Like most moonstruck teenagers, Charles Dickens’ first literary efforts were love poems. The 18-year-old penned verse for the object of his obsession – Maria Beadnell.
The journalist was far beneath the banker’s daughter in social standing but their three-year courtship inspired the young Dickens to better himself as a writer.
“It is a matter of perfect certainty to me that I began to fight my way out of poverty and obscurity, with one perpetual idea of you,” he said.
But, like many first loves, it came to nothing. Maria broke off the relationship with her suitor but the strength of his affection stayed with him throughout his life.
Maria became immortalised as Dora Spenlow in ‘David Copperfield’ and Flora Finching in ‘Little Dorrit’) and when his personal life became troubled he fondly imagined that a reunion would heal those scars. Maria
More than 20 years later, despite her protests that a meeting would ruin his view of her, they did have a rendezvous. As predicted, it was a disappointment with Dickens writing: “We have all had our Floras … mine is living and extremely fat”.
But there is an uncanny twist in the tale.
Mark Dickens, great-great grandson of Charles Dickens, formed a lifetime friendship with Nick Beadnell, a direct descendant of the Beadnell family. Mark says “We were close friends and uncannily born on exactly the same day, but it was not until much later that we both realised the family connection.
“I was honoured to be the best man at his wedding and thus reunite the two families once again.”
A new exhibition Dickens’ First Love has opened at the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street dedicated to this little-known chapter of the great writer’s life.
Until April 19. Go to dickensmuseum.com
Charles Dickens, aged 18, 1830. Artist: Mrs. Janet Barrow (his aunt, worked 1817-1830). This is the earliest known portrait of Dickens, and the original is housed here at the Charles Dickens Museum
Maria Beadnell, aged 19. Unknown artist, 1831
Reproduced courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum