Girl in a Blue Dress

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 8/3/2010
  • Publisher: Broadway Books

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At the end of her life, Catherine, the cast-off wife of Charles Dickens, gave the letters she had received from her husband to their daughter Kate, asking her to donate them to the British Museum, "so the world may know that he loved me once." The incredible vulnerability and heartache evident beneath the surface of this remark inspired Gaynor Arnold to writeGirl in a Blue Dress, a dazzling debut novel inspired by the life of this tragic yet devoted woman. Arnold brings the spirit of Catherine Dickens to life in the form of Dorothea "Dodo" Gibsona woman who is doomed to live in the shadow of her husband, Alfred, the most celebrated author in the Victorian world. The story opens on the day of Alfred's funeral. Dorothea is not among the throngs in attendance when The One and Only is laid to rest. Her mourning must take place within the walls of her modest apartment, a parting gift from Alfred as he ushered her out of their shared home and his life more than a decade earlier. Even her own children, save her outspoken daughter Kitty, are not there to offer her comfortthey were poisoned against her when Alfred publicly declared her an unfit wife and mother. Though she refuses to don the proper mourning attire, Dodo cannot bring herself to demonize her late husband, something that comes all too easily to Kitty. Instead, she reflects on their time togethertheir clandestine and passionate courtship, when he was a force of nature and she a willing follower; and the salad days of their marriage, before too many children sapped her vitality and his interest. She uncovers the frighteningly hypnotic power of the celebrity author she married. Now liberated from his hold on her, Dodo finds the courage to face her adult children, the sister who betrayed her, and the charming actress who claimed her husband's love and left her heart aching. A sweeping tale of love and loss that was long-listed for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize,Girl in a Blue Dressis both an intimate peek at the woman who was behind one of literature's most esteemed men and a fascinating rumination on marriage that will resonate across centuries. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

GAYNOR ARNOLD is a first-time novelist who lives in England.

From the Hardcover edition.



Myhusband’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 completelyinsupportablethat 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 Isit downafter 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 weretheirfather—ortheirhusband—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 everyounceof his blood everydayof his existence, at least they’d let him have some peace and dignity at the end?”

Excerpted from Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens by Gaynor Arnold
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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