Charles Dickens Favourite DaughterApril 2008

Our book this month was Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens’s Artist Daughter by Lucinda Hawksworth a direct descendent of Charles Dickens. This is a biography that was well worth reading & personally speaking I found it the most satisfying & enjoyable book I have read for some time. Katey, born in 1839, the second daughter in Charles Dickens’ large family was a highly talented, beautiful & well educated lady for her time. Her family were friends with many of the most famous writers and artists of the period & her best friends for many years were the children of William Makepiece Thackeray. She grew up with many of the most famous artists such as Millais & Lord Leighton and numerous literati as close family friends. She became a very competent artist herself which helped her overcome the difficulties of two impecunious marriages & a reputation as being something of a flirt. The Dickens family were haunted by debt. It had affected not only Charles’s own father but several of his sons & other relatives in spite of Charles own enormous productivity and world wide fame.

Lucinda Hawksworth has delved very deeply into her relatives’ lives throwing up a host of information in particular about the break-up of Charles’ marriage which of course at the time was hidden from his worshipping public. Also to us of our generation, his apparent hardness towards his young sons as they grew up would now be unforgivable.

Katey first married the artist Charlie Collins the brother of Wilkie Collins possibly to escape the difficulties at home & secondly, after Charlie’s early death, very happily to Carlo (C.E.) Perugini an artist of Italian extraction. Unfortunately many of her works have disappeared over time so that her talent has not been fully recognised., In her old age Katey entertained a host of contemporary celebrities such as G B Shaw & JS Barry in her tiny London flat.

Interestingly some of our group were not particularly impressed by the book, possibly because of the difficult behaviour of Dickens himself- but don’t most Great Men have feet of clay! But I found it kept its interest right to the end.

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