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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating appetiser for Tomalin's new Dickens biography.
This is an account of the woman with whom Dickens had an intimate relationship for over a decade, though the ranks of family and other supporters sought to hide the fact from the what would have been a scandalised and disapproving world.

Tomalin's book is a fascinating and multi-faceted read. The lengthy background to the Ternan family allows for a really...
Published on 24 Sep 2011 by S. J. Williams

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Invisible Woman indeed!
I found this book rather tedious, -in fact I was unable to finish it. The author admits that there is very little first hand information about Nelly, which seems to me a great impediment to writing a book about her. I would say the book is a reworking of the author's biography of Dickens and is full of boring information about his visits to various places, including his...
Published 9 months ago by NoQlu


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating appetiser for Tomalin's new Dickens biography., 24 Sep 2011
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This is an account of the woman with whom Dickens had an intimate relationship for over a decade, though the ranks of family and other supporters sought to hide the fact from the what would have been a scandalised and disapproving world.

Tomalin's book is a fascinating and multi-faceted read. The lengthy background to the Ternan family allows for a really interesting exploration of the theatrical world of the nineteenth-century. This is brilliantly dovetailed into an exploration of the ambivalence of an actress's social position at that time and of women generally. Dickens' own lifelong pre-occupation with and delight in theatre (he longed to run one and was an enthusiastic amateur actor) is central to the narrative, while the position of women is cleverly elaborated through the way Tomalin explores the highly problematic nature of Dickens representation of them within his work through the prism of his relationship with actress Nelly.

Dickens emerges badly and the author does not gloss over his cruelties and selfishness. The modern reader is less shocked by his having had a mistress than by his almost megalomaniacal determination to keep the skeleton right at the back of the cupboard, a determination which leads to cruelties one associates more with a Steerforth than his creator.

Yet Tomalin is not a narrowly moralistic writer. She recognises the psychological struggles taking place out of sight, and that the awfulness of Dickens' behaviour at this point in his life does not obliterate his history of generosity and kindness, his energetic exposure of the ills of the society he lived in and active fight against many of them. However, he was not as free of that society's sense of propriety, nor as courageous in confronting it as he might have wished, nor as some of his associates managed to be.

But of course this book is not about Dickens, though he has a central role within it and is the point about which much of the narrative turns. This is Nelly's story, as far as it can be discovered, and it is remarkably vividly presented for all her 'invisibilty': one cannot but feel the deepest sympathy for her dreadful plight and vulnerability in a relationship which protects her at the cost of depriving her of any real independence whilst putting her at the gravest risk of exposure and ignominy. Post-Dickens, she emerged from the shadows, married and for some years gained happiness and a respectable social position. However, one is most touched by the awful fate of Nelly's son, who, unable to come to terms with what he discovers about his mother and her former secret life, has his affection utterly poisoned by shame: the loving parent is obliterated by his post-mortem discoveries, Victorian social prejudices trumping affection and tenderness. Poor Nelly seems to have missed out in every way!

A fascinating and moving account which, in the paperback edition, also contains new evidence which seems to suggest that the established details of Dickens' death are not as has been assumed for over a century!
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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The secret life of Dickens, 1 Nov 2000
By 
Lynette Baines (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Claire Tomalin's biographies often reveal (or rescue) the life of a woman who lived on the margins of society. Her ability to rediscover these lives is amazing. Ellen Ternan is one such woman. She was a member of a family of actors in Victorian England, who had a long, secret relationship with the most popular novellist of the day, Charles Dickens. Tomalin describes the world of the theatre (which was not considered respectable), the limited choices for Ellen and her sisters, and the impossible position Ellen was in as Dickens' mistress. Ellen was invisible to respectable society, and to posterity, because Dickens couldn't marry her. Dickens' dreadful behaviour to his wife, Catherine, is also detailed here This is a fascinating story for anyone interested in Victorian society and the ambiguous position of women living on the margins.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hidden Life of Victorian England's most iconic author, 15 Aug 2009
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Sensible Cat (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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I came to this after ploughing through Peter Ackroyd's biography of Dickens, intrigued by the shadowy figure of Nelly Ternan and her possible inolvement in Dickens' appalling behaviour concerning the break-up of his marriage. Tomalin has done an impressive job teasing out a story that was never intended to be revealed, and probably never will be in its entirity. Though she refuses to be drawn into speculation, she builds a convincing case for the probability that Dickens did pursue a serious, long-term affair with Nelly, that they may well have had at least one child and, perhaps most controversial of all, that his friends and his family closed ranks to conceal the fact that he was with her on the day he died.

But the book isn't just about Dickens. It takes you deep into the the alluring yet harsh world inhabited by "theatricals", despised and feared by respectable society, and whatever prejudices you begin the book with are likely to be challenged before you reach the final page. Tomalin is to be congratulated for bringing to life a woman who clearly brought Dickens comfort and joy as well as guilt and anguish and showed a remarkable dignity, independence and capacity for self-reinvention.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating appetiser for Tomalin's new Dickens biography., 23 Sep 2011
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This is an account of the woman with whom Dickens had an intimate relationship for over a decade, though the ranks of family and other supporters sought to hide the fact from the what would have been a scandalised and disapproving world.

Tomalin's book is a fascinating and multi-faceted read. The lengthy background to the Ternan family allows for a really interesting exploration of the theatrical world of the nineteenth-century. This is brilliantly dovetailed into an exploration of the ambivalence of an actress's social position at that time and of women generally. Dickens' own lifelong pre-occupation with and delight in theatre (he longed to run one and was an enthusiastic amateur actor) is central to the narrative, while the position of women is cleverly elaborated through the way Tomalin explores the highly problematic nature of Dickens representation of them within his work through the prism of his relationship with actress Nelly.

Dickens emerges badly and the author does not gloss over his cruelties and selfishness. The modern reader is less shocked by his having had a mistress than by his almost megalomaniacal determination to keep the skeleton right at the back of the cupboard, a determination which leads to cruelties one associates more with a Steerforth than his creator.

Yet Tomalin is not a narrowly moralistic writer. She recognises the psychological struggles taking place out of sight, and that the awfulness of Dickens' behaviour at this point in his life does not obliterate his history of generosity and kindness, his energetic exposure of the ills of the society he lived in and active fight against many of them. However, he was not as free of that society's sense of propriety, nor as courageous in confronting it as he might have wished, nor as some of his associates managed to be.

But of course this book is not about Dickens, though he has a central role within it and is the point about which much of the narrative turns. This is Nelly's story, as far as it can be discovered, and it is remarkably vividly presented for all her 'invisibilty': one cannot but feel the deepest sympathy for her dreadful plight and vulnerability in a relationship which protects her at the cost of depriving her of any real independence whilst putting her at the gravest risk of exposure and ignominy. Post-Dickens, she emerged from the shadows, married and for some years gained happiness and a respectable social position. However, one is most touched by the awful fate of Nelly's son, who, unable to come to terms with what he discovers about his mother and her former secret life, has his affection utterly poisoned by shame: the loving parent is obliterated by his post-mortem discoveries, Victorian social prejudices trumping affection and tenderness. Poor Nelly seems to have missed out in every way!

A fascinating and moving account which, in the paperback edition, also contains new evidence which seems to suggest that the established details of Dickens' death are not as has been assumed for over a century!
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so great expectations, 8 Oct 2008
By 
Dr. Robert A. Josey "mystery lover" (Scottish Highlands) - See all my reviews
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I read this book shortly after finishing Ackroyd's 'Dickens' (1990 version). Tomalin's findings give a extra, sharper slant on that biography. Particularly the depiction of Dickens' death.

The accumulation of research and detective work go a long way to casting light on the elusive relationship between Nelly Ternan and the most famous English novelist of the 19th century.

It is eventually a sad - but all too human - story. And it did make me reassess Dickens' heroines and his approach to women in general. I agree with the author that Estella (from 'Great Expectations') is his most alluring female character.

Claire Tomalin has written a clear sighted, carefully outlined and moving/rather troubling history here. It certainly deserves all the critical plaudits it has recieved. I now look forward to reading her book on Thomas Hardy.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `It seemed like a good moment to start putting something on paper which might restore Nelly to visibility.', 26 Mar 2010
This book, first published in 1990, is about the actress Nelly Ternan, who had a relationship with Charles Dickens from 1857 until his death in 1870. Ms Tomalin writes that Nelly Ternan `played a central role in the life of Charles Dickens at a time when he was perhaps the best-known man in Britain.' While Nelly Ternan was the first person named in Charles Dickens's will, there is very little documentary evidence of her involvement or importance in his life.

So, who is Nelly Ternan, and why was her name effectively removed from history?

Sadly it appears that none of the letters between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan survived. By piecing together clues found in contemporary playbills, other documents and photographs, Ms Tomalin has created a portrait of Nelly Ternan and her family. As a consequence of Ms Tomalin's research, we also have a clearer picture of the last years of Dickens's life, some potential insights into his writing, as well as of the times in which he lived.

The main reason that Nelly Ternan does not appear in most accounts of Charles Dickens was because he and others worked so hard to protect his image of respectable Victorian morality. After his death, Nelly Ternan kept quiet as well because of her fear of scandal and humiliation. The second reason had to do with Nelly Ternan's origins: as an actress and as a member of an acting family, she belonged to a class of women not considered respectable. Ironically, Charles Dickens first met Nelly Ternan through his own fascination with the theatre: when her family were hired by his amateur theatrical company.

After Dickens died in 1870, Nelly Ternan married a schoolmaster with whom she had two children. Neither of these children learned of her involvement with Dickens until after her death in 1914.

Much of this biography is based on interpretation and speculation, and Ms Tomalin makes this very clear. I found this an absorbing and often sad story about the shadowy life of a woman who was a hidden part of Charles Dickens's life.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Invisible Woman indeed!, 25 Feb 2014
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I found this book rather tedious, -in fact I was unable to finish it. The author admits that there is very little first hand information about Nelly, which seems to me a great impediment to writing a book about her. I would say the book is a reworking of the author's biography of Dickens and is full of boring information about his visits to various places, including his visits to Nelly, -at times it felt like reading a train timetable.
What Nelly thought about her situation, how she really felt about Dickens, how others treated her as a 'kept woman', what did she do with her time, who were her friends, did she have regrets..... nothing!! The invisible woman in her own biography, how sad.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly biography, 4 Oct 2009
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With little original material, most of which was destroyed by the parties concerned, Tomalin has skilfully constructed a convincing account of Nelly Ternan's life, aspects of which she, and those around her, attempted to keep secret.

So, of necessity, much of the biography is theory, but Tomalin theorises based on psychological analysis; she makes convincing cases because she looks at the evidence with a nineteenth century mindset; this is likely to have happened, she opines, because this is the way things were in the Victorian period. She backs up her theories by sketching in the required background, whether is the perception of actresses by society or the improvements in railway systems.

The biography is well written with comprehensive notes and bibliography. It will appeal not just to readers interested in Dickens or Victorian literature, but also to anyone who enjoys a good detective story, to those interested in genealogy, the role of women in Victorian society and theatrical life in the mid-nineteenth century.

Ternan's story demonstrates how easy it was to lead double lives, cover one's tracks, and re-invent oneself in the days before mass communication, the internet and intrusive journalism.

I could have read it at one sitting, if I didn't have to get on with the business of eating and working!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the invisible woman by clare tomalin, 11 April 2011
This book was excellent and gave a very good account of the alleged relationship between charles dickens and nelly ternan. How deep that relationship was, was still a question of degree, and still left various questions. I fear we will never know the real truth, and no doubt there will be further intense discussion prior to the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth in February 2012.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Frozen Deep., 3 Sep 2011
By 
Andrea Bowhill (England) - See all my reviews
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The invisible woman is the woman who, for the last thirteen years of Charles Dickens's life, was his secret obsession and intimate companion. Her name was Nelly Ternan; she was an actress, reared in a family history of performers but within a few years of meeting Dickens she left the stage and disappeared from public view. Although she reappeared, she was always liable to become invisible again, sometimes by her own choice, sometimes at the insistence who preferred to keep her out of sight.

Her disappearance was considered essential for the protection of Dickens good name with a public that idolized him. It enabled him to continue in his role as the great upholder of family values. It also protected Nelly from scandal. So efficiently did Dickens and Nelly shield themselves that they managed to efface most of the traces of their association; she was able to reappear after his death as an entirely new person, constructing a background, history and even age to suit the requirements of the society she wished to enter.

We move through this book in three parts of Nelly's life. A child actress, a hidden love and a respectable wife and mother which span the Victorian and Edwardian ages. In her lifetime no one asked Nelly for her memories, any more than they asked her sisters Fanny and Maria, both writers who had also known Dickens intimately. It was only after the First World War and Nelly's death that this part in Dickens life began to be discussed openly, though even then some denied the very possibility of the association.

The Author Claire Tomalin looks at this story from her own point of view, but it does offer up some new perspective and surprises. What I loved most about this book, it reads like a Dickens novel, wonderful social history, part detective, many twist and turns involving lost and found diaries and inked-out letters, playbills, hidden bank accounts, railway networks, newspaper reports and disappearing babies. While on Nelly's side of the family, part of the journey is a history of actresses. We get a feel of what it was like to be an actress before an audience that simultaneously despised and desired you. Another interesting aspect was the way Dickens lived this part of his life in codes, to protect Nelly who was not so much asked but forced to live in a world of double identities and secret arrangements; or find herself as damaged goods with an uncertain future.

Overall I love this book, it reminded me of the programme Who Do You Think You Are? Looking into our own family history and finding the emotional highs and lows, the element of surprise when discovering a secret, one that our great grandparents had tried to bury. The Invisible Woman is highly recommended, its entertaining reading and an account of a love affair that cast its shadow over two families and two generations, a century later, it remains a matter of dispute.

Andrea Bowhill
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The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens
The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin (Paperback - 21 Jun 2012)
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