Mrs Dickens’ Family Christmas Review: Hard Times

December 31, 2011 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

MRS DICKENS’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS: Friday 30th December, BBC2, 9pm

Sue Perkins once studied English Literature at Oxford, and her literary devotion shines through in the presentation of Mrs Dickens’ Family Christmas; a revealing look into Charles Dickens and his wife, and the ‘truth behind the fiction’.

The programme delves into the unsung life of Catherine Hogarth, a woman who despite being married to a man who encapsulates our notion of Christmas (‘The English Santa’ as Sue rather grandly names him), lived her life in the shadow of a surprisingly cold and callous husband. We hear after having met at the age of nineteen, Charles was bowled over by a bonny girl who appeared to posses charming wit and impressive literary connections. As a love struck boy struggling to find his own identity he fell in love with her completely, as reflected in the love letters he unashamedly wrote, addressing her with affectionate terms like ‘darling pig’. (Akin to a Victorian chat-up line apparently. Charming…)

As Sue goes on to reveal however, this early tale of bliss did not have a happy ending. With a husband who seemed more interested in her sisters than she, and the oft-used label of ‘mental disorder’ being cruelly enforced upon her, Catherine’s story is no heart-warming tale of plum puddings and family sing-songs by the fire. It’s a case of less ‘Christmas Carol’, more ‘Hard Times’ for the woman who bore Dickens ten children.

On her journey, Sue speaks to literary scholars who have uncovered evidence which dispels the myth that Catherine Dickens was to blame for the dissolution of their marriage and Charles’ subsequent erratic behaviour and ill-health. Like the Ryan Giggs of the Victorian era, the actions of a writer who holds such legendary status and esteem appear to have once been genuinely shocking.

Also interesting are the programme’s insights into the origins of our current Christmas staples – such as the ‘Twelfth Night’ birthday cake for the couple’s eldest child morphing into our present-day Christmas cake – and the inclusion of Sue’s passionate and inventive readings. Her unique comedic perspective provides an entertaining slant on this look at the dark side of a life which people often look upon as having such a ‘moral’ and ‘cheerful’ veneer.

So when watching A Muppet’s Christmas Carol this festive season, you might momentarily think differently about our ol’ Chuck. However I don’t suppose it’ll damage his reputation in the long run; no, he is an author with a legacy too great and too cemented in our collective (Christmas) consciousness for that.

E.M.W Tillyard says:

and I weigh 20 stone.

wilson knight says:

sorry mate, I thought you were a woman.

E.M.W. Tillyard says:

I am a man.

wilson knight says:

listen grandma its wilson knight and its downton abbey not dalton abbey.

E.M.W. Tillyard says:

I only ever watch Judge Judy, Dalton Abbey, murder mysteries and Dickens adaptations around Christmas. I liked the programme because of the happy dickensian ending. Poor mrs Dickens was finally reunited with her children and the villian died off, with the ever loyal mrs Dickens remaining true to him. People deserve respect, love and loyalty whatever their size. Bores like that Dover Wilson or whatever his name is should emigrate – the sooner he goes to Austraila the better. He is clearly headed for the outback where it is to be hoped the aborigini women teach him some manners and give him hell.

wilson Knight says:

Jo, someone was eating in that house and someone wasn’t. By the end of the programme Mrs Dickens was 20 stone and Charles Dickens looked about 7 or 8 stone. Now you tell me who was eating the cake and sheeps legs and who wasn’t. I appreciate there was no liposuction in them days but she still could of cut down on the buns but she obviously didn’t care. It was cake or Charles and she chose cake. If a woman don’t look after herself then shes going to get old looking and fat. I rest my case.

m.c.Bradbrook says:

Wilson, even in Austrailia you won’t escape Sue Perkins and good television unless you go live in a cave. One day you too will be old, fat and ugly, or old, wrinkled, wizened and all shrivelled up. Surface appearances don’t matter.

Nikki, I enjoyed your review ‘Hard Times’. The novels of Dickens espouse the ideals of loyalty, family, selfless love, good heartedness and generosity of spirit. It is a pity that Dickens, in his personal life, failed to live up to those ideals – whilst the stature, character and inner beauty of his wife demonstrate that she clearly did. A fascinating programme presented in a fresh and original way by Sue Perkins. Well worth watching.

jo marshall says:

I’m not sure it is the programme that lacks balance, Wilson. ‘When you allow yourself to get old’? Time does tend to carry on regardless of whether people let it.

wilson Knight says:

I’ve decided to emigrate to Austrailia to get away from Sue Perkins. I’ve had it up to here with that woman. She’s out of control and every time I turn on the box she is in my face.She’s on every quiz and talk show. Then i had to watch her burp and slurp throughn all that free grub and booze in the history programmes and now she’s interfering with Christmas. Its the final straw. Charles Dickens had no life – his wife really let hersef go. When you allow yourself to get that fat, ugly and old what can you expect. By the size of her she must have been eating a 12th night cake every day along with buns and sheeps legs. No wonder he had to get her out of the house. They didn’t have gastric bands in them days so he had to get her out the front door while she could still fit through it. She had to have been eating buns and cakes all day long to get that big. By the end of the programme Dickens was all wrinkled – wizened and shrivelled up with worry. The man had a miserable life. The programme lacked balance.

Ellen Moers says:

stop slagging off the show and leave our Sue alone. It was great tv. Mrs Dickens, as well as writing the recipe book and inventing the Christmas cake probably gave Charles the ideas for his books as well. Thas why he got jealous and dumped her. More programmes like this please.

Northrop Frye says:

Georgey boy you ain’t got a clue. This irritating waste a space is on the box every time I turn it on. For the love of sanity can we get rid of this pesky nuisance. Moaning about mrs dickens now ain’t goin ta change nuffin anyway she got loadsa money in the end so who cares. Dickens was a b…Ted Hughes was a b… thats life deal with it. If I see Sue Perkins on any more telly programmes I shall put a boot through the screen.

George Steiner says:

This was a brilliant and difficult programme for someone, like me, who has always loved Dickens. Perkins gave us the facts straight up and we had to deal with reconstructing our image of a humane and compassionate writer who was monstrously selfish and cruel to his wife. I read somewhere that Edmund Spenser wrote that Irish people were subhuman and should be left to starve. I prided myself on recognising, in the mock archaic style of ‘The Faerie Queen’ ( which I never read after perusing the first few lines) that I could detect the cold heartedness of the author in the moral emptiness of the text. I did not want to read anything Spenser wrote because he was a bastard. Dickens on the other hand showed compassion and humanity in every sentence so its been a major shock to learn the truth. Genius and cruelty in personal life can go together – its what being human is all about. I will still read Dickens and still enjoy the power of his writing but I now recognise that he was a small conventional man, a creature of his time, in his treatment of his wife. The outward show of being a great reformer rings hollow when he treated the one most vunerable in his life with such cruelty and contempt. In his emotional life he remained a selfish immature little boy who never grew up. Thank God for the womens movement. Well done Sue Perkins for bringing us the truth with humour, compassion and style. Mrs Dickens – Catherine Hogarth has been exonerated. A wonderful, intelligent and entertaining piece of research that we rarely see on tv. Well done.

Rosemary London says:

I was looking forward to this programme,what a fiasco !! Who is paying this idiot woman money to waste people’s time making what should have been an interesting programme ? It is us the license payers.Buck up BBC DON’T EMPLOY TALENTLESS PEOPLE LIKE HER TO SPOIL OUR VIEWING TIME !!

Jane Marques says:

No, not impressed because whatever slant you take on it, you cannot understand really those times because we look at every so differently now. I mean it seems odd to have your sister living in the matrimonial home but looking at history it happened in those days. OK she was a woman and would have profited from birth control but my grandmother had 9 children and women were self-sacrificing. I think at the beginning Charles Dickens loved her very much and the endearments he used and those he used for his children are private and can’t be used out of context. Dickens not only was a wonderful storyteller but drew attention to the hardships of children of those days and the humanity of the man has been ommited here. Catherine, despite her troubling marriage, did outlive him and his letters she bequeathed was a testament to her love.