In this video Professor Jon Mee talks to Lucinda Hawksley about Dickens' early life and the effect it had on his own writing.
Despite being the great-great-great granddaughter of Charles and Catherine Dickens, Lucinda Hawksley didn’t read her ancestor’s novels until she was in her late teens. It was then that she “really realised quite how important he is and how much he’s revered today,” she tells Professor Jon Mee.
Now an author, Hawksley's first biography of a Dickens family member was of the author’s maverick daughter Katey (Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens’s Artist Daughter). It’s here that being a family member helped with writing about her forebears. “You just feel that you know and understand them because you recognise their personality traits... The interesting thing is having known people who knew not of Dickens, because he died in 1870, but his children, and hearing stories about them is always really fascinating.”
The breakdown of Dickens’ troubled marriage is well documented. After 22 years of marriage, Charles separated from Catherine, having fallen in love with a younger woman. “When I researched the Katey biography I looked at Dickens for the first time biographically and I looked at him completely as a father," says Hawksley. “In the early/mid 20th century Dickens is revered as a demi-god, he could do no wrong; he was this saintly figure, and there seems to have been this huge reverse. I have to say it's slightly annoying that it has gone so far in the opposite direction and people just forget that he was a normal human being.”
Whilst his treatment of his wife on their separation was unforgiveable, for most of his marriage, argues Hawksley, he was an extremely good husband by Victorian standards. In those days marital rape and domestic violence were commonplace. These never happened in the Dickens household.
To me the most enduring legacy of Dickens is the brilliant work that he did through his socially campaigning journalism.