Like most Victorians, Charles Dickens
believed that a woman should be 'the angel of the house', devoting her
life to housekeeping and child rearing. Many women rebelled, seeking professional
training and careers, especially as artists. Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott
(1842) is often interpreted as a metaphor for the conflict and artists loved
illustrating it. The Lady was cursed and had to stay imprisoned in a tower weaving a tapestry and
only look at the outside world through a mirror. She saw
Sir Lancelot riding by, fell in love and rebelled. She left her tower, climbed into a boat and
floated down the river to Camelot, dying before she reached the city. Click The Lady of
Shalott to read the poem.
Lady of Shalott
William Holman Hunt (1905)
The Lady of Shalott
Elizabeth Siddall (1853)
The Lady of Shalott
John William Waterhouse (1888)
In the three illustrations shown above William Holman Hunt shows the lady at the moment she rebels and looks out of the window at Sir
Lancelot and activates the curse; she stares in horror at the
tapestry which is attacking her as at unravels. Many other (male)
artists followed Holman Hunt's approach. But one illustration by a women
of the same scene survives: a drawing by
Elizabeth Siddall. Siddall portrays the Lady viewing her new
opportunities with a calm interest, and her tapestry unraveling away from
her, posing no threat. William Waterhouse shows a different scene:
the lady embarking in a boat to drift down to Camelot and her death.
Catherine Hogarth in 1836 but seems to have fallen in love with younger
women throughout his life. In 1837 Catherine's younger sister Mary Hogarth died suddenly and tragically at age
seventeen when she was staying with them.
Dickens reacted hysterically, keeping her clothes and up to two years
later occasionally taking them out to look at them and longing to be
buried beside her. From 1842 another younger sister, Georgina
Hogarth then aged fourteen, started to live with them. In 1857
Dickens met a young actress, Ellen Ternan, and started a relationship with
her that lasted until his death. In 1858 he insisted on separating from
Catherine, after 22 years of marriage and the birth of ten children. She
moved into a separate home, initially with her oldest son Charles but
later lived alone. Georgina stayed with Dickens in the role of housekeeper.
refused all suggestions that he might visit Catherine. She saw
something of her children, although she was not allowed to attend the
wedding of her daughter Kate in 1860. Kate said: 'My father was a wicked man - a very wicked man
. My father was not a gentleman - he was too mixed to be a gentleman
My father did not understand women
. he was not a good man, but he
was not a fast man, but he was wonderful.' And, of her mother, 'We were all
very wicked not to take her part; Harry does not take this view, but he
was only a boy at the time, and does not realise the grief it was to our
mother, after having all her children, to go away and leave us.
My mother never rebuked me. I never saw her in a temper. We
like to think of our geniuses as great characters - but we can't.'