"how easily Dickens moved from his fictional family to his real family, and how in giving them all nicknames he was in a sense turning them into fiction, too. But with them he was ..."always considerate, always gentle to them about their small troubles and childish terrors" [cited in Dickens, 452-453]

Katherine Elizabeth Macready Dickens or "Katey" (29 October 1839 — 9 May 1929)

Like most fathers, perhaps, Dickens seems to have been able to remain closer, emotionally, to his daughters than to his sons as his children grew up and the bond with Katey was a particularly close one. Mamie, noting that she herself had sometimes been called her father's "favourite daughter," commented, "If he had a favourite daughter ... my dear sister must claim that honor." There was no "if" about the matter, in fact. [Slater, Dickens and Women, 179]

Portrait of Kate Perugrini (née Dickens) by her husband Charles Edward Perugrini (1839-1918). Source: Wikipedia (public domain).

Katherine Elizabeth Macready Dickens, or simply "Katey" and then "Kitty" in the family, probably earned the dubious Dickensian nickname "Lucifer Box" from her volatile disposition. Her middle name indicates Dickens's attempts to cement his personal and professional relationships, as Katey's godfather was the renowned actor-manager of Covent Garden Theatre, William Macready.

As might be expected, the new arrival brought changes to the Dickens household. Most importantly, it prompted Dickens to look for a house larger than Doughty Street. Catherine herself was hardly in a condition to go house-hunting, so Dickens teamed up with his mother, Elizabeth, to examine various properties, among which was 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, opposite Regent's Park. They moved in very soon after the birth, in December 1839. The family was growing so fast that by the time of Katey's christening in July 1840, Catherine was already three months pregnant with her next child, Walter.

Their increasing responsibilities did not prevent them from travelling. The Dickenses left their young children (Charley, five; Mamie, three; Katey, two; and baby Walter, not yet one) while they were touring America in 1842. "Macready had promised that he and his wife would keep a close eye on them .... in lodgings in Osnaburgh Street, close to Macready's home, under the care of a nurse, other servants and their uncle Fred" (Slater, Charles Dickens, 170). But after this sometimes traumatic six months' separation, they kept their children with them for the Italian sojourn of 1844-45. In the flea-infested Villa Bagnerello, several miles outside Genoa, five-year-old Katey fell seriously ill, and refused to receive medicine from anyone but her father, who apparently practised his mesmerism on her. (The diagnosis now seems to be scrofula or tuberculosis of the neck.)

But there were advantages to these travels, too. As children in Paris in the autumn of 1855 both Mamie and Katie were coached in Italian by an exiled Venetian patriot, and continued to study dance as they had at Genoa. While in Paris, the girls spent a great deal of their unstructured time with Annie and Minnie Thackeray. Again, illness afflicted Katey, but she was sent home from Paris with nothing more serious than whooping cough.

Despite having studied dancing, Katey turned towards the visual arts. Her forté was painting. She attended art classes at Bedford College in 1853, a recently established women's education institute near Regent's Park.

During the production of The Frozen Deep at Tavistock House the youngest cast members — Mamie, Katey, and Charley — in the fall of 1857 participated in rehearsals with the adults every Monday and Friday evening, despite Katey's still suffering from the cough contracted in Paris. The review of the subsequent performances in The Times praised "Mamie for her 'dramatic instinct' and Katey for her 'fascinating simplicity'" (Tomalin, 279). While settling into Gad's Hill in June-July 1857, the family entertained Danish children's author Hans Christian Andersen for five weeks, but Katey did not like him, remembering him later as a "boney bore who stayed on and on" (qtd. in Slater, Dickens, 429).

The Separation of Katey's Parents, 1858, and Its Aftermath

Despite the somewhat dubious nickname, Katey remained her father's favourite, probably because she was closest to him in personality, perceptiveness, and personal drive. Katey was the only one of the children with courage enough to stand up to her father. For instance, when he left notes pinned to the pillows of the girls about the deplorable state of their room ("Pincushion Notes," Katey called them), she requested firmly that he desist, and that if he had criticisms he make them in person. Despite the apparent differences between them as Mamie always adopted the role of the dutiful domestic daughter, Katey was always close to her older sister. When Charles and Catherine Dickens separated in 1858, Katey was their only child to side openly with Catherine.

On 17 July 1860 a special train brought guests down from London to Gad's Hill for the wedding of Katey and Charles Allston Collins at St. Mary's Church, Higham; Elizabeth and Catherine were not among the assembled guests. He was thirty-two, she twenty. That the couple immediately moved to Paris suggests that Katey viewed the marriage as a vehicle of escape. That evening Mamie found her father, blaming himself for this uneven marriage, weeping into her sister's wedding-dress. Collins was already so debilitated from cancer that he had more or less given up painting for writing. Having trained as an artist, Katey's choice of the brother of her father's friend and collaborator Wilkie Collins, the sickly painter who briefly served as a Dickens illustrator, seems logical, as does her choice of second husband, painter Carlo Perugini, whom she married just months after her first husband died. Despite strained finances, she and her second husband carried on an active social life with various luminaries of the period. Dickens did not particularly approve of her first marriage, although he may not have realised that Wilkie's brother was incurably impotent, and perhaps a homosexual: "perhaps not in practice but in inclination" (Witt, quoting Gottlieb).

Three weeks after their father's death, with the household belongings readied for auction, Katey, Georgina, and Mamie made a final circuit of the rooms at Gad's Hill: "going into every room, and saying goodbye to every dear corner." Mamie wrote that "... We three, who have been best friends and companions all our lives, went out of the dear, old Home together" (Ackroyd 1082-1083).

Life after Dickens, and Second Marriage

"I have strong apprehensions ... that he will ever recover, and that she will be left a young widow" — Christmas 1864 [qtd. in Ackroyd 955].

Although Dickens was convinced that Charles Allston Collins would die by the end of 1867, he held on until 9 April 1873, when stomach cancer finally claimed him at No. 10, Thurloe Place, South Kensington, just forty-five. Just months later, on 11 September 1873, at the registry office without the benefit of family and friends as witnesses, Katey married fellow-painter Carlo Perugini. The official wedding occurred at St. Paul's Church, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, with a limited number of guests: her aunt, Georgina Hogarth; Mamie, Francis, and Henry Dickens; and painter John Everett Millais (whose wedding gift, a painting of Katey, took him six years to complete). In the year of their marriage, Perugini exhibited one of his many paintings of his striking wife, A Labour of Love, at the Royal Academy. She and Carlo worked and socialised in the artistic atmosphere of South Kensington. The happy marriage was scarcely two years old when Katey and Carlo lost their only child, Leonard, as an infant, from bowel inflammation. But professionally the 1870s saw her career take off, with an exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1877. In 1886, noted for her specialty, paintings of children such as Little Nell, she became a member of the Society of Women Artists.

From the turn of the century until his death in 1918, her husband suffered from some sort of serious nervous disorder. Protracted ill health (including angina and chronic bladder infection) eventually claimed him on 22 December 1918 at the age of 79. His funeral occurred at St. Nicholas's Church in Sevenoaks, Kent, and he was buried in the same grave as his infant son. Katey lived another eleven years, dying (indicates the death certificate) of "exhaustion" on 9 May 1929. She was buried alongside as her beloved spinster sister, Mamie. Ten years later, her friend and interviewer Gladys Storey published Katey's reminiscences of her father as Dickens and Daughter, in which Katey offers a candid assessment of her father's affair with Ellen Ternan: "I loved my father better than any man in the world — in a different way of course.... I loved him for his faults" ... "My father was a wicked man — a very wicked man" (Storey 219).

The establishment of the Dickens Fellowship in 1902 had given Katey yet another social outlet. Founding member and Dickensian editor Leslie C. Staples described her in 1977 as having had "a strong and delightful personality, that of a great actress . . . . It filled any room she entered and everyone fell before her charm" (qtd. in Slater, Dickens and Women, p. 192). She held her own in witty exchanges with the next generation's literary giants as W. S. Gilbert and George Bernard Shaw. Slater retails a sample of her acerbic humour in her description of F. G. Kitton, another of the founders of the Dickens Fellowship and an assiduous researcher into all things associated with the great writer. She wrote of him as being "'as kind and inoffensive as he is weak and credulous' but, just after writing that, Katey received from Kitton a letter 'so amiable so kind', she told Shaw, that she felt 'extremely wicked to wish even for a moment that he had been drowned at birth'. But, she added, 'that is what I do wish nevertheless'" (qtd. in Slater, 17 April 1889 and 10 May 1898, "To George Bernard Shaw," Dickens and Women, 193).

The portrait of her by her second husband accords perfectly with the description of Katey in London by Annie Fields in 1869, and probably represents the way that the daring, witty, and stunning Katey in maturity would have wished to be remembered:

She is like a piece of old China with a picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds painted upon it and with manners as piquant peculiar and taking as such a painting come to life ought to have. She wore at our first dinner with her a kind of paradise coloured dress ... with an antique lace and muslin cape just drawn over her beautiful shoulders and coming down in straight lines in front leaving her throat and neck uncovered. She has red hair which she wears very high on the top of her head worn with pearls in a loose coil. Altogether the effect is like some rare strange thing, which does not quite wear away in spite of her piquancy; for she is clever enough to be a match for the best of us I am sure. [qtd. in Slater, Dickens and Women, 189]

Related Materials


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1999.

Dickens, Mamie. My Father as I Recall Him. New York: E. P. Dutton, n. d. Published originally as Charles Dickens by his Edlest Daughter [Mary Dickens]. London: Cassell, 1885.

Hawksley, Lucinda. Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artistic Daughter. London: Lyons Press, 2013.

Nayder, Lillian. The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth. Ithaca, New York: Cornell U. P., 2011.

Schlicke, Paul (ed.). The Oxford Readers's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1999.

Slater, Michael. "Father and Daughters." Dickens and Women. London and Melbourne: J. M. Dent, 1983.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Storey, Gladys. Dickens and Daughter. London: F. Muller, 1939.

Tomalin, Claire. Charles Dickens: A Life. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Witt, Emily. "Daddy Issues: On the Worthless Brood of Charles Dickens. Review of Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens (FSG, 256 pp., $25) by Robert Gottlieb". Online version available from The Observer. Web. 12/04/12.

Created 1 September 2019