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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 review is from: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (Paperback)
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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