A Very Reader Christmas: Charles Dickens's Black Sheep Chicago Brother | Bleader

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Very Reader Christmas: Charles Dickens's Black Sheep Chicago Brother

Posted By on 12.23.09 at 12:30 PM

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Perhaps Charles's repudiation of Augustus was fueled by guilt over his own failings as a husband; perhaps he envied the relative anonymity that allowed his brother to run away and start anew. In any case, the brothers hadn't communicated for ten years when Augustus died of tuberculosis in 1866, leaving Bertha alone to care for their three surviving children: nine-year-old Bertram, six-year-old Adrian Charles, and four-year-old Amy Bertha. No sooner had Augustus joined the triplets in the family plot in Graceland than American newspapers began taunting Charles with tales of the poverty endured by his fatherless niece and nephews in Chicago. In fact, according to the Mosses, Augustus seems to have left his family solvent, but the press was seemingly unable to resist putting a Dickensian spin on the situation.

The story took a genuinely melodramatic turn on Christmas day of 1868, when Bertha sent the children to spend the day with friends. Returning home, they found the door locked. A neighbor crawled in through a window and found Bertha dead. The coroner determined she'd died from an overdose of laudanum, a tincture of opium. It's unclear, according to the Mosses, whether her death was a suicide or an accident.

- Dennis Rodkin, 6/24/04

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