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Serpent ring owned by Catherine Dickens and Georgina Hogarth

Collection

object

Object number (per part)

DH728, 2002

Object name (per part)

ring

Production date

c.1840

Label

A turquoise, gold, diamond and ruby serpent ring gifted to Catherine Dickens by the artist and famous dandy, Count D'Orsay around the 1840s. D'Orsay was a good friend of the family. Catherine bequeathed the ring to her sister Georgina Hogarth in her will. The ring is contained in a small case.

Other number

2738 (2009 DH object access database number)

Physical description

The shape of the ring is formed by a coiled serpent or snake, the body of which is made from turquoise and gold. The serpent's head and tail are adorned with diamonds, and its eyes are marked by two rubies. The serpent's body is made up of separate scale sections which would have been sprung to make the ring flexible.

Object history note

This ring was the personal property of Catherine Dickens and was gifted to her by the artist and famous Victorian dandy, the Count D'Orsay, who was a good friend of the family in the 1840s. Catherine left the ring to Georgina in her will : 'To my sister Georgina, the blue enamel snake ring...'. The Dickens Museum holds another piece of Catherine's jewellery in the shape of a serpent: a bracelet she eventually gave to her daughter Katey (DH1041, 2019.4.4).

Georgina Hogarth had been a part the Dickenses household since 1843, and had helped with the children and supported her sister. However, when Catherine separated from Dickens, Georgina remained, inspiring rumours that she was his mistress.

To the modern viewer, considering the biblical associations of the serpent with seduction, betrayal and fall, Catherine’s gift might seem to indicate that, in her eyes, Georgina had betrayed her. For Victorians, however, snake jewellery symbolised eternal love, not betrayal. For example, Prince Albert had given Queen Victoria a snake ring for their engagement. Catherine’s parents viewed Georgina’s behaviour as “mistaken,” not immoral, and Catherine told friends she was glad Georgina had remained with the children, since she could not. The two sisters were reunited after Dickens’s death in 1870.

Credit line

Purchased in 2002 with support from the Art Fund.
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