The Strange Case of Dr. Dickens and Mr. Drood

The Mystery of Charles Dickens

By A. N. Wilson

Harper Collins

319 pp., $32.50

It’s no secret that Charles Dickens was in an unhappy marriage to his wife, Catherine, and that the great author was verbally and emotionally abusive to her. In his 1939 essay, “Dickens: The Two Scrooges,” Edmund Wilson tries to mitigate this unfortunate reality in the life of Dickens by suggesting the author must have had some regard for his wife, having given her 10 children.

That defense is laughable. One would certainly think it actually was Mrs. Dickens who gave her husband the 10 children. But Wilson’s point was to try to reconcile the binary nature of Dickens’ personality. On the one hand, Dickens had a generous heart and a concern for the downtrodden. On the other, he treated his own wife, sons, and daughters with contempt.


above: Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine (public domain)

Yet while Wilson was able to identify Dickens’ dual nature, he fell short of explaining it. One might say Dickens possessed some of the contradictions of his Bleak...