Helen Hogarth was born in Halifax in 1833. Helen was one of ten children, including Catherine Hogarth (1815), Mary Hogarth (1819) and Georgina Hogarth (1827) . Her father, George Hogarth, was a talented writer and worked as a editor of The Halifax Guardian. Hogarth eventually fell out with the proprietors of the newspaper and resigned his editorship. He moved to London in 1834 where he was offered the position of music and drama critic of The Morning Chronicle. As Lillian Nayder, the author of The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2011), has pointed out: "Hogarth took the job, which marked a significant shift in his career: he would be working no longer for conservative provincial weeklies but for one of the most influential and liberal of London dailies, second only to The Times in circulation." In 1835 he was appointed as editor of the sister newspaper, The Evening Chronicle . He became friends with Charles Dickens and commissioned him to write a series of articles, Sketches of London , under the pseudonym "Boz".
George Hogarth invited Dickens to visit him at his home in Kensington. The author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "Hogarth... had a large and still growing family, and when he (Dickens) made his first visit to their house on the Fulham Road, surrounded by gardens and orchards, he met their eldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Catherine. Her unaffectedness appealed to him at once, and her being different from the young woman he had known, not only in being Scottish but in coming from an educated family background with literary connections. The Hogarths, like the Beadnells, were a cut above the Dickens family, but they welcomed Dickens warmly as an equal, and George Hogarth's enthusiasm for his work was flattering."
Catherine Hogarth was also impressed by Dickens. In February 1835 she attended a party at Dickens's home. Catherine wrote to her cousin that: "It was in honour of his birthday. It was a batchelors party at his own chambers. His mother and sisters presided. One of them a very pretty girl who sings beautifully. It was a delightful party I enjoyed it very much - Mr Dickens improves very much on acquaintance he is very gentlemanly and pleasant."
Charles Dickens offer to marry Catherine was immediately accepted. Claire Tomalin has commented: "He (Dickens) saw in her the affection, compliance and physical pleasure, and he believed he was in love with her. That was enough for him to ask her to be his wife.... She was not clever or accomplished like his sister Fanny and could never be his intellectual equal, which may have been part of her charm: foolish little women are more often presented as sexually desirable in his writing than clever, competent ones.... His decision to marry her was quickly made, and he never afterwards gave any account of what had led him to it, perhaps because he came to regard it as the worst mistake in his life."
Dickens married Catherine on 2nd April, 1836, at Lukes Church, Chelsea. After a wedding breakfast at her parents, they went on honeymoon to the village of Chalk, near Gravesend. Dickens wanted to show Catherine the countryside of his childhood. However, he discovered that his wife did not share his passion for long, fast walks. As one biographer put it: "Writing was necessarily his primary occupation, and hers must be to please him as best she could within the limitations of her energy: writing desk and walking boots for him, sofa and domesticity for her."
On 6th May, 1837, Charles, Catherine and Mary Hogarth went to the St James's Theatre to see the play, Is She His Wife ? They went to bed at about one in the morning. Mary went to her room but, before she could undress, gave a cry and collapsed. A doctor was called but was unable to help. Dickens later recalled: "Mary... died in such a calm and gentle sleep, that although I had held her in my arms for some time before, when she was certainly living (for she swallowed a little brandy from my hand) I continued to support her lifeless form, long after her soul had fled to Heaven. This was about three o'clock on the Sunday afternoon." Dickens later recalled: "Thank God she died in my arms and the very last words she whispered were of me." The doctor who treated her believed that she must have had undiagnosed heart problems. Catherine was so shocked by the death of her younger sister that she suffered a miscarriage a few days later.
Rumours began to circulate at the Garrick Club that Charles Dickens was having an affair with Georgina Hogarth. As Dickens, biographer, Peter Ackroyd, points out: "There were rumours... that he was having an affair with his own sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. That she had given birth to his children. More astonishing still, it seems likely that these rumours about Georgina were in fact started or at least not repudiated by the Hogarths themselves." George Hogarth wrote a letter to his solicitor in which he assured him: "The report that I or my wife or daughter have at any time stated or insinuated that any impropriety of conduct had taken place between my daughter Georgina and her brother-in-law Charles Dickens is totally and entirely unfounded."
The author of The Invisible Woman (1990) argues: "The idea of a member of the Garrick Club so distinguished for his celebration of the domestic virtues being caught out in a love affair with a young sister-in-law was certainly scandalous enough to cause a stir of excitement." William Makepeace Thackeray, who was a close friend of Dickens, claimed that he was not having an affair with Georgina but "with an actress".
George Reynolds refered to both Georgina Hogarth and Ellen Ternan in an article published in The Reynold's Weekly newspaper on 13th June 1858: "The names of a female relative and of a professional young lady, have both been, of late, so intimately associated with that of Mr. Dickens, as to excite suspicion and surprise in the minds of those who had hitherto looked upon the popular novelist as a very Joseph in all that regards morality, chastity, and decorum."
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.
Helen and her mother became convinced that Dickens was having a sexual relationship with Georgina and that this created a terrible rift in the family. Georgina's aunt, Helen Thomson, commented: "Georgina is an enthusiast, and worships Dickens as a man of genius, and has quarrelled with all her relatives because they dared to find fault with him, saying, 'a man of genius ought not to be judged with the common herd of men'. She must bitterly repent, when she recovers from her delusion, her folly; her vanity is no doubt flattered by his praise, but she has disappointed us all."
Peter Ackroyd has argued in Dickens (1990): "Events were now slipping even further out of Dickens's control, and it was at some point in these crucial days that Mrs Hogarth seems to have threatened Dickens with action in the Divorce Court - a very serious step indeed since the Divorce Act of the previous year had decreed that wives could divorce their husbands only on the grounds of incest, bigamy or cruelty. The clear implication here was that Dickens had committed incest with Georgina, which was the legal term for sexual relations with a sister-in-law.... At this point, it seems, the Hogarths implicitly dropped the threat of court action. Yet the bare facts of the matter can hardly suggest the maelstrom of fury and bitterness into which the family, now divided against itself, had descended."
Dickens claimed that Catherine's mother and Helen had spread rumours about his relationship with Georgina Hogarth. Dickens insisted that Mrs Hogarth sign a statement withdrawing her claim that he had been involved in a sexual relationship with Georgina. In return, he would raise Catherine's annual income to £600. On 29th May, 1858, Mrs Hogarth and Helen reluctantly put their names to a document which said in part: "Certain statements have been circulated that such differences are occasioned by circumstances deeply affecting the moral character of Mr. Dickens and compromising the reputation and good name of others, we solemnly declare that we now disbelieve such statements." They also promised not to take any legal action against Dickens.
In June, 1858, Charles Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women (Ellen 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."
Dickens also made reference to his problems with Catherine: "Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now to be forgotten by those concerned in it."
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 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.
Helen was a talented musician and was greatly admired by in the Hungarian-born tenor and composer Alexander Reinhardt; eight years her senior, he dedicated his song Memory to her. However, after the death of her mother, she became engaged to Richard Cusack Roney, the twenty-five-year-old son of barrister James Edward Roney. The couple married on 8th August, 1864, at Christ Church, Herne Bay. Helen gave birth to a daughter, May Georgina, on 11th April 1865; a second child, a son, died in infancy.
As Lillian Nayder, the author of The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2011), has pointed out: "Neither marriage nor motherhood kept Helen from her profession. Two weeks before May's birth, she was making arrangements for a concert in which both violinist, Joseph Joachim and tenor John Sims Reeves would perform."
In 1866 Richard Roney developed Bright's disease. He died from this disease at his home at 10 Gloucester Crescent, Regent's Park in May 1868. Eighteen months later her father, George Hogarth, fell down the stairs at the office of the Illustrated London News, breaking an arm and a leg. He never recovered from the effect of these injuries and died at Helen's house on 12th February 1870.
Helen Hogarth Roney died in 1890.
Events were now slipping even further out of Dickens's control, and it was at some point in these crucial days that Mrs Hogarth seems to have threatened Dickens with action in the Divorce Court - a very serious step indeed since the Divorce Act of the previous year had decreed that wives could divorce their husbands only on the grounds of incest, bigamy or cruelty. The clear implication here was that Dickens had committed incest with Georgina, which was the legal term for sexual relations with a sister-in-law.... At this point, it seems, the Hogarths implicitly dropped the threat of court action. Yet the bare facts of the matter can hardly suggest the maelstrom of fury and bitterness into which the family, now divided against itself, had descended.
Neither marriage nor motherhood kept Helen from her profession. Two weeks before May's birth, she was making arrangements for a concert in which both violinist, Joseph Joachim and tenor John Sims Reeves would perform... Unlike Amalie, who gave up her promising operatic career and put off her concert hall performances to raise her children, Helen had no choice but to remain a working mother. By 1866 Richard Roney had developed Bright's disease, the kidney ailment to which his mother had succumbed tell years earlier. He died from the malady in May 1868, less than four years after marrying Helen, leaving her a widow of thirty-five with a young child to support. His death at 10 Gloucester Crescent was followed in February 1870 by that of George Hogarth, attended by Helen and Catherine through his last three weeks. In June of that year Catherine, too, was widowed. "Feeling so much" for each other, the sisters were united by their common losses and "great trials" - the deaths of their parents; of children, and of their husbands. Yet their circumstances differed markedly. Although Catherine's annuity was reduced by more than half with Dickens's death, she was guaranteed enough income to retain her middle-class respectability and remain in her home. Helen had no such guarantee as she made her way in the world, supporting herself and her five-year-old daughter by means of her talents and profession.