"Born in Portsmouth in 1812, the young Charles Dickens should have had a safe and secure childhood on his father's wages as a navy pay clerk. But John Dickens was plagued by money troubles. This culminated in 1824, when he was arrested and imprisoned for debt.
The young Charles, possibly on the very day of his twelfth birthday, was immediately sent to work, sticking labels on pots of shoe blacking in a rat-infested warehouse on the banks of the Thames. He earned a mere 8 or 9 shillings a week, visited his family in prison at weekends, and had, as he later put it, 'to undertake the whole charge of my own existence'."....
In 1857, acting in a play by his friend and novelist, Wilkie Collins, Dickens met and fell in love with an actress, Ellen (or Nelly) Ternan (pictured). She was 18 he was 45. Their meeting was to spark the most extraordinary and explosive mid-life crisis in Dickens and to change both of their lives for ever. In a matter of months, Dickens broke up his marriage of twenty years, quarrelled with many of his friend and began a relationship with Nelly that led to a double existence for the remainder of his life.
The secret lover
Although he never publicly acknowledged her (except briefly in his will), Ellen became the centre of Dickens' emotional life until his death in 1870. We still do not know for certain whether it was a sexual relationship or not, but it is quite possible that they had a child (or even children) together, although any hard evidence of this, and of so much else about their relationship, has been lost or destroyed.