Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. EL DOCTOROW
Two biographies have been published recently anticipating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth next February: Becoming Dickens: The Invention Of A Novelist by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, and Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life.
Both books mention the meeting Dickens reputedly had with Dostoyevsky in 1862. In a subsequent letter mentioning this momentous encounter, the great Russian novelist recalls his great British counterpart telling him that All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him ... one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. Whereupon Dostoyevsky was supposed to have asked: Only two people?
Whether or not the meeting actually occurred, and whether or not the letter is authentic (it has never been traced, and there is no extant copy), no matter. What's interesting is the Jekyll and Hyde (though Stevenson's novel The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde did not come out until sixteen years after Dickens's death!) 'split personality' Dickens admits to here. Of course, Dostoyevsky himself was fascinated by multifaceted personalities (one of his stories is called The Double) and the dilemmas caused by opposing moralities struggling for ascendance in the same human soul (just look at Raskolnikov in Crime And Punishment).
Dickens, after twenty one years of faithful (so far as we know) marriage to his wife Catherine, began a liaison with the actress Ellen Ternan in 1857 - which continued until his death in 1870. Divorce was barely thinkable for a man in his position at the time, so he separated from Catherine in 1858 but remained married to her. Perhaps guilt about this was at the back of his mind when he made his startling revelation to Dostoyevsky, perhaps not. Who knows?
However, from a personal point of view, the longer I live, and the more I experience life, the more convinced I am that we all have, to a greater or lesser extent, split or multiple personalities. We all have some of the saint and the sinner, the hero and the villain, the good and the bad within us - in varying proportions. And it's only when we get beyond such manifest polarities of our fragile and fearful ego that we can start to experience the unquenchable joy, peace and love which characterises our true Being and Consciousness - as Eckhart Tolle* might say.
* I'll have more to say at a later date about Eckhart Tolle's book The Power Of Now.