Dickens based the character Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield on Maria Beadnell. In the novel, Dora is the love interest of the youthful titular character and eventually marries him, though she dies after a miscarriage soon after marriage. Dickens never forgot Maria, who later married a poor sawmill manager, likely regretting her rejection of the man who would become England's most famous writer of his day. In what was a shock to Dickens, Maria wrote him a letter out of nowhere in February 1855, after more than 20 years of silence. Dickens is immediately captivated and the olden feelings began to be rekindled. Dickens wants to arrange a quiet dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Winter and his own wife, though it becomes obvious, reading his correspondence with Maria, that he still has feelings for her.
Dickens kept the correspondence a secret from his wife, writing to Maria,
After Maria suggests a clandestine meeting, Dickens explains how fame has erased his anonymity:
Though Maria warned Dickens that she was no longer the beauty she once was but was now "toothless, fat, old, and ugly," Dickens refused to believe it but was shocked by her appearance upon meeting her 25 February 1855. In addition to being fat and old, Maria had developed (or retained) a silly giggle and a discursive habit that repulsed Dickens. The Maria of his youth was gone.