Maria Beadnell was the first love of the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens. Despite his strong feelings for her, Maria broke off the romance leaving Dickens heartbroken.
In 1830, when Charles Dickens was 17, he met his first love, Maria Beadnell. Maria was from a banker’s family, very lively in nature and slightly older than Dickens. By all accounts the romance seems to have been very passionate and Dickens was very much in love Maria although she may have she toyed with his feeling.
However because of his social status and then meager income, her family disapproved and tried to dissuade Maria from carry on with Dickens. Her father forbid the couple to see one another again later sent Maria off to France for finishing school. When Maria returned her emotions had cooled towards Charles and in May 1833 she ended the romance. Dickens was heartbroken when she did so.
Maria remained unmarried she was thirty-five, settling down with Henry Winter, a poor saw-mill manager from Finsbury. She had two daughters with Henry.
Charles Dickens would move on from Maria and meet Catherine Hogarth, daughter of his friend, the editor George Hogarth. He married Catherine in 1836.
In what was a shock to Charles Dickens, Maria unexpectedly wrote him a letter in February 1855, after more than 20 years of silence. Dickens was immediately captivated by his fond past feelings he had for her but Maria warned Dickens in her letters that she was no longer the beauty she once was, describing herself as “toothless, fat, old, and ugly”.
Dickens refused to believe it and the two arranged a secret meeting on 25 February 1855, without telling either of their spouses. However, despite her warnings, Dickens was shocked by Maria’s appearance. In addition to being fat and old, Maria had a silly giggle, a habit that repulsed Dickens.
Charles and Maria met once more, this time for a dinner with their spouses. However after that, despite Maria’s wishes for further contact, Dickens was so put off that he avoided her.
Shortly after his reunion with Maria, Charles Dickens started work on the novel Little Dorrit. He would use the feelings he had towards her to inspired him to base the character of the giggling childish Flora Finching on Maria.
In the novel, Flora was once the love interest of Arthur Clennam, who has returned to England after twenty years in China. He visits the home of Flora’s father Mr. Casby and upon finding out that Flora is a widow considers renewing their courtship. But upon seeing Flora, Clennam is shocked at how much she has changed in that time:
Flora, always tall, had grown to be very broad too, and short of breath; but that was not much. Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become a peony; but that was not much. Flora, who had seemed enchanting in all she said and thought, was diffuse and silly. That was much. Flora, who had been spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled and artless now. That was a fatal blow.
Little Dorrit. Book 1, Chapter 13.
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