The Invisible Woman Book Summary - The Invisible Woman Book explained in key points

The Invisible Woman summary

Claire Tomalin

Brief summary

The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin is a poignant biography of Nelly Ternan, the mistress of Charles Dickens. It sheds light on her forgotten story and the societal pressures she faced in Victorian England.

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    The Invisible Woman
    Summary of key ideas

    Nelly's Unfortunate Circumstances

    In the compelling biography The Invisible Woman, Claire Tomalin recounts the tragic life of Ellen Ternan, better known as Nelly. Born into a family of fading artists in the early 19th century, Nelly was forced to take on work in the theater at a young age. Encouraged by her mother, Fanny, who saw the theatre as their ticket to stability, she met, at the age of 18, the successful, albeit married, writer Charles Dickens on one of her acting gigs.

    Succumbing to the alluring pull of Dickens's popularity and charm, Nelly became his mistress, an affair that was to mar the rest of her life. Her relationship with Dickens was kept a secret due to Victorian societal norms, and maintained even after Dickens's divorce from his wife. This clandestine affair had Nelly bear the brunt of societal disapproval and isolation, leading her into living an invisible life.

    Impacts of the Affair

    Tomalin takes us on a journey through Nelly's life with Dickens, a complicated relationship that was confidential yet increasingly demanding. Dickens, a vivacious social figure, penned letters symbolizing his profound affection for her, further bringing to light the depth of their relationship which went on for 13 years, many spent together in France to escape societal scrutiny. Nelly was left at the mercy of Dickens's hefty social standing, often obliged to hide while he appeared in public for his readings.

    However, the secrecy required of their relationship didn't sit well with Nelly, leading her to contemplate a life away from Dickens. After his death in 1870, Nelly saw an opportunity to escape the silent agony of living in the shadows. She moved to Margate with her mother, seeking a fresh start.

    Nelly's Quest for Normality

    With Dickens's passing, Nelly was faced with the challenge of redefining her identity outside of being his mistress. She took on the pseudonym of Mrs. Robinson and strived for a normal life, marrying George Wharton Robinson, an Oxford undergrad twelve years her junior. She bore him two children and lived a life of pain and deception, concealing her past as Dickens's mistress.

    However, the guilt and embarrassment regarding her past haunted her; she tore pages from books, cut out newspaper articles, and did all she could to erase any evidence linking her to her past. Nonetheless, her concealed life caught up with her when her son discovered letters, hinting the truth.

    Reflections on Nelly's Tale

    Tomalin paints a poignant, heartfelt picture of Nelly's struggle - her fight not only for financial stability but for love, acceptance, and dignity in Victorian society's rigidity. The biography unravels the implications of living an invisible life, highlighting the unseen cost women like Nelly paid for secret affairs in a judgmental society.

    Lastly, The Invisible Woman reminds us that Nelly, like many others in her position, was a victim of societal norms that chose to shroud her existence rather than acknowledge it. Despite the tragically short life she led, her tale of resilience and pursuit of normality amidst adversity stands out, piercing the veil of her invisibility.

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    What is The Invisible Woman about?

    This biography tells the story of Nelly Ternan, a young actress who became the secret lover of Charles Dickens. Through meticulous research and compelling storytelling, Claire Tomalin brings to light the life of a woman who was once invisible in history. The book explores Nelly's complex relationship with Dickens and the challenges she faced as a woman in Victorian society. It sheds light on the power dynamics and gender inequality of the time, making Nelly's story impossible to ignore.

    The Invisible Woman Review

    The Invisible Woman (1990) by Claire Tomalin sheds light on the hidden life of Nelly Ternan, an actress and Charles Dickens' secret lover. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a fascinating glimpse into a little-known aspect of Charles Dickens' life, revealing the complexities of their relationship.
    • Drawing on extensive research and historical evidence, the book presents a compelling narrative that brings Nelly Ternan out of the shadows.
    • The exploration of Victorian society's attitudes towards women and relationships adds a thought-provoking dimension to the story, making it anything but boring.

    Who should read The Invisible Woman?

    • Readers who are interested in untold stories of influential women throughout history
    • Individuals who want to explore the challenges and obstacles faced by women in a male-dominated society
    • Those who enjoy biographies that offer a fresh perspective on historical events and figures

    About the Author

    Claire Tomalin is a renowned British biographer and journalist. Throughout her career, she has written several critically acclaimed biographies, including those of Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. Tomalin's book, "The Invisible Woman," explores the life of Nelly Ternan, a 19th-century actress and the secret lover of Charles Dickens. Through meticulous research and engaging storytelling, Tomalin brings to light the hidden story of a remarkable woman who lived in the shadow of a literary giant.

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    The Invisible Woman FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Invisible Woman?

    Discover the untold story of Nelly Ternan, the young mistress of Charles Dickens, and how their relationship shaped her invisible existence.

    How long does it take to read The Invisible Woman?

    The reading time for The Invisible Woman varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Invisible Woman a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Invisible Woman offers a captivating exploration of a hidden part of history. It is a must-read for those interested in literary intrigue and 19th-century society.

    Who is the author of The Invisible Woman?

    The author of The Invisible Woman is Claire Tomalin.

    What to read after The Invisible Woman?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Invisible Woman, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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