attitudes towards women’s rights and roles!
His Sexist Remarks: Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell was a notable writer and novelist, who, similar to Dickens, focused on poor social working classes in her writing. Her relationship with Dickens remained friendly and professional, to the point he even had her stories and work published in his magazines!
However, Gaskell had an artistic vision in her writing- something that Dickens often did not agree with when it came to publishing her work in his periodicals. She was a strong and forward writer, which Dickens did not appreciate due to her position as a woman. It was to the point that Dickens voiced violence against her due to their contradicting perspectives, and once wrote, “Oh! Mrs Gaskell-fearful-fearful! If I were Mr G. Oh heavens how I would beat her!”
We can appreciate Dickens for his contributions to our reading shelves and a lot of what we covered in our high school English classes. However, we cannot ignore his problematic past of misogyny and discrimination against women, even if Dickens has the title as one of the most famous novelists and writers of all time.