Mary (Mamie) Dickens, the daughter of Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth Dickens, was born on 6th March, 1838. Their first child, Charles Culliford Dickens, had been born in 1837. She had been named after her dead aunt, Mary Hogarth. Catherine was unable to breast-feed her daughter and had to employ a wet-nurse.
Dickens's best friend, John Forster, became her godfather. Soon afterwards he told Forster that he was falling out of love with Catherine and that the couple were incompatible. Despite this comment he wrote to Catherine on 5th March, 1839, while on holiday in Devon: "To say how much I miss you, would be ridiculous. I miss the children in the morning too and their dear little voices which I have sounds for you and me that we shall never forget."
In December, 1839, the Dickens family moved from 48 Doughty Street to 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, close to Regent's Park. Dickens paid £800 for the eleven-year lease in addition to an annual rent of £160. The house had more than a dozen rooms that included a library, dinning and drawing rooms, several bedrooms and two nurseries for Mamie and her younger sister Kate Dickens. A fourth child, Walter Landor, was born on 8th February, 1841.
Mamie later recalled: "I remember that my sister and I occupied a little garret room in Devonshire Terrace, at the very top of the house. He had taken the greatest pains and care to make the room as pretty and comfortable for his two little daughters as it could be made. He was often dragged up the steep staircase to this room to see some new print or some new ornament which we children had put up, and he always gave us words of praise and approval. He encouraged us in every possible way to make ourselves useful, and to adorn and beautify our rooms with our own hands, and to be ever tidy and neat. I remember that the adornment of this garret was decidedly primitive, the unframed prints being fastened to the wall by ordinary black or white pins, whichever we could get. But, never mind, if they were put up neatly and tidily they were always excellent, or quite slap-up as he used to say. Even in those early days, he made a point of visiting every room in the house once each morning, and if a chair was out of its place, or a blind not quite straight, or a crumb left on the floor, woe betide the offender."
Charles Dickens was extremely popular in America. The New York Herald Tribune explained why he was liked: "His mind is American - his soul is republican - his heart is democratic." His publishers, Chapman and Hall , offered to help fund the trip. It was agreed they would pay him £150 a month and that when he returned they would publish the book on the visit, American Notes. At first, Catherine refused to go to America with her husband. Dickens told his publisher, William Hall: "I can't persuade Mrs. Dickens to go, and leave the children at home; or let me go alone." According to Lillian Nayder, the author of The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2011), their friend, the actor, William Macready , persuaded her "that she owed her first duty to her husband and that she could and must leave the children behind." Dickens and Catherine left on The Britannia from Liverpool on 4th January, 1842. Mamie was only 3 years old at the time.
Mamie and Kate were both taught to read by their aunt, Georginia Hogarth, who was now living with the family. Later they had a governess whereas Charles Culliford Dickens was sent to Eton College. Mamie recalled that her father inspected every room in the house every morning, checking for tidiness and cleanliness.
In her book, Charles Dickens by His Eldest Daughter (1984), Mamie gave a fascinating insight into her father's working habits: "As I have said, he was usually alone when at work, though there were, of course, some occasional exceptions, and I myself constituted such an exception.... I had a long and serious illness, with an almost equally long convalescence. During the latter, my father suggested that I should be carried every day into his study to remain with him, and, although I was fearful of disturbing him, he assured me that he desired to have me with him. On one of these mornings, I was lying on the sofa endeavouring to keep perfectly quiet, while my father wrote busily and rapidly at his desk, when he suddenly jumped from his chair and rushed to a mirror which hung near, and in which I could see the reflection of some extraordinary facial contortions which he was making. He returned rapidly to his desk, wrote furiously for a few moments, and then went again to the mirror. The facial pantomime was resumed, and then turning toward, but evidently not seeing, me, he began talking rapidly in a low voice. Ceasing this soon, however, he returned once more to his desk, where he remained silently writing until luncheon time. It was a most curious experience for me, and one of which, I did not until later years, fully appreciate the purport. Then I knew that with his natural intensity he had thrown himself completely into the character that he was creating, and that for the time being he had not only lost sight of his surroundings, but had actually became in action, as in imagination, the creature of his pen."
In 1855 Charles Dickens took his two daughters to Paris. He told his friend, Angela Burdett Coutts that his intention was to give Mamie now seventeen and Kate, just sixteen, "some Parisian polish". While in France they had dancing lessons, art classes and language coaching. They also had Italian lessons from the exiled patriot, Daniele Manin.
In 1856 her father's friend, Wilkie Collins, wrote The Frozen Deep. The inspiration for the play came from the expedition led by Rear-Admiral John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage. Charles Dickens helped Collins with writing of the play and offered to arrange its first production in his own home, Tavistock House. Dickens also wanted to play the part of the hero, Richard Wardour, who after struggling against jealousy and murderous impulses, sacrifices his life to rescue his rival in love.
Dickens, who grew a beard for the role, also gave parts to three of his children, Mamie, Kate Dickens, Charles Culliford Dickens, and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. Dickens later recalled that taking part in the play was "like writing a book in company... a satisfaction of a most singular kind, which had no exact parallel in my life". Dickens invited the theatre critic from The Times to attend the first production on 6th January, 1857 in the converted schoolroom. He was very impressed and praised Kate for her "fascinating simplicity", Mamie for her "dramatic instinct" and Georgina for her "refined vivacity".
The star of the play was Charles Dickens, who showed he could have had a career as a professional actor. One critic, John Oxenford, said that "his appeal to the imagination of the audience, which conveyed the sense of Wardour's complex and powerful inner life, suggests the support of some strong irrational force". William Makepeace Thackeray, who also saw the production, remarked: "If that man (Dickens) would go upon the stage he would make £20,000 a year."
The temporary theatre held a maximum audience of twenty-five, four performances were given. A private command performance, with the same cast, was also given for Queen Victoria and her family on 4th July and three public benefit performances were given in London in order to raise money for the widow of Dickens's friend, Douglas Jerrold.
In May 1858, Catherine Dickens accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. Her daughter, Kate Dickens, says her mother was distraught by the incident. Charles Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father.
Charles Culliford Dickens refused and decided that he would live with his mother. He told his father in a letter: "Don't suppose that in making my choice, I was actuated by any feeling of preference for my mother to you. God knows I love you dearly, and it will be a hard day for me when I have to part from you and the girls. But in doing as I have done, I hope I am doing my duty, and that you will understand it so."
On the signing of the settlement, Catherine Hogarth Dickens found temporary accommodation in Brighton, with her son. Later that year she moved to a house in Gloucester Crescent near Regent's Park. Dickens automatically got the right to take away 8 out of the 9 children from his wife (the eldest son who was over 21 was free to stay with his mother). Under the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, Catherine Dickens could only keep the children she had to charge him with adultery as well as bigamy, incest, sodomy or cruelty.
Charles Dickens now moved back to Tavistock House with Mamie, Georgina Hogarth, Kate Dickens, Walter Landor Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens, Francis Jeffrey Dickens, Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson, Sydney Smith Haldimand and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens. Mamie and Georgina were put in command of the servants and household management.
In June, 1858, Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women (Nellie Ternan and Georgina Hogarth): "By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been the occasion of misrepresentations, mostly grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel - involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart... I most solemnly declare, then - and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name - that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth."
The statement was published in The Times and Household Words. However, Punch Magazine, edited by his great friend, Mark Lemon, refused, bringing an end to their long friendship. William Makepeace Thackeray also took the side of Catherine Dickens and he was also banned from the house. Dickens was so upset that he insisted that his daughters, Mamie Dickens and Kate Dickens, brought an end to their friendship with the children of Lemon and Thackeray.
Lucinda Hawksley , the author of Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter (2006) has argued: "For Katey and Mamie, the knowledge that their father was sexually attracted to a girl their own age must have been utterly distasteful. Children are never happy to think about their parents' sex life and, in the nineteenth century, sex was a subject seldom discussed between the generations.... In a little over fifteen years, Catherine had given birth to ten children, as well as suffering at least two miscarriages. It is no wonder she did not have the energy of her childfree younger sister; nor that she lost the slim figure she had possessed when Charles married her. Towards the end of their marriage he had often made cruel jokes about her size and stupidity while praising Georgina to the hilt as his helpmeet and saviour. Both Katey and Mamie - by dint of being female - would undoubtedly have cringed at the way their father spoke about their mother and the way he made no secret of preferring the company of her sister, of Ellen and, for that matter, almost any other young attractive woman."
Dickens hoped that Mamie would get married and have children. In 1867 he wrote to a friend, that she had "not yet started any conveyance on the road to matrimony." But he dared to believe that she still might, "as she is very agreeable and intelligent". He suggested that Percy Fitzgerald would make a good husband, but Dickens eventually lamented, "I am grievously disappointed that Mary can by no means be induced to think as highly of him as I do".
Charles Dickens died on 8th June, 1870. The traditional version of his death was given by his official biographer, John Forster. He claimed that Dickens was having dinner with Georgina Hogarth at Gad's Hill Place when he fell to the floor: "Her effort then was to get him on the sofa, but after a slight struggle he sank heavily on his left side... It was now a little over ten minutes past six o'clock. His two daughters came that night with Mr. Frank Beard, who had also been telegraphed for, and whom they met at the station. His eldest son arrived early next morning, and was joined in the evening (too late) by his youngest son from Cambridge. All possible medical aid had been summoned. The surgeon of the neighbourhood (Stephen Steele) was there from the first, and a physician from London (Russell Reynolds) was in attendance as well as Mr. Beard. But human help was unavailing. There was effusion on the brain."
John Everett Millais was invited to draw Dickens's dead face. On 16th June, Kate Dickens wrote to Millais: "Charlie - has just brought down your drawing. It is quite impossible to describe the effect it has had upon us. No one but yourself, I think, could have so perfectly understood the beauty and pathos of his dear face as it lay on that little bed in the dining-room, and no one but a man with genius bright as his own could have so reproduced that face as to make us feel now, when we look at it, that he is still with us in the house. Thank you, dear Mr. Millais, for giving it to me. There is nothing in the world I have, or can ever have, that I shall value half as much. I think you know this, although I can find so few words to tell you how grateful I am."
Dickens's last will and testament, dated 12th May 1869 was published on 22nd July. As Michael Slater has commented: "Like Dickens's novels, his last will has an attention-grabbing opening as it referred to his mistress, Ellen Ternan: "I give the sum of £1,000 free of legacy duty to Miss Ellen Lawless Ternan, late of Houghton Place, Ampthill Square, in the county of Middlesex." Dickens went on to say: "I give the sum of £1,000 free of legacy duty to my daughter Mary Dickens. I also give to my said daughter an annuity of £300 a year, during her life, if she shall so long continue unmarried; such annuity to be considered as accruing from day to day, but to be payable half yearly, the first of such half yearly payments to be made at the expiration of six months next after my decease."
After his death of Charles Dickens, Mamie and Georgina Hogarth, set up house together. Mamie wrote: "My love for my father has never been touched or approached by any other love. I hold him in my heart of hearts as a man apart from all other men, as one apart from all other beings." On the tragic death of Sydney Smith Dickens in 1872, Mamie resumed contact with her mother.
Catherine Hogarth Dickens suffered from cancer and on her deathbed she gave her collection of letters from her husband to her daughter, Kate Dickens Perugini: "Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once". She died on 22nd November 1879 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. In her will she bequeathed Georgina "my snake ring". Lucinda Hawksley author of Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter (2006): "Perhaps it was an item she knew Georgina admired; on the other hand, there are grounds for believing that the snake emblem was Catherine's poignant comment on how she viewed her younger sister."
After Catherine's death, Georgina Hogarth began work, assisted by Mamie, on a selected edition of Dickens's letters. In 1879 she destroyed many family letters that she decided should not be included. The first two volumes appeared in 1880, followed by a third in 1882. The letters chosen for inclusion were, Georgina wrote, "cut and condensed remorselessly" and ones touching on private and personal matters were excluded and often destroyed.
Georgina found living with Mamie difficult, complaining that she was drinking too much. In the late 1880s she persuaded Mamie to move to Manchester where she lived with a clergyman and his wife. Georgina wrote to the wife of Edward Bulwer Dickens: "Mr Hargreaves is a most unworthy person in every way - and it was always amazing to me that she could keep up this strong feeling and regard and affection for him to the very end of her life. Mrs Hargreaves has kept true and devoted in her attentions to Mamie during her long illness."
Charles Culliford Dickens died of leukemia on 20th July 1896, aged 59. Mamie Dickens died three days later at Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire and is buried beside her sister Kate Dickens Perugini in Sevenoaks.