Gad’s Hill Place in Higham is well-known for being the country home of Charles Dickens, but this is not its only literary connection. It had previously belonged to the family of Eliza Lynn Linton; one of the most prolific writers of her time, who is known for being the first female salaried journalist in Britain. The house was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens, and it is said that it caught the eye of the young Charles Dickens, who fantasised about owning it one day while walking with his father from Chatham.1
Although Eliza Lynn Linton was born in Keswick in 1822, she spent part of her childhood in Gad’s Hill after her father (Rev. James Lynn, vicar of Crosthwaite) took a five-year leave of absence from his clerical duties in 1831, when she was nine years old. Rev Lynn probably moved to Kent for health reasons, but Eliza liked to think it was because of the nostalgia for the memory of her deceased mother, Charlotte. Life at Gad’s Hill was pleasant for the young Eliza. She loved to stroll through the gardens, which were decorated with statuary of Greek gods, and she also delighted in observing the coaches, the private carriages, and the people that passed by Chatham2 while she also read the classics. In 1836 they moved back to Keswick.
The young Eliza Lynn Linton would soon start her tumultuous writing career, becoming part of the avant-garde world of London in the 1840s. She was a protégée of both the novelist William Harrison Ainsworth and the poet Walter Savage Landor, who introduced her to Charles Dickens at his birthday celebration in 1849.3 Her first novels, Azeth the Egyptian and Amymone (1848), were highly influenced by her readings of the classics. At that time, she also became acquainted with Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) and joined the staff of the Morning Chronicle as a journalist (from 1849 to 1851).
Eliza Lynn Linton was already working for Dickens when she inherited Gad’s Hill after her father’s passing. She began contributing to Household Words in 1853, a weekly magazine edited by Dickens. This job was crucial in alleviating her grief and her precarious financial situation after the literary debacle of her novel Realities (1851), as well as in her change in thinking about women's rights. The novel was intended to be published by John Chapman, but her tone and its immoral contents —the novel told the story of an innocent actress who is seduced by a stage manager— obliged her to publish it at her own expense. However, the devastating reviews Linton received not only caused her silence for more than fourteen years, but also brought her financial problems, as her image as ‘an atheist, a socialist of the worst type, the propagandist of all sorts of immoral and subversive opinions’4 cost her job in several magazines.
Her pieces at Household Words were published anonymously and by July 1853 she had become a regular contributor. She published bi-monthly stories and instructional essays, as she continued to do for his next editorial project, All the Year Round. As she confessed to Dickens’ sub-editor, W. H. Wills, they became their ‘monetary Providence’.5 Generally her articles were quite safe, although Dickens warned Wills that on occasion she might violate the standards of propriety, and he did not value her writings skills highly. However, one of the reasons her stories at Household Words were weak could have been her interest on stretching them out to earn more money.6 Despite his criticism, he valued her work, which was usually reprinted in America’s Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and counted on her for his next project.
But let’s come back to Gad’s Hill, which came to Eliza’s hands in February 1, 1855, when James Lynn died. Her father named Eliza, her brother the Rev. John Lynn, and William Loaden trustees and executors, and bequeathed his personal possessions equitably among his nine surviving children. However, as Eliza was unmarried, he provided a separate income from part of his state for her.7 Gad’s Hill was part of it and Eliza decided to sell it to her boss, who could finally fulfill one of his childhood dreams. Despite their unequal balance of power, Eliza Lynn Linton was a hard bargainer - she asked £1800, Dickens countered with £1500, and they finally agreed on £1700. Besides, she also asked £40 for the ornamental timber. Dickens called in an arbitrator and finally had to pay the Lynn state £70. In this way, Gad’s Hill passed from one writer to another.
Despite their working and real estate relationship, Dickens and Linton were not really friends. In fact, he invited her to see the alterations he made on the house, but she did not go, for, as she said, ‘he never fixed the time, I as little proposed a date’.8 In contrast, Eliza Lynn Linton did forge a long friendship with W. H. Wills. She supported his novel Old Leaves and wrote a positive review of it, and she also rushed back to England when Wills was dying and wanted to see her and give her instructions on finishing his last book. Her relationship was maintained with his wife, whom she helped on many occasions.
Gad’s Hill was the most obvious link between two interdependent literary careers. While Dickens relied on Eliza Lynn Linton to contribute to the success of his publishing projects, the writer's role was equally key in the development of her literary career and professional performance. Her anti-feminist discourse was encouraged by Dickens, whose opposition to women’s rights is well known, and her time at Household Words and All the Year Round completely separated her from the flirtations with feminist ideas that she had maintained at the beginning of her career. These experiences forged a new personality, that of the provocative and agitational writer of ‘The Girl of The Period’.
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
Anderson, Nancy Fix. Woman Against Women in Victorian England. A Life of Eliza Lynn Linton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
--. ‘Eliza Lynn Linton, Dickens, and the Woman Question’. Victorian Periodicals Review 22: 4. 1989. 134-141.
Layard, George Somes. Mrs. Lynn Linton; Her Life, Letters, and Opinions. London: Methuen & Co, 1901.
Linton, Eliza Lynn. The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1885.
--. My Literary Life. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1899.