The Invisible Woman, Dickens, and impressions from a public reading in New York
The Invisible Woman is the title of a poetic film directed by Ralph Fiennes who holds the main role, that of Charles Dickens. The invisible woman of the title was Dickens' lover, Nelly Ternan, with whom the author had a long extramarital affair. Nelly is played very convincingly by Felicity Jones. The script is based on a book by Claire Tomalin. If you, like me, are an admirer of Dickens' work, if you, like me, believe that the British can create masterpieces in literature, theatre and cinema, then you will enjoy this film with all your heart.
Looking for something on the internet, I stumbled upon an article by one D.N.Botassis, a Greek journalist in America. The article is a biography of Charles Dickens, written in greek for the 19th century Athenian literary magazine “Pandora”.
Botassis wrote the article after the news of Dickens’ death and, along with some data on the author’s life and work, he describes how he had the good fortune to be one of many spectators who listened to Charles Dickens reading chapters from his books.
Here is the translation I made of some paragraphs which I found interesting:
“To analyze the many writings of Dickens, not only is a task superior to my power, but also irrelevant to the aim of this article which intends to be just a simple biographical narration of the writer’s life to whom I owe so many happy hours of pleasant reading. That’s why when Charles Dickens decided after an absence of 25 years to visit once more the New World in order to read chapters of his books to the public, my happiness knew no limits as I would finally have the chance to see this genius of a man from so close.
And indeed, after an absence of 25 years, in autumn of 1867, Dickens arrived in this city and immediately the newspapers announced that he was going to read to the public, for the first time in Steinway hall. The tickets costed 15 drachmas, but so great was the gathered crowd that most of them were bought by speculators who resold them for 60 drachmas each.
Despite the high price, people were competing who would buy first. After managing to enter on the third or fourth day of the readings, with a 30 drachmas ticket, I waited with my heart beating in my chest, when this genius of a man would appear. At exactly 8.15 Dickens came in and with a light step he went up the stage where he stood in front of a small table. His eyes seemed intelligent, his clothes were tidy and something like a smile was on his lips as 4,000 eyes were looking at him. But this lasted only one moment, because he immediately started reading from his “Christmas Carol”.
I must say that I had never thought he would produce such a dramatic power, such moving sounds. His voice was at times thunderous and masculine, and at others weak and trembling. The large audience was crying or laughing according to the will of the author. During some moving moments of his speech, everyone’s eyes were filled with tears and they were all holding their breath as they didn’t want to miss a comma of the orator’s voice and gestures. Honestly, I had never witnessed such a spectacle. His fame had preceded him and when he later visited the most important cities of the Federation, where people were pushing each other in order to listen to him, he earned in a period of 3 months 4,200,000 drachmas. But his health suffered from so much work and he was forced to return to England in April 1868. Before his departure, however, a majestic gala was organised in his honour by 250 journalists who represented the Press from all cities of the Federation. There were enthusiastic toasts to him and then a deep silence, as he stood up to answer them. What he said was a masterpiece of gracefulness and intelligence and those gathered became even more enthusiastic when Dickens publicly recognized what impressive progress was achieved by Americans in a period of 25 years. He promised that he would include this confession in a sort of epilogue to the newest editions of the two books he had written about America, which I already mentioned.
Upon his return to England he continued for a while with his public readings, but decided to abandon this tiring work for good after some time. As he finished his last reading at St James Hall in London, on the 16th of March, 1869, he bid farewell to his numerous spectators with a very moving speech. Among other things, he said that he is leaving the public at a point when the love and sympathy of the people towards him is still at its peak.”