Catherine dickens-outside the magic circle’ by Heera Datta -a saga of love,hate and romance

It was a long journey- a journey of marital life that lasted twenty two long years, a journey that had been shared by ‘he’- arguably one of the greatest storyteller of all times , the custodian of British morality and ‘she’-depicted as mentally ill ,unfit and uncaring mother and of course an ‘incompetent’ wife. After the journey had been ended in a mutual consent- both ‘she’ and ‘he’ lived to see many more springs!
‘He’ of our story is Charles dickens and ‘she’ is Catherine dickens – the two protagonists of our story. The world believed in what the master storyteller had told to the world, portraying Catherine as a mentally disordered lady-unfit, uncaring and incompetent as a mother, house lady and wife- a storyline that is as powerful as his stories of Scoorage and little Neil! Surprisingly two of her sisters were against her.
But what was the real picture? Was the greatest observer of human nature, really a victim at the hands of an intolerable, depressed wife? Or did he fool everyone, playing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide to the inner and outer world. It’s where our book seeks to intervene, retelling the story from the point of view of a simple woman of Victorian era, from a different angle that the famous artist had scripted for his once ‘loving’ wife! As the writer has told it’s partly fictional and partly factual-and more factual than fictional. She’ didn’t have the voice. But if she had, what she would have told to the world, her terribly pitiful lonely day? ‘Catherine dickens-outside the magic circle’ by Heera Datta is a saga of love, hatred and romance from the viewpoint of a lady who had been stripped off her right of even to be called Mrs. DICKENS!
The story unveiled in Tavistock House on 19th May, 1858-it’s her moment of adieu in tears to the house she lived for twenty one long years. It is a dramatic prologue-with the separation had already taken place. The description is in a heart touching expression
“Like all the other rooms, this one too was decorated as per Charles’ wishes. Though he had moved out of our room a few months ago, I had not changed anything and had left the empty spaces that had held his things, to mock me with the barrenness of my marriage. I turn back and on an impulse pick up Charles’ letters. I know they are filled with the love of a lover and husband and I need to read them again and hold them against my heart. I leave my home with my head bowed low. I do not look back at the grand imposing façade of the mansion. I fear the servants are all lined up behind the curtains and are watching. I will never forget this day.”
It bleeds straight through the hearts when you have to leave your near and dear ones, living at the mercy of one person,-who was once your ‘loving’ husband, begging for alms of meting your dear children and tagged as an inefficient mother. In a melting language the writer presents a chronicle of that bleeding.
The flashback of the book takes us to the times when Catherine Hogarth-the eldest daughter of George the editor of Morning Chronicle newspaper was in a wild love affair with Charles Dickens, also an employee of the same newspaper. They met in 1834, became engaged in 1835 and married in 1836. In January 1837, the first of their ten children was born.
The couple led a happy life, widely traveled across Scotland and America. After their 1842 trip to America, Catherine’s sister Georgiana came to live with the happy couple and look after the children.
Many a women had embraced the life of Dickens! Obviously the effects were far reaching to the life of Catherine. He started to become apathetical to her. Even ‘being too fertile’ seemed to be a matter of botheration for him. He began to question the intellectual capability of her. The writer with a judicious mix of facts with imagination that seems very real paints the state of mind of Catherine-
“Charles was right. I had a mental disorder. I did not have the ability to think. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should have gone about the separation in a clearheaded manner, the way he had done. The law gave Charles the custody but I should have insisted on their spending some time with me. Instead I believed Charles when he said, ‘Nobody is taking away your children. They will be in the care of their aunt and me, that is all.” What would I not have given to kiss away one of Plorn’s little cuts and mend the tears in his clothes!”
The death of Mary, the beloved sister in law and companion of Charles in 1837 brought a state of despair to the life of Charles. He took a ring from her lifeless body which he was to wear for the rest of his life! He recollected afterwards, “she died in my arms, and the very last words she whispered were of me . . .” that state of mind of Charles, too has been scripted well by our writer
“Monday, January 1st, 1838. A sad New Year’s Day in one respect, for at the opening of last year poor Mary was with us. Very many things to be grateful for since then, however. Increased reputation and means— good health and prospects. We never know the full value of blessings till we lose them (we were not ignorant of this one when we had it, I hope). But if she were with us now, the same winning, happy, amiable companion, sympathising with all my thoughts and feelings more than anyone I knew ever did or will, I think I should have nothing to wish for, but a continuance of such happiness. But she is gone, and pray God I may one day, through his mercy, rejoin her.”
In 1857, Charles met the woman who was to be his mistress for the rest of his life; she was hired to act in a benefit presentation. Their marital life even became more miserable after the meeting. Charles wrote to his friend John Foster-“Poor Catherine and I are not made for each other, and there is no help for it. It is not only that she makes me uneasy and unhappy, but that I make her so too—and much more so”. In the spring of 1858, a bracelet that was brought for Ellen was accidentally delivered to Catherine which fueled the fire and resulting in a legal separation. But that separation was given some other angle by Charles-as we have already discovered, but what would have happen if Catherine was to wrestle out the storytelling power from Charles! The world would have an altogether different version of the story-the opposite story they had gladly swallowed as real!
Take this example of Catherine, murmuring to herself-
“Ellen Ternan, who was no older than our third child Kate, was my husband’s mistress! I let the bitter and unpalatable truth sink in, as Charley left the house. I had suspected as much and confronted Charles with the evidence of the engraved bracelet. He had burst into righteous anger, and later, when I had told him I was prepared to listen to him, to believe him if he would explain, he had rushed away to the lawyers, to carve me out of his home and life.”
It’s a gripping story altogether – loosely inspired by Lillian Nayder’s biography of Catherine and assimilating all the available information into a beautifully crafted book. However there were scopes to discuss the romance between our protagonists in a more detailed way.
Still this book is like a treasure-presenting before us a livid picture of the untold pain, agony and suffering of a lady who had been overshadowed by a man who was incidentally her loving husband.
Out of 5,
The book deserves 5 in assimilation of facts and fiction, 4 in story line development, 4.2 in storytelling.
Nothing is more simple than greatness-as Emerson had put it and this simple book has all the potential to be a great work of fiction!

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