Girl in a Blue Dress

Girl in a Blue Dress

by Gaynor Arnold


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In Alfred Gibson the fierce energy and brilliance of the most famous of the Victorian novelists is recreated, in a heart-warming story of first love—of a cocky young writer smitten by a pretty girl in a blue dress

Alfred Gibson's funeral has taken place at Westminster Abbey, and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. Her younger daughter Kitty comforts her, until an invitation for a private audience with Queen Victoria arrives, and she begins to examine her own life more closely. Uncovering the true deviousness and hypnotic power of her celebrity author husband, she'll now need to face her grown-up children—and worse—her redoubtable younger sister, Sissy and the charming actress, Miss Ricketts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780955647611
Publisher: Tindal Street Press
Publication date: 08/01/2008
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gaynor Arnold is the author of Lying Together and Girl in a Blue Dress, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2009, and The Orange Broadband Prize in 2009.

Read an Excerpt


My husband’s funeral is today. And I’m sitting here alone in my upstairs room while half of London follows him to his grave.

I should be angry, I suppose. Kitty was angry enough for both of us, marching about the room in a demented fashion. They couldn’t stop you, she kept saying. They wouldn’t dare turn you away—not his own widow. And of course she was right; if I’d made an appearance, they would have been forced to acknowledge me, to grit their teeth and make the best of it. But I really couldn’t have borne to parade myself in front of them, to sit in a black dress in a black carriage listening to the sound of muffled hooves and the agonized weeping of thousands. And most of all, I couldn’t have borne to see Alfred boxed up in that dreadful fashion. Even today, I cannot believe that he will never again make a comical face, or laugh immoderately at some joke, or racket about in his old facetious way.

All morning I have waited, sitting at the piano in my brightest frock, playing “The Sailors’ Hornpipe” over and over again. The tears keep welling from my eyes every time I try to sing the words. But I carry on pounding the keys, and in the end my fingers ache almost as much as my heart.

At last, the doorbell rings, and in seconds Kitty is in the room. She has an immense black veil, a heavy train running for yards behind her, and jet beads glittering all over. “Oh, you should have been there, Mama!” she cries, almost knocking Gyp from my lap with the force of her embrace. “It’s completely insupportable that you were not!”

I pat whatever part of her I can feel beneath the heavy folds of crepe and bombazine. I try to calm her, though now she is here—so strung up and full of grief, so pregnant with desire to tell me all—I am far from being calm myself. My heart jitters and jumps like a mad thing. I dread to hear what she has to say, but I know of old that she will not be stopped. She is near to stifling me, too; her arms are tight, her veil is across my mouth. “Please, Kitty,” I gasp, “You will suffocate us both! Sit down and gather yourself a little.”

But she does not sit down. On the contrary, she stands up, starts to wrench off her gloves. “Sit down, Mama? How can I sit down after all I have been through? Oh, he might almost have done it on purpose!”

“On purpose? Who? Your father?” I look at her with amazement. What can she mean? What can Alfred possibly have done now? What mayhem could he possibly have caused from beyond the grave? Yet at the same time, my heart quickens with dismay. Alfred always hated funerals, and would not be averse to undermining his own in some preposterous way.

“Oh, Mama!” She throws her mangled gloves on the table. “As if it’s not enough that we ’ve had to share every scrap of him with his Public for all these years, but no, they had to be center stage even today, as if it were their father—or their husband—who had been taken from them!” She lifts her veil, revealing reddened eyes and cheeks puffed with weeping.

So it is only his Public she inveighs against; nothing more sinister.

“Oh, Kitty,” I say. “It is hard, I know, but you must allow his readers their hour of grief.”

“Must I? Really, Mama, must I?” She takes out her handkerchief. It is silk with a black lace border and I cannot help thinking that she must have outspent her housekeeping with all this ostentation. She dabs at her eyes as violently as if she would poke them out. “You’d have expected, wouldn’t you, that after giving them every ounce of his blood every day of his existence, at least they’d let him have some peace and dignity at the end?”

“And didn’t they?” My blood runs cold; all kinds of grotesquerie fill my mind. “For Heaven’s sake, child, what did they do?”

“They were like lunatics, Mama.” She takes an angry turn around the curio table, nearly knocking it over.

“Lunatics?” Surely that cannot be the case. Even the most cynical of his critics would not have begrudged him a decent funeral. “Do you mean there was no respect?”

She pauses, shrugs reluctantly. “Well, I suppose there was at first. When I looked out of the drawing room window, I even thought how patient they’d all been: men, women, and children standing six foot deep, even though it had been raining for hours. Everyone still and silent, save for the sound of the carriage wheels, and the shufflings and sighings and doffings of hats. But the moment we turned away from the park, some desperate wretch ran out and started pulling at the heads of the horses, crying, ‘No! No! Don’t leave us!’ And then it was as if a dam had burst, and the crowd was a great surge of water, flowing everywhere. It was terrifying, Mama! The horses were rearing, feathers floating in the air. I thought we’d be turned over and trampled to death. Trampled by his very own Public at his very own funeral—how fitting that would have been!” She glares around the room, as if daring the furniture to disagree with her.

So that is all; simply some overexuberance of the crowd. But she is not used to it, of course; she never had to run the gauntlet of the riotous masses in America all those years ago, when I’d had to cling to Alfred’s arm as he cleaved through them, smiling as if it were nothing in the world to be pulled about by strangers who thought you belonged to them, body and soul.“Poor Kitty,” I say. “How dreadful for you! And yet your most fervent wish is that I had been there to witness it all.”

She looks a little chastened. “But it was your right, Mama,” she says, sniffing loudly. “You should have insisted. It is a matter of principle. You should not have allowed Sissy and the others to win again.”

As always, she sees life as a battle. But I am no longer interested in winning or losing, especially with my proud and pretty sister. It’s all too far in the past, and none of Kitty’s ridiculous raging will make one iota of difference now. I look at her sumptuous frock, her extravagant train, her acres of beading, and her very fine, long veil; only the mud around her hem spoils the theatrical effect. “But your clothes seem undamaged, Kitty. Surely the excitement of the Public cannot have been so very bad?”

“You think I exaggerate?” she exclaims, casting herself into the fireside chair. “Well, you can ask Michael. He was in the carriage with Alfie and me. If he ’d not kept hold of the door handle, we ’d have been pitched out on the road! And if I hadn’t clung to the curtains, I’d have cracked my head against the windows or been knocked to the floor! There was such a monstrous surging ahead of us that I would not have put it past them to have laid hands on the coffin itself.” She wipes her nose defiantly. “He would really have belonged to his blessed Public then!”

I am distressed at her ordeal, but there is something in me that wants to laugh, too. I see Alfred in my mind’s eye, throwing back his head and roaring with mirth, but poor Kitty sees only the disrespect. “I’m sure they did not intend to frighten you, Kitty,” I say. “They were simply expressing their grief.”

“Grief? Well, it was a strange kind, then! It seemed more—oh, I don’t know—as if they were some kind of savages and he were some sort of god! In Piccadilly they actually pelted the carriages with flowers; at the corner of Pall Mall they chanted his name and pressed his books to their hearts as if they were holy icons. Ladies fainted and had to be carried away by the dozen. Gentlemen lost hats and gloves—and even boots.” She shakes her head vehemently.

I smile to myself: urchins and pickpockets must have had a fine time.

“I don’t know how they had the gall—taking it upon themselves to wail and sob as if they were widows—when his real widow wasn’t even there!” She leans forward and sets about the fire, wielding the long poker as if she would stab the coals to death. She is all anger; but I can see that she has clearly relished the drama of the day. Why else is she so sumptuously decked out in all the finery of sorrow, the elaborate mourning she knows he hated so much?

“It doesn’t matter,” I say, taking the poker away from her. “The funeral was not for my benefit; it was for theirs. And you saw how much they loved him.”

She turns on me. “Only because they didn’t know him. So many times I wanted to push down the carriage window and shout out to them that he was a cruel, cruel man. Cruel to his wife, and cruel to his children! And yet you sit here so calm and docile! Aren’t you angry at the way he used you? Don’t you want to howl up to Heaven at the unfairness of it all?” She looks as though she will lift up her own head and howl, but instead she gets up and paces a path between the fireplace and the door, her train catching around the chair legs and the sofa ends as she turns and turns about.

I knew she would taunt me with complacency; it is her constant theme. Yet, God knows, I have been angry, and jealous, and sorry for myself. But such emotions only feed on themselves. It is not Alfred’s fault that things happened the way they did. “I will not speak ill of him,” I say. “And I trust you will not either. Especially today.”

“Well,” she says tartly, “I cannot promise that. After all, it’s such a relief to be free from him. I may find it impossible to hold myself back.”

“What do you mean—free?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean! Don’t say you don’t feel it, too—knowing we shan’t have to bow to his opinion on every blessed thing! Doesn’t it fill you with a wonderful sense of liberty?” She spreads her arms in a theatrical gesture, the beads along her bodice shivering in unison.

I cannot endure hearing her say those things, even though I know she doesn’t mean them. “What nonsense!” I say. “Your father was a wonderful man—one of the most wonderful men that ever lived—and you know it.”

“Oh, yes, I know it. We all know it. We couldn’t get away from the One and Only, Yours Truly, the Great Original.

She may speak sneeringly, but I feel the tears starting to my eyes as I hear those famous sobriquets and see his laughing face come before me again. I must keep steady, though; the poor child has had a wretched time. She ’s cold and muddy, and I need to see to her. I push the tea tray forward. “Have some tea to warm up, dearest. Have a little cake, too. Wilson went for it this morning; it’s very fresh.”

She hesitates; she is always tempted by food. She takes off her bonnet and veil, wipes her nose on the silk handkerchief, and pours herself some tea. Then she settles herself snugly on her favorite footstool by my chair. After a while, when the fire has warmed her, she speaks again. She is more composed now: “Every one of the shops closed early, you know. They had black curtains up too, in so many places. And the blinds drawn all along the route. Every man I saw had an armband.” She reaches to take a slice of cake.

“You see, he was a Great Man, Kitty. You should be proud of him.”

She doesn’t answer. But I know she is proud of him. Kitty was by far his favorite child. She munches away at the cake. “So, Mama, what will you do now?”

Do? What do you mean?” I am horrified. I have always hated change, and this past week has brought me change enough. I cannot think that more would suit me.

“Well, I trust you won’t stay cooped up in this dingy set of rooms anymore. It hardly becomes the widow of such a Great Man.

“And what do you suggest I do instead? Move in with you and Augustus?”

She stops eating, flushes red. “Well, of course you may. You are always welcome. But that’s not what I meant . . .”

No, it was unfair of me to say that. She thinks I am unaware of how Augustus treats her. Out all day and sometimes far into the night. She wouldn’t want me to witness his neglect at first hand.

“I simply meant that you are more independent, now. You don’t have to think about whether His Greatness would approve of what you do. All this”—she flings her arms around like a veritable Indian goddess—“was what he wanted; what he thought fit. Every blessed chair, every cushion, every plate and cup and cake stand! Now you can do anything you choose. You could take a cottage in the country. Return to Chiswick, perhaps? The air would be better for you. And I could still come and visit.”

“I find the air quite well enough where I am, thank you, Kitty.” I glance around at the red plush curtains, the easy, old- fashioned chairs, the Turkish rug, the walnut piano; and I appreciate for the thousandth time how he had such a tremendous instinct for other people’s comfort. I falter, however, as I catch sight of my music on the piano. The page is open still at “The Sailors’ Hornpipe” and I feel his arm, so firm around my waist, as he propels me around my parents’ parlor at breakneck speed. “I think I shall never move from here,” I tell her. “I like it, and I’m used to it. And on the contrary, it makes me happy to know that he chose ‘every chair and cushion and cake stand’ himself.”

“He gave you all the old things he didn’t want anymore,” she retorts. “Why don’t you admit the Truth for once?”

“The Truth?” I look her in the eye and sigh. “You mean, of course, that I should agree with you?”

“Not necessarily.” She tosses her head and the slivers of jet at her ears do a macabre dance. “But now he’s no longer here, you don’t need to be loyal. You can admit it all now, surely.”

“Admit what, Kitty dear?” We have been over this so many times.

“Oh, Mama! Admit that he never gave you anything but heartache. And children, of course,” she adds sarcastically.

I won’t have that. “If I have had heartache in my life—and God knows I have—your father was not to blame for it. He gave me everything I have valued. If blame there is, well, it is the fault of circumstance.”

Kitty glares. “Circumstance? Oh, of course,” she says, starting to pleat her handkerchief with angry movements of her fine, active fingers. “The One and Only cannot be wrong. Yours Truly remains forever above reproach.”

She means to provoke me; but I know her of old, and will not be drawn. “You may pretend to think ill of him, Kitty, but he has always shown a proper regard for me: I have these comfortable lodgings in a nice part of town, with Mrs. Wilson to look after me—and Gyp, too, to keep me company.” Gyp barks as if he acknowledges the memory. He is old and fat, as I am, but still affectionate. I laugh and tickle his nose.

Kitty won’t have it. “He gives you a wretched apartment in a wretched area of town. With one servant, and no carriage—and a dog with a foul temper. A fine arrangement!” She springs up from the little stool, but she forgets the weight of the train she is wearing and staggers a little against the fireguard, making the fire irons crash into the grate.

I want to smile—but I have to hide it. Kitty can’t abide being laughed at, any more than a cat. “Mrs. Wilson cooks and cleans for me,” I say. “I need nothing more.”

“But you never venture out. You’re like a hermit. Or a ghost of the past, wandering around the room in the dark. Expecting him to ‘turn up,’ perhaps?” Kitty brushes the coal dust from her skirt and turns to pour more tea.

“I’m not at all like a hermit. I see you. I see O’Rourke.”

“Michael? Oh, but he ’s so thin, and old, and unexciting! He was like a skelington in a suit today. You might have thought he was the corpse himself got out of the coffin!”

“Kitty! How can you say such a thing?” (But I can’t help thinking that Kitty is, as always, wickedly apt.) “If it were not for Michael, I don’t know what I would have done these ten years.”

“Don’t you? I cannot imagine what he ’s done for you, other than be two- faced about the whole affair!”

“ Two- faced?” I am a little angry with her now. “Why do you persist in saying that? He ’s been my advocate with your father on every little matter: the rent, the bills, the laundry—”

She rolls her eyes.

“And he’s always been most faithful with the books. He gets me every new edition straight from the press.”

“Does he, though?” She looks at me dully, as if it is no great matter.

“Yes,” I say stoutly. “I think I’m the first person in London to lay eyes on them.” I cast a glance at the dark red line of Alfred’s novels in the bookcase across the room, some of them so battered that they are about to fall apart. “I still read a chapter every day, you know, Kitty. And when I finish each book, I start another. And when I finish them all, I start at the beginning again. When I read, I can hear your father talking to me exactly as if he were in the room; when he used to rush into the parlor, pen in hand: What do you think of this, Dodo? Does this make you laugh?

“Or cry, more likely.” Kitty stands by the fireguard, punishing it with her boot.

“Indeed,” I say. “He was a master of every emotion. I knew that from the very first day we met.”

Reading Group Guide


What do you think are the particular attractions for an author of setting a work of fiction in the past? The particular challenges? What attracts you, as a reader, to such a novel?


Alfred and Dorothea Gibson are closely modeled on Charles and Catherine Dickens. What reasons do you think the author may have had for choosing not to use their real names in the novel?


Did reading Girl in a Blue Dress change your feelings about the novels of Charles Dickens? Were you a fan of his works before this? Will you read, or re-read, his work now that you have a fresh perspective on the man who wrote it?


Do you have a favourite Dickens novel? Which is it, and why?


In chapter 1, Dorothea recalls the first time she met Alfred Gibson: before she even sees him, his laugh makes her giddy, and once she does see him, she is struck speechless by his “deep brown eyes, too wayward and rich for anyone. They shone like stars. His whole face seemed illuminated.”

Do you believe in love at first sight (or sound), or do you think it is the stuff of fiction? What does this scene tell us about Dorothea’s character, both as a young woman and as an older one recalling it?


How would you describe Alfred Gibson’s personality in contemporary terms? And Dorothea’s? If you could imagine them transplanted to the early twenty-first century, what different (or similar) courses might their lives, and their marriage, take?


As the very title suggests, clothing plays a significant role in Girl in a Blue Dress. What are some of the ways in which the author uses clothing to define character, and to allow us a window into Victorian society and mores? A few instances you might consider are Alfred’s personal style and his abhorrence of mourning (and how whether or not to wear mourning becomes an issue amongst family members at different stages); the white dress he insists Alice be buried in; and Augustus’s personal style versus O’Roarke’s.


On page 62, shortly before Alfred and Dodo are married, he enumerates what he loves about her: “I love your whole life: your house, your garden, your excellent parents, your little sisters. And most of all I love your dear Self, sitting in the middle of it all in a blue silk gown showing your very nice bosom—and stitching away with such an earnest look as if you have no idea of what you do to a man. It’s all quite perfect.”

If you could whisper in Dodo’s ear at this point, what would you say about this?  In what ways does Alfred betray—or fulfill—this image he has of Dodo during the course of their marriage? (Perhaps think about Dodo musing on Alfred’s story Richard Masterman in chapter 13.)


The novel is filled with details about Victorian morals, customs, attitudes, as well as the concrete matters of everyday life (what people ate and drank, what they wore, how they got their food and clothes and coal, how they traveled, etc). Did anything in particular leap out and surprise you? What aspects of daily life in nineteenth-century London, as presented in the novel, do you find most attractive? What aspect makes you most grateful not to be living then? What other books, fiction or not, have you read that opened a window onto this era? Is there something particularly intriguing about the nineteenth century for you?


One review of the novel (in the Financial Times) said: “Girl in a Blue Dress ponders a perennially troubling question for the thoughtful book-lover. How much love-rattery do we forgive great writers for the literature they give us?” How would you answer that question? Did reading about Gibson/Dickens’ behaviour towards Dorothea/Catherine change your feelings about him at all? In the end, is Alfred Gibson a hero or a villain? Is that a useful question to discuss with regard to lterature?


The novel shifts between Dorothea’s present – the weeks and months following Alfred’s funeral – and her reminiscences of the past, most of which focus on Alfred. Does Dorothea ever seem unreliable as a narrator? How does her own perception of her actions (and inaction) alter as the narrative progresses? If you were to describe her character at the beginning of the novel and again at the end, would those descriptions differ? How?

Customer Reviews

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Girl in a Blue Dress 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Eustacia_Penrod More than 1 year ago
This was a departure from the usual suspect of books I delve into. Using the service on Barnes and Noble that allow you to read a few pages before purchasing the book, by page five I was very intrigued about the main character Dorthea Gibson and had to know more. Loosely based on Charles Dicken's wife and their relationship/marriage, this was a fabulous period piece that reminds one of the art of courtship. I couldn't put it down after the first day. I read it in 6 hours. However, for most readers, this is a lovely story that will take you a couple of weeks if you read at bed time or lunch. The author weaves a detailed compelling story of the life of Dorthea Gibson, the coming of age, her indoctrination into Alfred's theatrical/writing life, but more importantly the author tells us about Dorthea's grace and strength of resolve to endure being Alfred's wife and the path to an awakening that brings about a dramatic change within herself and her relationship with her children. For those who like Victorian settings and the "ole fashioned" yester years of romance and family life, this is a lovely journey to take. For those who are into the courage of women, this is a good one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being unfamiliar with the personal life of Charles Dickens, it was interesting to briefly research his life and see the colaboration presented within this piece of fiction. It was a fast read. I gave it four stars because it motivated me to research and become more knowledgeable with Charles Dickens. I'm sure his works and life were outlined during my school years, but being so long ago and my interests were in other things :) at the time, I enjoyed revisiting Mr. Dickens.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite genre is historical fiction, so I was intrigued by this book. However, I enjoy reading a book that actually has a plot. If you enjoy character development, as another reviewer wrote, this book is for you. I found it to be interminably long and almost impossible to finish. Dodo met with one character and rehashed her past, followed by meeting with another with whom she rehashed her past again and again... I have about 50 pages to go and don't know that I can finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I have stated before, historical fiction is above and beyond my favorite genre, especially those that take place in old Victorian England. There is something about the elegance and etiquette of this time period that is second to none. Could you imagine having to present your "card" to a friend's maid to be "announced" to her? When was the last time you wrote a "letter" to your friend instead of a text or e-mail? Girl in a Blue Dress has fictional characters; however, Arnold states that she drew her inspiration from the family life of Mr. Charles Dickens himself. There seems to be no greater Dickens scholar than she; yet, by her own admission, she took many liberties in extending the truth and filling-in-the-blanks. The novel begins with the end - the funeral of England's most admirable author, Alfred Gibson. He has long been separated from his "widow", Dorothea, the narrator of the story. Dorothea's flashbacks to her happy beginnings with Alfred, the births of many, many children with him, and finally, their painful separation, make up the gist of the novel. However, it is the inner torture of Alfred (as it is with many creative souls) that Gaynor seems to want to make the heart of Girl in a Blue Dress. It is interesting that I immediately made a comparison in my mind with this novel to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. Both authors should be highly commended for their efforts and incomparable research. However, as with Whicher, I found myself looking at the clock, wanting this to end. It is just too long and wordy, with endless meetings upon meetings between the characters. Dorothea meets with one person for twenty pages to bare her soul, then she meets with another person for twenty pages. If you like novels with great character development, then this is the book for you. However, if you want some sort of plot to go with those characters, I would advise you to look elsewhere. MY RATING - 4 for effort, 3 for readability To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my blog:
Jennlvs2read More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. Good story, characters were well written. Love the historical feel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book was good but the start was a little slow. Once I finally got into it, it was over.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The thinly-disguised story of Catherine Dickens, wife of the famous author, is at the heart of this unpretentious, unassuming story.The celebrated author Alfred Gibbons has died, leaving England in mourning. His estranged wife, Dorothy (or ¿Dodo¿) sits at home as the funeral and reading of the will take place. As she sits, she looks back on her twenty-year-plus marriage to ¿the One and Only,¿ and ¿The Great Original.¿ An invitation to visit Queen Victoria, as well to her sister Sissy and the actress Wilhelmina Rickets, leads to another series of reflections on her marriage. It¿s a quiet novel, simple yet complicated in many ways. There¿s not much action, certainly not in the present day, but there¿s a certain gentleness of language that makes this book compellingly readable. Dodo, despite her shy, retiring ways, is a likeable heroine, strong in the ways a ¿typical¿ Victorian woman wasn¿t supposed to be. In addition, I enjoyed the way the characters interacted with one another: Dodo¿s daughter Kitty, the son-in-law who is obsessed with money; but most of all, Alfred Gibson himself: control freak, obsessed with keeping poverty at bay (even when he was in his most successful period), and eagerness to change the truth when it suits him. I get the feeling that Gibson isn¿t supposed to be likeable, but he¿s charismatic enough that the people around him tend to overlook his flaws. The only one who realizes who Gibson really was is, ironically, Dodo. To the modern reader, Victorian England is a strange place¿all those customs regarding mourning are simply mind-boggling. Dorothy¿s world is one that¿s strictly defined by traditions and conventions, and Dodo¿s story is that of a woman who isn¿t afraid to bend the rules a bit. In all, an excellent novel, worthy of having been longlisted for the Booker Prize.
livrecache on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I know little about Dickens' life, but I am reasonably familiar with his work, and the references were quite interesting. I thought the narrative, being a blend of past and present, worked well enough, but I'm always a tad sceptical about characters who can relate whole screeds of conversation, years after the event. But that's a minor point. It's inspired me to find out more about Dickens, the man.I am surprised that this book was long-listed for the Booker and the Orange prizes. It was an enjoyable read, but very light weight. Maybe Alfred being a caricature was an intentional device, because many of Dickens' own character are caricature like. I thought Dodo was a bit wet, really, although she did seem to come into her own once the One and Only was dead. And, yes, I found the Queen Victoria section to be quite gratuitous. Overall though, I was entertained by this book, and it well written, so that's a plus.
dsc73277 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Following the death of Victorian literary superstar Alfred Gibson his estranged wife emerges from her lodgings for the first time in a decade to re-establish contact with her children and to challenge those who, in conjunction with her late husband, were she believes complicit in destroying her marriage and her reputation. In doing so she ends up quite sympathetic towards the sister who took her place running the family home and even to the young actress who became her husband's lover.The author makes it clear in an afterword that this novel is what it appears to be, a fictionalised account of the marriage of Charles Dickens. I think she deserves credit for choosing to change the names of her principle characters in order to let her imagination roam more freely. I have trouble with works of fiction that have real historical figures in central roles because it is never clear where the reality ends and the fiction starts. Gaynor Arnold achieves the best of both worlds by admitting that her characters are inspired by but not necessarily factual representations of Mr and Mrs Dickens.Arnold also deserves praise for her empathy with all the women in Gibson/Dickens life. She suggests that they were all victims of Victorian hypocrisy, who made the best they could of the situation in which they found themselves.Anyone interested in nineteenth century England, Victorian life and literature in general, or Dickens in particular, is likely to get something out of this book. The more I discover about Dickens and the women in his life, the lower he sinks in my estimation as a person, though not to the extent of putting me off re-reading my favourites among his masterpieces.Why only three stars, you may be thinking? Well, the problem is that whilst I started out enjoying this book, I did begin to get a little bored with it as it went on. Whilst I sympathised with the women, I didn't really like any of the characters of either gender. Whilst it isn't necessary to like characters in books, it does help if they capture our interest. To be fair this may not be the fault of the author. If you have read any of my other recent reviews you will have detected that I am a very tough reader to please at present. Ultimately "Girl in a Blue Dress" failed to provide the boost to my mood which I currently crave from my reading, but it came a lot closer to doing so than many other past contenders for the Booker Prize. At the time of writing no one has rated this book less than three stars and the average is four, so the collective thinking on this is very positive.
Mumineurope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fictionalised account of Charles Dickens from perspective of wife. Really good.
DubaiReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Charles Dickens. This is the fictionalised story of the lives of Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, thinly disguised in the novel as Alfred and Dorothea Gibson. Of course I knew of Dickens and his literature but I had no idea that he was quite such a larger-than-life character and I think it was this fact that remained with me after I'd finished the book. Interestingly, the story is told from Catherine's (Dorothea's) point of view. She met and fell in love with Dickens while she was still very young and impressionable but she remained adoringly true to him throughout her life. He, on the other hand, was fickle and unfaithful, rejecting her so that she spent the last ten years of his life lonely and estranged. She was not even invited to the funeral or the reading of the will. The characters were wonderful, especially their daughter Kitty, and, of course 'The One and Only', Charles Dickens/Alfred Gibson. But also Dorothea's sisters, Alice and Sissy, who lived with the family, and Kitty's money-grabbing husband, Augustus. The clever use of capital letters for certain significant nouns also worked well, a device that can easily grate if abused. Although this book slows a bit in the middle, it was overall, a fascinating and entertaining read. Recommended .
LizzieD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Longlisted for both Man Booker and Orange Broadband prizes, this is Ms. Arnold's first novel. She has based the story told from the wife's point of view on the marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. While reading, I found my memories of the two Dickens biographies read some time ago interfering with my appreciation of this book as a novel. Now that I have finished, I find that understanding the Victorians is just as unlikely for me as it ever was. Dorothea "Dodo" Millar was exactly the young woman for Alfred Gibson to idealize when he first met her: pretty, modest, ready to worship him. His imagination imbued her with every positive quality, and he felt himself betrayed when she turned out to be spoiled, slow-witted, and prone to pregnancy after their marriage. Ms. Arnold clearly shows his disillusionment and her incomprehension as their marriage disintegrates with his increasing fame and their growing family. When, eventually, he allows himself to fall in love with a young woman again, he justifies his decision to separate his wife from her home and family. She goes and remains in seclusion until his death ten years later. Her reemergence into the world is never sufficiently motivated. She had never been content, but she had not stirred from her three rooms in those ten years until he died; she had not been in touch with any of her children; she had never tried to see her husband again. Over the course of the next few weeks, she has an audience with Queen Victoria, visits her own home and confronts her sister who had remained as housekeeper to the Gibson family, reunites with her children, visits the other woman, visits her husband's tomb, and after a vision, takes the first step in carving out a new life for herself. I just don't believe it. The fact that all of this actually happened more or less as Ms. Arnold presents it, hardly makes it more believable. So I'm left with a sense of an interesting story with deft characterization in part and with more questions raised than answered. I loved the picture of Alfred Gibson, full of life however reprehensible; I still don't understand Dodo.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Subtitle: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles DickensThis is an outstanding novel, a fictional examination of Dickens marriage and affair. Even the names are changed, and, as the author says in her introduction, events are rearranged to suit her narrative. But that¿s OK, in fact, it probably makes for a much better novel.What¿s important is that it rings true and convincing, which is a testament to the author¿s skill. After finishing the novel, we can believe that it happened this way, and that we have had a glimpse of the real Charles Dickens.It¿s not a flattering look at his personal life. The novel begins with his death, the the protagonist is his estranged wife. Dickens kicked her out of his home, denying her access to her children, ten years before he died, so that he could carry on an affair with an actress young enough to be his daughter. They didn¿t teach that in school when I was a kid ¿ only recently have details emerged about Dickens personal life.The author creates a convincing world for her fictional author, his wife, and his mistress. Highly recommended.
lindenstein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read this year, I applaud the strong characters, the story that is simultaneously heartbreaking and endearing, and the well-crafted prose that make this book unforgettable. Gaynor Arnold does something that hasn't been done, giving a voice to a woman largely forgotten, who feared that she would be a mere footnote in the life of her husband, and gives her the chance to be her own person and tell her own story. All of the characters are believable, from the larger-than-life, charismatic Alfred Gibson (Charles Dickens) to his precocious children and his wife, who in her grief is both silent (publicly) and outspoken (privately).Arnold's fictionalized version of the story Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine seamlessly becomes the heart-breaking story Dorothea "Dodo" and Alfred Gibson. Written from the cast-off wife's perspective, Dodo draws the reader in from the very beginning of her story, one which is largely unrecognized by a Public that hangs on every word of her husband. Over the course of their lengthy and secretive courtship, Dodo kept every letter written to her by her future husband, and over the course of the ten years between her 'banishment' and Alfred's death, she continues to re-read the letters and relive the love as it was in the beginning. When Alfred dies, Dodo must cope with her deep loss yet again, as she is not welcome at the funeral; it is here that Arnold's narrative begins, immediately following Alfred's death.One of the most compelling aspects of the story is Arnold's strong characterizations. Dodo's hopeful love, her desperate attempts to keep her marriage alive, and the anguish she feels following the death of her one true love are all expressed in completely honest, believable and heartfelt. It is clear that Arnold spent much time painting the portrait of Dodo, but she did not neglect the important supporting characters, composed of her servant Mrs. Wilson, her loyal friend Mr. O'Rourke and her children, particularly her daughter Kitty. The mother-daughter relationship is as well-crafted as that between husband and wife, and much of the tension the between all the children and their mother expresses, from the first moment they interact, the underlying love that will ultimately cancel out all of the uncomfortability of the situation. Dodo's love, which persists even in the wake of scandal and heartbreak, champions the power of language and the ability to love someone unconditionally.
swanroad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the way this story is told, beginning with the death of the One and Only (the character modeled after Dickens) and flashing back to events in the marriage of Dorothea and Alfred Gibson that led to her estrangement from her husband and children. The narrator's character arc illuminates the Victorian world that keeps women in a very small box.
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juliamoon More than 1 year ago
I stopped in the middle of this book because I just couldn't stand her being such a DOORMAT and him being such a JERK.