The Invisible Woman : The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, Paperback

The Invisible Woman : The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens Paperback

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


"The Invisible Woman" by Claire Tomalin is the acclaimed story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.

Winner of the NCR Book Award, the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. "This is the story of someone who - almost - wasn't there; who vanished into thin air.

Her names, dates, family and experiences very nearly disappeared from the record for good..." (Claire).

Tomalin's multi-award-winning story of the life of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is a remarkable work of biography and historical revisionism that returns the neglected actress to her rightful place in history as well as providing a compelling and truthful portrait of the great Victorian novelist.

For those who enjoyed "Samuel Pepys": "The Unequalled Self" and "Charles Dickens: A Life"; "The Invisible Woman" is invaluable reading for lovers of Charles Dickens, and for readers of biography everywhere. "Will come to be seen as one of the crucial women's biographies because of its vivid dramatization of the process by which women have been written out of history and have been forced to deny their own experiences". (Sean French, "New Statesman"). "The most original biography I read this year. Starting out with scarcely the bare bones of a story, Tomalin convinces by the end that she has got as near to the truth as anyone will". (Anthony Howard, "Sunday Times"). "A biography of high scholarship and compelling detective work". (Melvyn Bragg, "Independent"). Claire Tomalin is the award-winning author of eight highly acclaimed biographies, including: "The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft"; "Shelley and His World"; "Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life"; "The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens"; "Mrs Jordan's Profession"; "Jane Austen: A Life"; "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self"; "Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man" and, most recently, "Charles Dickens: A Life".

A former literary editor of the "New Statesman" and the "Sunday Times", she is married to the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages, 16pp inset photos
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: literary
  • ISBN: 9780241963258



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This is an analysis of the family background and life of Ellen (Nelly) Ternan, the young actress who was almost certainly the mistress of Charles Dickens from 1858 until his death in 1870. Tomalin pieces together a range of evidence from different sources and, while there is no smoking gun, the circumstantial evidence for an affair seems overwhelming. Dickens's associates, in particular his sister-in-law and housekeeper, Georgina Hogarth, and his biographer John Forster, kept the affair secret during his life and after his death. Nelly went along with it, largely keeping the evidence secret until after her own death in 1914, the last of her immediate family; her son Geoffrey found out about it afterwards from examining his mother's papers and talking to the author's last surviving son, Sir Henry Dickens, and it seems to have blighted the remaining 45 years of his life. This collusion was, of course, very much the flavour of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Dickens's and his family's desire to maintain his uniformly positive public image added an edge to this drive . The book is also interesting in its coverage of the life of actresses in the early 19th century - Nelly's sisters, parents and grandparents were all in the profession, which was then regarded as very disreputable and actresses little better than whores. Interesting stuff, and good photos as well.

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