Dickens' Women, written and performed by Miriam Margolyes, BBC Radio 7, 4 January 2009
This drama, based on a stage production and first broadcast in 1991,
introduced us to a variety of Dickensian eccentrics ranging from Mrs. Gamp to Flora Finching, Miss Havisham and Miss Wade,
all performed by the extraordinarily versatile Miriam Margolyes. In a one-person show like this, there is a danger that listeners'
attention focuses on the actor rather than the characters she portrays. To counteract this, Margolyes offered a warts-and-all
portrait of Dickens himself as someone who, although perfectly able to create memorable female characters, was basically a
misogynist at heart. He liked his women to conform to established stereotypes - the seventeen-year-old innocent (closely resembling
Mary Hogarth, who died at that age), the old hag or the faithful wife standing by her husband through thick and thin. Sometimes
Dickens took revenge on those who had insulted him during his life by caricaturing them in his books; this was the case with
Flora Finching in Bleak House, for example. On other occasions Dickens airbrushed the truth by idealizing his women:
for example Mrs. Micawber in David Copperfield, who never changed physically in spite of her family's adversities. By
contrast Dickens' own wife Caroline became fat and frumpish after twenty years of marriage and nine children. Dickens became
so tired of her that he eventually secured a divorce, leaving his ex-wife with a house, a carriage and custody of one
of their surviving nine children. In the patriarchal world of the mid-nineteenth century, it seemed that Dickens
could mistreat his women with impunity.
This seamy side of Dickens' life and his dealings with women was closely explored
in Margolyes' monologue. She argued - with some justification - that he was basically a lost soul looking for someone
to love but never finding anyone. The play was recorded in front of a live audience at the BBC Paris Studio, and directed
by Enyd Williams.