DICKENS, Charles. Autograph letter signed ("Charles Dickens"), with flourish, to Mrs. [Henry] Winter (Maria Beadnell), Paris, 5 February 1856. 1½ pages, 8vo.
"THE LETTERS I WRITE FOR PLEASURE ARE MIRACULOUSLY FEW"
Wintering in Paris, Dickens tells Mrs. Winter, his long-lost childhood sweetheart, "It comes into my head that I have never acknowledged the little letter you wrote me on receipt of my books, and which was accompanied by another pleasant letter from your other half. Not that either required an answer, but that you may as well know that I received them, I send this short note. Your writing so absorbs my time and attention, and my business correspondence is so very large, that the letters I write for pleasure are miraculously few. That they are also laudably short, let this sheet of paper witness. With regards to Mr Winter and my love to little Ella."
At the height of his fame, with his masterpieces David Copperfield and Bleak House recently published and Little Dorrit underway, Dickens received a jolt from the past when Mrs. Winter-his old childhood sweetheart Maria Beadnell-wrote him to renew old acquaintances. Dickens may have had more on his mind for his marriage was on the brink of dissolution. "Her letter affected him very powerfully, releasing a flood of passionate nostalgia for the great love of what he called his 'hobbledehoyhood'. He wrote her a series of ardent letters protesting, 'Believe me, you cannot more tenderly remember our old days and our old friends than I do', and responding to some suggestion from her with 'All that you propose, I accept with my whole heart. Whom can you ever trust if it be not your old lover!' (Letters, 7.533, 544). When they actually met, however, Dickens, who had arranged matters so that they should be alone together, was immediately and totally disabused of his wildly romantic idea that the Maria of their 'old days', long cherished so fondly in his imagination, was now to be restored to him, and he quickly retreated into the forms of ordinary social acquaintance. Dickens the artist proceeded to make glorious, if somewhat cruel, novelistic capital out of this serio-comic episode by using the hapless Mrs Winter as a model for the character of the hilariously effusive Flora Finching, the hero's old flame in Little Dorrit" (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).