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Author Suggests Deception about Dickens’ Death

September 21, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ The long-accepted story of Charles Dickens’ death may have been invented to cover up his love affair with an actress, a British author says.

Claire Tomalin, author of a recent biography of the actress Nelly Ternan, wrote in Saturday’s editions of The Independent newspaper that there is evidence Dickens did not collapse at home, but during a visit with Ms. Ternan.

Dickens fell ill on June 8, 1870, and it is believed he died the next day at Gad’s Hill, his country home near Rochester, 35 miles southwest of London. Left unfinished was his last book, ″The Mystery of Edwin Drood.″

Ms. Tomalin said she learned of questions about Dickens’ last hours after publishing her book, ″The Invisible Woman: the Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.″ The book contends that Dickens and Ms. Ternan were lovers from 1857, when she was 18, until Dickens died.

Ms. Tomalin said she received a letter from J.C. Leeson, who told of a story he had heard from his grandfather, the Rev. J. Chetwode Postans.

The Rev. Postans said he had been told by the caretaker at the Linden Grove Congregational Church - opposite Ms. Ternan’s home - that Dickens did not die at Gad’s Hill, ″but at another house in compromising circumstances.″

Leeson wrote that the caretaker refused to say where Dickens died, but admitted that he had ″been involved in the secret removal of the body to Gad’s Hill in order to avoid scandal.″

Ms. Tomalin said she believes Dickens died at Gad’s Hill, where he was attended by three doctors. However, she said it was plausible that he had fallen ill elsewhere.

According to Georgina Hogarth, Dickens’ sister-in-law and housekeeper, the author spent the day of June 8 working at home, appeared unwell at dinner and collapsed.

In 1836, Dickens married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of his friend George Hogarth, editor of the Evening Chronicle. They had seven sons and three daughters before separating in 1858.

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