Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley

The intimate biography of Charles Dickens’s daughter, the artist Kate Perugini, written by his great-great-great-granddaughter. 

Katey Dickens was a nineteenth-century artist and socialite, and the beautiful daughter of Charles Dickens. In this illuminating biography, Lucinda Hawksley, herself a direct descendant of the great novelist, recreates the life of an extraordinarily determined girl who defied Victorian convention to live and love as an independent woman.

Blessed with a privileged upbringing, Katey Dickens pursued her love of painting, acted in her father’s plays, modeled for John Everett Millais and enjoyed a high profile in society thanks to her famous father. Yet she refused to be eclipsed by her father and fought to establish herself as an artist in her own right.

Katey was driven to marry young by a turbulent family life, and following a sexless yet companionable marriage with Charlie Collins, brother of the famous author Wilkie Collins, she fell in love with and married the handsome Italian artist Carlo Perugini.

Despite finding happiness with Perugini, Katey was prone to deep depression, particularly following the deaths of her father and baby. Yet she continued to pursue her career as a painter while also championing Charles Dickens’s works and befriending such eminent figures as J.M. Barrie and George Bernard Shaw.

My Thoughts
Lucinda Hawksley has written a beautiful chronological retelling of the life of Charles Dickens’s favorite daughter, Katey Dickens (29 October 1839 – 9 May 1929). The reader will meet her parents, writer Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, her siblings, one of which is buried in Manhattan; her brother Alfred Tennyson Dickens. The reader will meet her two husbands, Charles Collins, brother of writer, Wilkie Collins and later painter Carlo Perugini better known by his Americanized name of Charles Edward Perugini.  I was surprised to discover her affair with a man she was deeply in love with Val Prinsep and later the fact that she carried on a long term ‘friendship’ through letter writing with George Bernard Shaw.  The reader will stay with her while she outlives her family and her loved ones and ages in to a reclusive Victorian cliché of the widowed lonely woman living with a female companion in a large mansion walled in a self-induced Victoriana, while the modern world of the nineteen twenties goes on outside around her.

Overall, I was very happy and quite satisfied reading about such a talented and enigmatic woman who lived her life on her own terms and left quite a legacy through her correspondence and paintings.  She did give birth to one son during her marriage to Perugini but sadly the baby died at the age of seven months.

Lucinda Hawksley writes honestly about her descendant Charles Dickens, capturing his strengths as a man and his well known flaws.  She has an ability to encapsulate the world of Victorian England and its society with Katey Dickens’s yearning to break free from her father’s world in order to create one of her own.

The only drawback is Katey’s life doesn’t really become interesting until she is an adult and you see her during her first marriage finding her own way in life. Before that, the beginning quarter of the biography goes in to too much detail about Charles Dickens and his life; so much so, it reads as a mini-biography!

I understand the author’s need to paint a picture and set up the background history but it is a bit overdone. Other than that, ‘Katey’ is beautifully illustrated both with color inserts as well as black and white drawings and sketches.

Here are two of Kate Perugini's paintings. 
Dora by Kate Perugini

Lilla's A Lady by Kate Perugini

Comments

Laura Morrigan said…
This sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Laura,
So glad you liked it. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly

I wasn't aware of Dickens artist daughter, he had quite a few children. I will definitely try to find examples of her work.
This book looks interesting so may well have to delve into that too.
Thank you for sharing.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
Kate Dickens was one of the most interesting of his children. I've added two of Kate's paintings, though her husband became the famous painter. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Kevin Marsh said…
Wow Kimberly, these are beautiful paintings and so photographic. Kate was indeed a proficient artist and I'm surprised that I haven't heard much about her or her work.

Thank you for sharing.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
What's ironic is that her husband Charles Edward Perugini became the well-known painter! I'm so glad you liked her painting's so much :)