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The Rag & Bone Shop Hardcover – September 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sixty-five years after Charles Dickens's death in 1870, it became public knowledge that he had been involved in an affair with actress Ellen Lawless Ternan. Barely 18 when they met, Ternan is now thought to have been a source of both inspiration (Helena Landless of The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and consternation (Stella in Great Expectations) to the beloved novelist. Though the extent of the couple's closeness remains unknown, Rackham, building upon the few undisputed facts, has achieved a stellar piece of fiction. Beginning at the height of Dickens's fame, the novel is told in alternating chapters by three very different narrators, none of whom hesitates to deride the others: popular mystery writer Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone, portrayed here as an addict and sensualist; Georgina Hogarth, Dickens's sister-in-law; and Ternan herself. After casting three of the Ternans to act in a play, Dickens long unhappy with his obese, childlike wife is soon smitten, not by Maria as the Ternans expect, but by the quiet, attentive Ellen. Complications, of course, ensue. Though this is not the first time this relationship has been portrayed in a novel see, for instance, William Palmer's The Detective & Mr. Dickens this tale truly cap- tivates, moving from the bawdy fun of the Collins chapters through Georgina Hogarth's unrequited longing to the elegiac moods of strong-willed Ellen. Thorough research is in evidence throughout, and this portrayal of Dickens hardworking and honest, charitable and charming is well in line with the man readers know from books and from history. But it is with his vibrant narrators that Rackham's inventiveness shines brightest. Readers will certainly never think of Wilkie Collins in quite the same way.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Rackham has set his first novel in the 1850s and 1860s, in the later years of novelist Charles Dickens' career. Victorian England is mad for Dickens; he's a gentleman and a celebrity who draws crowds to his readings and is viewed as a benevolent father figure. His good friend, the mystery writer Wilkie Collins, constantly tries to tempt Dickens with sumptuous prostitutes, but Dickens remains faithful to his wife, Catherine. It isn't until actress Ellen Ternan, an 18-year-old slip of a girl, comes into his life that Dickens is tempted to stray. The two embark on an affair, and Dickens leaves his wife. Although Dickens continues his affair with Ellen, he is always very conscious of the public's perception of him, and this ultimately comes between them. Rackham has chosen Collins, Ellen, and Dickens' hopelessly devoted sister-in-law, Georgina, to tell the story, and their characters are skillfully revealed through their interactions with Dickens and each other. Dickens never narrates, and thus he remains the complex, private, closed-off figure one imagines he was in life. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Zoland Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1581951051
  • ISBN-13: 978-1581951059
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,645,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dickens' fan on May 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't finish this book and regret reading as much as I did. Vulgar, name dropping, coat-tail riding, rewriting someone else's story with inserted titallating bits. I gather there's no law against slandering people who lived 100 years ago, but this book makes you feel that there should. The publishers, though they plastered Charles Dickens name on the cover, wrote a disclaimer on the inside that this is fiction and any resemblance to real persons is just coincidence. Yea Right. If you want to read about Dickens' secret life, you'd be far better to read Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin.
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By fhuband on September 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
I found this book about the secret life of Charles Dickens to be quite entertaining. It is based on the premise that Dickens had a young mistress named Ellen Ternan who was kept quite secret from British society and was only known to a few close associates of Dickens. The book is told from 3 separate points-of-view: that of Wilkie Collins, the mystery novelist and friend of Dickens; Ellen Ternan, herself; and Georgina Hogarth, the sister of Dickens estranged wife. The Collins narrative was to me the most enjoyable. It portrays Collins as a rakish figure who encourages Dickens to go to prostitutes and enjoy a mistress. Collins is also a user of opiates including laudanum and uses this to enhance his mind in developing his novels like The Moonstone. At one point Collins concocts a scheme to shield Dickens from the arrival in England of his illegitimate son by Ternan. The scheme involved having Collins' mistress wed a dreadful deformed shopkeeper who is given the illusion that he is a baron. Of course this leads to catastrophe and affects everyone involved. I didn't find the book to be offensive or sexually explicit as stated in some earlier reviews. Although, I'm not sure how much of this novel was factual, I would still give this one a high recommendation for anyone interested in Dickens' life.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book enormously and thought it was quite well written. I was moved by the tale. Although it was fiction, I got the sense that it was probably well researched and grounded on fact. I was surprised to learn about Ellen Ternan, Dickens' long term mistress. The pressures of fame, Victorian values, protecting his public image, and his difficult marriage to Catherine were a heavy load on this most famous of men. The book humanized him. I searched Ellen Ternan on the internet. She is a true historical figure, made whole and human by this story. I recommend this book as a very entertaining and educational read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. MacPack on March 3, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For lovers of Dickens and those who wish to know more about the alleged affair between Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens, you will fair far better bypassing Rackham's, The Rag and Bone Shop and sticking with non-fiction. I have given this work one star because anything less is unavailable but to be frank, the book is absolutely terrible. Telling a single story from three differing points of view works well for William Faulkner but not for Rackham as all three voices sound very male and very much the same. The book contains very explicit and bizarre sexual situations and if you have any respect for Dickens at all, you'll feel like you need a shower afterwards. Furthermore, even as a "novel," the historicity and credibility of these events is highly suspect. Skip it.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Cheek on January 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I hate Dickens, and hated having to suffer through Great Expectations in high school, but after reading this book, I'm considering giving it a second go. Rackham may or may not have done research (I'm not one to judge) but what he has done is create a compelling story with compelling characters. His point of view and distinct voices are excellent, certainly the best I've seen in a long time.

There are some gruesome and dispiriting scenes. This is a book for those who want excellent writing, not for those who want cheerful resolutions and happy endings.
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