History gives us stories of fun, surprises, skeletons … and scandals!
Novelist Wilkie Collins was a dear friend of Charles Dickens - Wilkie said of their early years of friendship, "We saw each other every day, and were as fond of each other as men could be”.
1858: Wilkie (aged 34) began living with Caroline Graves, a widow, and her daughter Elizabeth Harriet, whom he called Carrie and treated like a daughter. He didn’t want to marry Caroline but did provide for Carrie’s education. They lived together for the rest of Wilkie’s life.
1868: Wilkie (aged 44) began living with Martha Rudd - she was 19 and from a poor family. They had three children together, Marian in 1869, Harriet Constance in 1871 and William Charles in 1874. For respectability, they called themselves Mr & Mrs Dawson and gave the children this surname.
For the last 20 years of his life Wilkie divided his time between Caroline, who lived with him at his home, and Martha and their children, who lived nearby. In late 1868, Caroline left Wilkie and married a younger man named Joseph Clow, but after two years she returned to her home with Wilkie.
Both Wilkie and his doctor, Frank Beard, were convinced of the benefits of the sea air for his good health. His two households also maintained their separate lives during Wilkie's regular summer visits to Ramsgate - staying in two different properties. Caroline stayed in Nelson Crescent, Martha stayed at Wellington Crescent.
Caroline was buried in the same grave as Wilkie. Martha and the children did not attend his funeral - a wreath was laid from them ... Martha was buried alone.
A Grand Scandal In The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne
The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne has been the hotbed of many scandalous liaisons over the years! The most famous was that of Claude Debussy, the composer of ‘Clair de Lune’, who stayed in room number 200 with his mistress, Emma Bardac. Claude was a famous pianist, composer, musical critic and conductor born in 1862 - a man of many talents.
Claude was born in Paris into a penniless family and when he was 18 he met his first love, the soprano Marie Blanche Vasnier. A married woman with two children, she was aged 32 and they had an eight year affair. This ended and in 1889 he fell in love with Gabrielle Dupont with whom he ‘lived in sin’. Their romance ended six months later. Whilst living with Gabrielle, Claude seduced Thérèse Roger, a singer from a wealthy family whom he hoped to marry (mainly for financial reasons) and they were briefly engaged but it didn’t last.
In the same year of 1889, when he was 27, he married Rosalie ‘Lilly’ Texier, a model. His initial passion soon faded due to her lack of interest in music and her fragile health. He then fell in love with Emma Bardac, the mother of one of his music students and the wife of a wealthy banker. On July 14th, 1903, Debussy went out for his morning walk and didn't go back to Lilly. Mad with sorrow, when she discovered he’d moved in with Emma, Lilly made a suicide attempt and her husband’s infidelity became the talk and gossip of Paris.
Emma Bardac and Claude were fleeing the outcry in Paris when they stayed at The Grand Hotel for two months in the summer of 1905. Back in France, on 30th October 1905, Emma Debussy gave birth to a little girl that they called Claude-Emma. ‘Chouchou’ became her nickname. In 1908 her parents both divorced their previous partners and married.
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