Novelist Charles Dickens was one of the most beloved figures of 19th century Britain – a cross between J K Rowling and Father Christmas. He loved the public’s adoration of him. In his later years, however, and up to the time of his death, he undertook an arduous series of public lectures up and down Britain, the exhaustion caused by this leading to his death aged 58. But there was a little known reason for this grueling regime, and one which Dickens was very keen to keep from the public. What was this?

Answer: From the age of 45 Dickens had been having an extramarital affair with a mesmerizing, struggling 18 year old actress named Ellen (Nelly) Ternan. Traveling up and down Britain was a means of maintaining secret liaisons with her without being detected, which Dickens feared would ruin his career and end the public’s adoration of him.

Source: Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion by Peter Ackroyd; General Historical Texts

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