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The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens Paperback – 26 Sep 1991

4.3 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev Ed edition (26 Sept. 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140121366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140121360
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 462,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Captivating. . . . An absorbing book about...a character who helps to illuminate the life of a great artist and the life of her times." --Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
"As social history, literary criticism, and, not least, an absorbing detective story, "The Invisible Woman" is a wonderful book." --"Newsday"
"Groundbreaking." --"The Guardian" (UK)
"This is feminist biography at its best." --Leon Edel
"Part social history, part detective story, wholly enthralling." --John Carey, "The Sunday Times" (London)

Captivating. . . . An absorbing book about a character who helps to illuminate the life of a great artist and the life of her times. Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
As social history, literary criticism, and, not least, an absorbing detective story, "The Invisible Woman" is a wonderful book. "Newsday"
Groundbreaking. "The Guardian" (UK)
This is feminist biography at its best. Leon Edel
Part social history, part detective story, wholly enthralling. John Carey, "The Sunday Times" (London)" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Claire Tomalin was born in London in 1933. She has worked in publishing and journalism all her life, becoming literary editor first of the New Statesman and then of the Sunday Times, which she left in 1986. She is the author of, among other books: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft; Shelley and His World Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life; The Invisible Woman and the extraordinarily successful biography of Samuel Pepys. Other books written for Penguin are: Jane Austen: A Life and a collection of memoirs entitled Several Strangers.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
Read more ›
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