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Charles Dickens is one of the world’s greatest and best-loved novelists. He created such indelible child characters as Oliver Twist, Little Nell, Tiny Tim and David Copperfield. Dickens endured a difficult childhood. When he was 11, his father was sent to debtors’ prison, and Dickens was put to work in a blackening factory. Beginning in his teens, his talent, energy and drive ensured he would never suffer such disgrace again. Dickens also had great expectations for his 10 children — seven boys and three girls. Author Robert Gottlieb tells us what became of the sons and daughters of Charles Dickens.
- Robert Gottlieb Former editor-in-chief of Knopf Publishers and The New Yorker.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens” by Robert Gottlieb, published in November 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright ©2012 by Robert Gottlieb. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. To paraphrase from "A Tale of Two Cities," Charles Dickens was the best of fathers, and he was the worst of fathers. He had big dreams for his 10 children when they were young, but with the exception of one son who became a lawyer, and a daughter who became a successful artist, he considered the rest failures.
MS. DIANE REHMAuthor Robert Gottlieb has written a book titled "Great Expectations." He explores what became of the sons and daughters of Charles Dickens. Robert Gottlieb joins me in the studio. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Bob Gottlieb, it's always good to see you.
MR. ROBERT GOTTLIEBGood morning, Diane. It's always good to be here.
REHMThank you. And I should say right up front that Robert Gottlieb is my editor, has been my editor on the two books I wrote, one on my own and the second with my husband. Now, let's talk about what accounts for all the current interest in Charles Dickens.
GOTTLIEBWell, the immediate thing is that this year is the bicentennial year of his birth. He was born in 1812, and because he was, when he started writing, almost immediately -- and has been ever since -- really the most famous of all English novelists, and the most loved of all English novelists.
REHMHe was the most loved of all English novelists, and perhaps still is. However, 10 children, he adored them as they were young. He played with them, he sang to them, he read to them, played all kinds of games with them, but somehow as they grew, and as his wife grew...
REHM...in size, he seemed to become far less involved and sympathetic.
GOTTLIEBWell, he remained involved because certainly the two girls who -- there was one baby who died.
GOTTLIEBBut the two women who grew up with him, he went on loving and helping and nurturing as best he could. He never turned his back on them. The boys presented more of a problem. Partly his own emotional temperament was somewhat reserved despite his incredible energy and joy of life. So he didn't know how to deal with grown boys, or even adolescents, the way he could with little children whom he never had a problem with. He just adored them and was great with them from the very start.
GOTTLIEBAlso, there was a big problem. He made a lot of money, but he spent a lot of money, because he not only had a family of 10, but he had, you now, sisters, mothers, brothers, cousins, aunts, friends, retainers.
GOTTLIEBEverybody needed him and needed his financial help. Also, because he grew up poor and in very serious poverty at one point, he was frightened about losing -- running out of money, and also frightened about not being able to leave enough money to help everybody who he was going to leave behind. He always sort of sensed that he was going to die young, which he did at 58.
REHMLet me ask you about his wife, Catherine.
REHMWhile, as we said earlier, Charles Dickens came from a very poor background, father went into debtor's prison when Charles himself was eleven, he had that desperate feeling that one can only have when one suffers through poverty. And yet he has 10 children, and somehow succeeds in emotionally and mentally blaming his wife.
GOTTLIEBWell, he's not the first husband who has blamed his wife for a lot of stuff that she didn't do, and vice versa I might add. The thing is, we say he was born poor. It was poor, but it wasn't the poor class. His parents were of some kind of substance. His mother was very intelligent, and she was the one who taught him to read and get him going. They sent him to a good little school, and then it all broke apart when the father's debts mounted and he was put in debtor's prison and Charles was sent famously to work in the blacking factory, which was totally declassing him.
REHMBlacking meaning blacking the soles...
GOTTLIEBYes. It was shoes. And suddenly he was a working-class boy instead of a lower-middle class boy attending school and having a classical education. So it completely rattled him, I think, for life.
REHMAnd then he marries a woman of means.
GOTTLIEBCertainly a woman whose class was higher. Her father was a distinguished journalist and music critic. They were very educated. They came from Edinburgh where her father was in the circle of Sir Walter Scott and the other notable literary people of that time. And Catherine was a very well brought up girl, the oldest daughter in a large family, and he liked her. He had had a terrible problem with a girl he was in love with who had no use for him and threw him over. So she represented a great deal of stability, warmth. She was a nice girl.
REHMAnd so she has 10 pregnancies.
GOTTLIEBMore. Ten births.
REHMTwelve. She was 10 births, 12 pregnancies.
GOTTLIEBOr more, we don't know.
REHMWhoa. And she grows fat.
GOTTLIEBWell, she grows fat, and she's exhausted, oddly enough. She also suffered from very, very severe post-partum depressions, and he led her a merry life because he had dinner parties, he was entertaining. She was expected to be gracious, grand, cope with everything, and she more or less did. She had help, and this was typical of the Victorian period, her younger sisters came to live with them. First this beautiful girl, Mary, whom Dickens worshiped. He idealized her.
GOTTLIEBShe was an angel in the house, and suddenly when she was 17, she died in hours. She was struck by some terrible thing at the heart, and he never really got over her, because he had idealized her. She was the angel of the house. Then, the next sister, Georgina, came along. She became the practical helper. So she dealt with everything which Catherine gave birth, gave birth, gave birth, gave birth, and threw dinner parties, and actually wrote a cookbook which was quite successful.
REHMTell me, it seems to me, I recall they were married for 22 years before Charles Dickens asked wife to leave the house.
GOTTLIEBWell, he didn't ask her.
REHMHe threw her out.
GOTTLIEBWell, he moved out.
REHMHe moved out.
GOTTLIEBBut he expected that he could come back and she'd be there. He moved out because he'd fallen in love with a young actress the age of his younger daughter. She was 18, 19. That was the totally secret of course. The world didn't know about that really until the 1920s, although the people closest to him knew. So he moved out to their home in the country, and she was left to cope. And she, of course, was madly in love with him, and never really got over his leaving her.
GOTTLIEBBut his behavior to her was abominable and he publicized it. He was the editor of one of the most successful magazines in England. He wrote about it, he bad mouthed her in public.
REHMHe badmouthed her...
GOTTLIEBCatherine, in public. He said that she wasn't a good mother, her children didn't really love her. There was a leaked letter. He didn’t go out of his way to put it in the magazine, but he wrote a letter that got into print that said all this stuff, and he turned away from anyone of their friends or relatives who in any way took her side. She ceased to exist as far as he was concerned.
REHMNow, some of the children were made to stay with him.
GOTTLIEBOh, well, under British law at that time, the father had complete and total authority over children. The wife, the mother, had no say whatsoever. She wasn't even allowed to, unless he allowed it, to participate in naming them.
REHMBut Charlie, the eldest son, by then was 21 years old.
REHMAnd, therefore, could make his own decision.
REHMHe went to live with his mother.
GOTTLIEBRight. He went to live with his mother because he cared for her, and because it was the right thing for a gentleman to do. She was now going to be on her own. He didn't let the daughters go with her, which was against all propriety in the England of that time. But Charlie, who was 21, said I feel this is my duty and I must do it. On the other hand, he told his father, don't think this means I love you and the others any the less. I love you just as much, but someone has to look after her and it will be me.
REHMSo despite the fact that she had had these 10 children, and despite the fact that he really threw her out...
REHM...those children still loved their father?
GOTTLIEBTotally. And went on 'till their deaths. No one of the children ever turned away from him. First of all, he was such as extraordinary personality, and he was so, in many ways, warm and generous and giving, and so much fun, you know. He was fun. But then he also was angry over what had happened to him as a child. He never really got over it. And he was also overwhelmed with the responsibility of provided for all of these kids.
GOTTLIEBSee, the girls were not a problem. They could live with him on and on and on until and if they married, which was what was considered the thing that they would do, and one did and one didn't. The boys, however, what are going to do with them. Remember, in the middle of the 19th century, you didn't go to college. These -- what we would do, these kids would go off to college at 17 or whatever. That didn't happen then.
REHMRobert Gottlieb. His new book is titled "Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens."
REHMWelcome back. Robert Gottlieb is with me. His latest book is titled, "Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens." Robert Gottlieb was editor-in-chief of Symon and Schuster, president, publisher, editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf, and editor of The New Yorker magazine. Here's an email from Natalie. She says: In 2005, Gerald Dickens, the great, great grandson of Charles came to Washington. He appeared on a walking tour about Charles Dickens.
REHMAfter the tour, he and I chatted about his famous ancestor. His initial hesitation at joining the family business and his current immersion in the world of Dickens. He was a hit with the tour guests and absolutely charming to the actors. It seemed to me that as difficult as it was for him to follow in Charles Dickens' footsteps, that must have been doubly so for the Dickens children themselves.
GOTTLIEBWell it was both difficult and wonderful. You know, the Dickens' name was around the world. As I think I may have said, he was not only the most loved author, but he was probably the most famous man in England, with the possible exception of the queen's husband. And the same was true in America. He was mobbed wherever he went. He was recognized wherever he went.
REHMDid Catherine come with him?
GOTTLIEBCatherine came with him on his first tour of America and she was terrific. She was game. It was not easy because transportation then was terrible. There was nowhere pleasant to live when you were on the road, but he wanted to get around and see everything. And he was hailed, et cetera. But then, you know, as these kids had it both ways, both in a good sense and a bad sense. They were -- you couldn't hide the fact that you are a Dickens and so there was every -- every door was, in a sense, open to them.
GOTTLIEBOn the other hand, they were the children of Charles Dickens. They had to be something. What could they be? As I was saying before, in that period, it was not automatic, in fact it wasn't usual or even frequent for the sons, let alone the daughters, of upper middle class rich people to go to university. Only one of the Dickens' children went, Henry who wanted to be a lawyer and had to prove to his father that he could make it. He became a very eminent jurist. He was the success story.
REHMSo he sent the boys off to France to go do school.
GOTTLIEBTo learn French.
REHMWhen they were only, what, seven or eight?
GOTTLIEBOh, seven, eight, nine, ten. That's what happens -- still happens -- in England, you know, young children are sent off to school. And some of them liked it and some of them didn't. But the point is these boys, what could they do? See, there weren't many avenues open to upper middle class boys. They could go into the church, which was not going to happen in the Dickens family. They could go into the military, which several did and wanted to.
GOTTLIEBOr they could be merchants on a higher level. It was all right if you sold wine, if you sold tea. But it wasn't all right to open a little drug store on the corner. You know, that was out of the caste that you were born to. That was declassing you. So what was he going to do with these big, lumpy boys who were full of energy and full of beans and clopping around the house and making noise and eating him out of house and home and spending money on fancy clothes? Out. They had to do something and they knew it. It wasn't that they resisted.
REHMWhat could they do?
GOTTLIEBWell, that's the question. What could they do? So this is the height of British imperialism. When young men wanted to go abroad -- they wanted to go and make their way, make their fortunes in India, in Canada, in Australia. So they were not particularly resistant to that. Two of them go off to a Australia, one very young and not really prepared to do it, but they go to the outback and they're raising sheep.
GOTTLIEBAnd indeed they meet there the son of the other great novelist, Anthony Trollope, who was also there in the outback raising sheep. I mean, this is what happened. Two of them go off to India into the military. One of them dies there. He was just unwell. His body didn't hold up. Another comes back and has a crazy life. He's a disturbed person in certain ways. We're not quite sure how. He becomes a northwest mounted policeman and dies in Moline, IL.
GOTTLIEBI mean, this is madness. One of them from the timing was five or six wanted to be in the navy. He loved the sea. So by the time he's -- and Dickens helped him in every way, made sure it was right for him, gave him everything he needed. By the time he was 14, he off on a royal ship crossing the ocean. So it was not then the way it is now. And you can't judge him for letting them go or encouraging them to go because in most cases they wanted to.
REHMSo you said that clearly his expectations for his daughter were different. But the girls presented very little challenge. One of his three daughters, Dora, died in infancy.
REHMHow did he behave after her death?
GOTTLIEBHe was anguished. You know, he loved children. He loved each of his children. He loved babies. And he was distraught, but he got over it because you have to get over it. The other two he kept with him. The older one who was always called Mamie. It's a strange character who absolutely worshipped him.
REHMAnd she stayed with him.
GOTTLIEBShe stayed with him. And as she in the two little books she wrote about him, she could never imagine a name she would rather have than Dickens. She never really got over him and her life just fell apart.
REHMAnd what about Kate? Why was she his favorite?
GOTTLIEBBecause she was so much like him. Everybody always said they're the (word?). That's the pair that are most alike. She was very pretty. She had his spitfire quality. She was funny. She was witty. She was strong-minded. She put up with no nonsense and they adored each other. She, for instance, when she was a little girl and would be ill, she would allow no one to be with her when she was ill except her father.
GOTTLIEBAnd he would spend hours and hours and hours at her bedside. Then when she grew older, everyone recognized she had a talent as an artist. He sent her to the first art school in England that took women. She worked there for five or six years and she emerged with a very capable portrait painter and had a pretty successful career later.
REHMYou know, it's interesting to me that the children, despite their parents' separation, Charles Dickens refused to allow Catherine to come to his house to see the children, but the children did go to her house to see her. How did he feel about their keeping in touch with their mother?
GOTTLIEBHe didn't like it.
REHMThat's what I thought.
GOTTLIEBHe knew, of course, that he had to allow the children to see their mother. He utterly forbid them from seeing their grandmother and the rest of her -- Catherine's family.
REHMIt sounds so cruel.
GOTTLIEBWell, it was cruel. It was hell. And Katie, in her correspondence, makes that totally clear. She says, our house was hell and it was toxic. She didn't use that word but it's clearly the case, because although he allowed them to go, it was clear to all of them. But when they did go, he was displeased.
REHMWhy had he'd taken such a line in the sand as far as she?
GOTTLIEBBecause his nature did not allow any criticism or disagreement.
GOTTLIEBHe -- once he made up his mind, that was it. And her -- Catherine's family, oddly enough, stood by her and took her side and said things about him that he didn't like. So he just took against them in the same way any friend that they both shared, if that friend sided at all with Catherine, that was it. That person cease to exist.
REHMWhat fascinated me was that Georgina...
REHM...her second sister, Catherine's second sister who came to care for the children after Mary had died, she stayed with Charles.
GOTTLIEBTotally. She totally turned her back on her sister and on her mother really, and she became the prop of the entire family and remained it after Dickens' death. She eventually ended up for a while living with Mamie, but she did reconcile with Catherine after Dickens died.
REHMWhy was this particular story so fascinating to you?
GOTTLIEBWell, I'm a father and I'm a son. So I've been through it. Also, Dickens is such a complicated and interesting man. And I became more and more interested in how he could be, as we say, both such a wonderful father and such a unkind father. It's strange and I wanted to penetrate that. So no one's ever brought those stories, those 10 stories together. Everything we've known about the children we know individually because they appear biography or that one.
GOTTLIEBIt's this, in the letters if your read the 12 volumes of the great Dickens correspondence, which are brilliant. He's a wonderful letter writer too, of course. But I didn't really have a sense of what happened to each of them -- Moline, IL, mounted police, death in India, artist, famous judge, didn't make any sense. But to put it all together also gave me more of an understanding of what England, at that time, was like, what the society was like. It was -- I was completely fascinated from the first day to the last.
REHMI think in one sense, each of us writes books because of our own interest and because of what it might teach us about ourselves.
REHMWhat did you learn about yourself writing this book?
GOTTLIEBWell, it confirmed my understanding that I had a complicated childhood. My parents were, in many ways, wonderful but there was conflict there. And it was painful. And I also learned something about myself as a father. In a way, I could forgive myself better for those aspects of my fathering that were not perhaps perfect because if Charles Dickens could do it, maybe I could too. But it also confirmed me of my love for my children and their love for me because it's clear from start to finish, these children adored their father no matter what he did.
GOTTLIEBAnd however painful it may have been for them to know how they were disappointing him because nobody could meet his expectations.
REHMAnd the book is titled, "Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens." The author is Robert Gottlieb and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Syracuse, NY and to Charles. Good morning to you.
CHARLESIt's great to talk to you. I know you're just up here recently.
REHMYes, I was.
CHARLES(unintelligible) I believe it was.
CHARLESOkay. I have a question for your guest...
CHARLES...which had really puzzled me for a long time. If Charles Dickens finally made it to America and he hated it.
GOTTLIEBNo, he didn't hate it.
CHARLESNo, I mean, slavery and, you know, we're supposed to be the proponents of, you know, democracy and everything else. And he came here and he hated America.
GOTTLIEBNo. He really didn't hate America. He was fascinated by America. He found a lot of it very troubling and coarse a difficult. But he also loved a lot of people he met here and stayed lifelong friends. This was in about 1862 when he first -- well, it couldn't have been, that would have been during the war. But he remained fascinated by America. He also made a great deal of money by lecturing in America.
REHMBut what was his reaction to slavery? Do we know?
GOTTLIEBWell, England was, during the Civil War, England was on the sidelines. They had eliminated slavery sometime before. He did not like slavery that's for sure. But that's not what he was carrying on about when he was in America. What he was really most interested in was the unfair way in which English writers got no money for the sales of their books because there were copyright laws in that period.
GOTTLIEBSo he was on a campaign not just for himself but for everybody or other English writers to change those laws or to get proper laws written. When he went back to America many years later, a couple of years before he died, he was much more positive. He felt America had grown tremendously in sophistication and decency, et cetera. And he had a very good time.
REHMWas he influential? Were his ideas about copyright law influential?
GOTTLIEBEventually. It took a long, long time.
REHMBut for the most part, he really liked America.
GOTTLIEBI think -- certainly later and to a large extent earlier. Although his book about America called "American Notes" was hated by the Americans because it didn't show us in the most elegant, possible way, which we were not.
REHMYou talk about one of the children. You call his story the saddest and that is his son, Plorn, P-L-O-R-N.
REHMWhich was not his real name.
GOTTLIEBWell, no, his name was Edward. But he was known as Plorn from the very beginning. And he was the youngest and he was also a tremendous favorite of Dickens. Dickens adored him. There was something about him that just caught his fancy and made him laugh. And he carried him around and he was thrown by him. And the other kids too loved him. Nobody resented the fact that he was so crazy this youngest, this Benjamin of the family.
GOTTLIEBBut Plorn was even less decisive and had less grasp than some of the other boys. He was not weak-minded in any way, but he was weak-willed. And of course Dickens never understood that because his will was so incredibly strong. And no matter what happened, Plorn sort of made it but not. He couldn't stay in large schools, so Dickens very kindly took him out, find smaller places, found a tutor for him.
GOTTLIEBHe gave him everything he could. And finally what was he going to do with him? By this time, he was deeply involved with his affair with this actress Ellen Ternan and he wanted those boys gone. But there was nothing to do for Plorn. So he was sent off to Australia at the age of 16 on his own.
REHMRobert Gottlieb, and the book is titled, "Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens." More of your calls, comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about the family of Charles Dickens, the great writer. He had ten offspring that we know of. His wife also had several miscarriages. And after a marriage of 22 years Charles Dickens fell in love with an actress, Ellen Ternan. And indeed there may have been an illegitimate child by Ellen Ternan, is that correct?
GOTTLIEBWell, that is correct. I call her the 11th child. And it's been a matter of really severe argument as to whether this happened. Nobody knew about Ellen Ternan, as I said before, until the 1920s. But a couple of clues were left behind. There's a mention both by Henry, his distinguished jurist and something Cate said in interviews with her close friend who was going to write about her. There's a mention of a baby who died that Ellen Ternan presumably had.
REHMAnd by this time she was living with Charles Dickens?
GOTTLIEBWell, what Charles Dickens -- remember in those days everything wasn't public. It wasn't like now. She was hidden away, Ellen Ternan. You may remember Fannie Hurst's famous novel "Back Street" and the three new versions of it where the mistress is put off somewhere in a little house around the corner...
GOTTLIEB...and is visited by her man. And that's what Ellen Ternan did. He -- she had no money. She was 18 or 19.
REHMShe wasn't a very good actress.
GOTTLIEBNo. She came from an acting family. Her mother was distinguished but she wasn't particularly. She was the age of Katie and Mamie. And he took one look at her and said, it's you and he scooped her up and put her in various places. And he moved her around -- she moved around, around London and in various homes in France. He was always rushing over to the continent presumably to see her. And there comes a moment when she sort of falls off the face of the earth. She isn't heard of for a while.
GOTTLIEBAnd then she's back in England and there is the supposition that she had a baby that died. The biographer of Ellen Ternan, an English writer named Clair Tomlin wrote a book about her, a very good book and then has recently written another book about Dickens. And she is slowly, over the years, concluded that there was an 11th child. Another of his most distinguished biographers, Peter Akroid, doesn't believe they even ever slept together. That is totally mad because for 12 years they were together all the time expect when they weren't together, because she was on the back street and he was wherever he was.
REHMLet's take a call from Christopher. He's in Gilmanton, N.H. Good morning to you, sir.
CHRISTOPHERGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
CHRISTOPHERI have a -- I'm wondering if you see any irony in the fact that in "Great Expectations" the main character Pip, the expectations that we have of him at the beginning of the book are for success in London society -- success in the worldly sense. And yet what turns out to be the Great Expectation is that he has the wherewithal to return to his roots at the end. And I'm wondering if that's an irony that Dickens could plot that into the fictional character of "Great Expectations" but was unable in his expectations for his own children to have that same shifting perspective or irony.
GOTTLIEBWell, this is a two-part issue. To me "Great Expectations is Dickens' greatest book because it's the most thoroughly felt. It's the least plotty in a bad way. But it understand very deeply the narrow education of a young person. Because Pip starts out -- he suddenly comes into everything or is helped financially and he's a snob. And slowly, slowly over a difficult young life he loses that quality, finds his true self and returns to the decency that he basically always had.
GOTTLIEBDickens, I don't know that he was a snob. He was -- certainly wanted to be social. He wanted to be considered a gentleman. It was always a big question was he quite a gentleman. His dressing was flashy. He did this, that and the other. On the other hand he was very well educated and very distinguished. He -- I think that this is the book that is most about himself not in the sense of the details, which is -- would be David Copperfield, which to a great extent based on his own childhood, you know, experiences. I think it's the book that's closest to his sensibility and to his history.
REHMAnd what about the children? Did he draw on his own children?
GOTTLIEBExactly. That is a good question and the answer is almost not at all. Because the famous children of his books -- Little Nell, her famous death in "Old Curiosity Shop." Oliver Twist, the children -- Dombey's children in Dombey and Son. The boys who were treated so terribly in the school in Nicholas Nickleby. That's long before he had children. Or if he was having them they were tiny tots. Only one or two instances that you can make some kind of connection between the children he created and the children he fathered.
REHMBob, think about a writer living today. Is there any equivalent that you would look at and say, that's the Charles Dickens of today? Or is there no one that can touch him.
GOTTLIEBThere's never been anyone...
GOTTLIEB...who dominated the reading world the way he did because he was read by everybody. He was read by Queen Victoria who loved his books. And he was read by the poorest workmen who couldn't even read. They would gang together, put up a few pennies to buy the latest version, the latest chapter in his serial as it came out in magazines. And one of them who could read would read it aloud to the other. H was universally read and adored.
REHMLet's go to Shaker Heights, Ohio. Hi, Patrick.
PATRICKGood morning, Diane. How are you?
REHMMorning. Fine, thank you, sir.
PATRICKThank you for taking my call. I have sort of a question comment for your guest, Robert and then I will take his response off the air. First of all , fascinating information. What I find most unique about what you've been saying is that you have a writer who seems to be so rigid in his personal life but yet his writing does the opposite where it explores all sorts of behaviors and considers so many approaches that a person may take to different situations. And I find that those are nearly opposite. And I just wondered if you could comment on that.
GOTTLIEBAbsolutely. And you hit on something that's very, very true of Dickens. He is a completely conflicted person. And I believe that he doesn't -- he understand everything around him. He sees everything, he grasps it, he can bring it out on paper. But I don't think he understood himself at all. And remember this is all pre-Freud. It's pre-everything. You weren't supposed to -- there was no such thing as the subconscious. There was no such thing as anything but what was there on the surface.
REHMBut what do you think the -- "A Christmas Carol" represents?
GOTTLIEBWell, "A Christmas Carol" is an extraordinary story of regeneration. He believed in regeneration. And he probably, if he was looking back now, would feel that he had gone through hell in his life and had come out on the better side. And that he was a more knowing or wiser person at the end then he had--that he had evolved as we all hope to do.
GOTTLIEBOn the other hand he was never going to evolve to where we would want to evolve because it was a different context, you know. I think he had probably made some kind of peace with himself. And of course he had the joy of knowing how great he was and how great he was known to be.
REHMWhere does the "Christmas Carol" come in his writing life?
GOTTLIEBFairly early, but not at the very beginning. It was the first of his Christmas tales but he didn't know there would be others. He just wrote it the way -- see, no one has ever worked harder and produced more in the entire world than Charles Dickens. It's not just that he wrote these 15 novels. He was everything. He was involved with the theater. He gave speeches everywhere. He conducted the charities of England's richest woman, the Baroness, Angela Burdett-Coutts as a favor to her. He...
REHMWho eventually helped one of his sons Plorn.
GOTTLIEBThat's right. She, to return the favor, put his son Charlie through several years at Eaton. And Charlie did well but he was not really a scholar. He then went off to try to be a merchant of some kind, at which he failed the way he failed at everything, until he became a literary person and found his true self, as Dickens was aging and dying in fact.
REHMBut as you talk about or think about a Christmas Carol, I think about that image of the grave of Tiny Tim. And surely the death of his own child...
REHM...Dora must have perhaps been...
GOTTLIEBThe weirdest thing about Dora -- maybe the weirdest thing for me in the whole story is that Dickens was writing David Copperfield when Dora was born. And if you remember, his first wife was the silly but adorable Dora. And he is literally writing her death when his Dora is born. And he names her for the dead girl in his book. These Victorians were not like us.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Greg.
GREGHi. Thank you for having me. Great show.
REHMSure. Thank you.
GREGYour comments a moment ago, I agree, there's probably no one like Dickens around today. I'm thinking as far as fame and, you know, probably Stephen King would be our closest thing today. I'm an old Stephen King fan. Everyone knows his face and "It", it's no "Christmas Carol" but it's a great book.
REHMIt certainly is no "Christmas Carol." What do you think of that comparison?
GOTTLIEBWell, I like Stephen King's writing but you certainly couldn't say that he is read by everybody. He is not. He's incredibly popular but you will not find reviews of Stephen King's novels on the whole in the more intellectual higher browed magazines and newspapers.
REHMWhereas they were...
GOTTLIEBDickens -- every book...
GOTTLIEB...was reviewed and considered everywhere and by everyone. So there really is a difference and, you know, he was read by children, by adolescence, by young people, by old people, by dead people practically. There really has never been a -- beforehand Sir Walter Scott had tremendous popularity in England and around Europe and in America.
REHMRobert Gottlieb and the book is titled "Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Northville, Mich. Good morning, Anne.
ANNEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for another wonderful show.
REHMOh, I'm so glad. Thank you.
ANNEI was wondering if Robert could fill me in. I remember as a teenager reading a book by Monica Dickens who I seem to remember was a granddaughter of Charles'. And I read another book of hers since and I'm wondering which of Charles Dickens' sons was her father?
GOTTLIEBWell, I think it would've been grandfather, although I'm not very clear about them. I mean, I've read Monica Dickens. She wrote some charming books. She went out to -- as I remember it -- you can correct me, her first book was called something like "One Pair of Hands."
ANNE"One Pair of Hands," yes.
GOTTLIEB"One Pair of Hands." She put herself out as a -- she was curious about what it'd be like to go to work as a servant in somebody's house. And she wrote a very charming account of that.
ANNEIt was hilarious.
GOTTLIEBI remember it well and it was a very successful book. And then...
ANNEI did the same thing as a result of reading it.
GOTTLIEBGood for you. And then she went on, I think, to be a novelist. And she had not a great career but a recognizable and appealing career. But none of them, none of them of course could live up -- not just -- and this is what's so interesting to me and I found as writing this book -- it's not just that Dickens had such expectations for his children, but we can't help having expectations for them because they're the children of Charles Dickens.
GOTTLIEBIt's like to take it into another world. I remember growing up, why weren't FDR's children -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt's children more successful? They were perfectly okay. They had -- this one did this, this one did that, this one did better than the other but we couldn't help expecting of them more than they could be. It's -- you're trapped in this thing. So who's expectations are being let down here?
REHMDid Charles blame Catherine?
GOTTLIEBPartly, yes. Well, Charles, as I said, blamed Catherine for just about anything he could blame...
GOTTLIEBAlthough he did acknowledge that the children's -- the boys' gambling and improvidence with money did come down from his family. What -- as we see in "David Copperfield," what we call the Micawber Strain. They simply weren't provident. They overspent, they got into debt, they drank.
REHMDid they marry, all of them?
GOTTLIEBWho did whom marry?
REHMThe sons, did they marry?
GOTTLIEBWell, not all of them, no. First of all, two or three of them died too young.
REHM...two died, yeah.
GOTTLIEBCharlie married and had nine or seven or twelve or forty children, most of them girls. One of them a boy, who was never mentioned because he did the unmentionable, he married a barmaid. Now I can see from your face how shocked you are. But two of the other boys had children. None of them settled into easy domestic life as we would know it except Henry the Jurist.
REHMYou know, it is, as you say, something about the expectations, perhaps not only of the parent but the society at large that put such a huge burden on that child or those children.
GOTTLIEBAnd yet they worshiped their father. They were proud until the day they died of being his children. It's not simple.
REHM"Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens." Robert Gottlieb is the author and my editor as well. And I thank you for being here.
GOTTLIEBAnd I thank you for being you.
REHMThank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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