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Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens Hardcover – July 14, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (July 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307462269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307462268
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,941,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Arnold's accomplished debut is a fictionalized take on the tumultuous marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. On the day of famed writer Alfred Gibson's public funeral, his estranged widow, Dorothea (Dodo), sits alone in her small London apartment, reminiscing about the One and Only. Although caring deeply about his public image as a family man, Alfred's actual relationship with his brood is fraught by his egomaniacal demands and philandering, his career eclipsing everything else. Dodo wishes she could climb onto the page, become one of her husband's protagonists and cajole him to pay attention to her. After years of marriage, Alfred casts Dodo out of the family home after taking up with a mistress, publicly shaming her, and admonishing their children not to visit her. After Alfred's death, Dodo grapples with the choice of emerging from her self-imposed exile or remaining in seclusion without facing the public who revered him. Arnold's impeccable research paints an entirely different portrait of Dickens than that assumed by readers of his fiction. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Arnold’s knowledge of Dickens is impeccable, and she uses fiction to give Mrs. D. what she never had–a chance to interview her husband’s mistress and reclaim her beloved children. Beautifully written, entirely satisfying.”
The Times (London)

“A fine work of imagination and compassion that offers up other ways for us to understand a popular genius and those who loved him.”

“Fabulously indulgent . . . a lovely, rich evocation of the period that rises above the faintly damning ‘historical fiction’ label with its complex characterization and silky prose. A neat rendering of a celebrity marriage with all the pressure and expectation that courting fame invites.”
The Observer

“A fascinating portrait of a Victorian woman in the near-impossible position of maintaining a sense of self while married to a famous, difficult, and wildly charismatic genius.”

“With his manic energy and flamboyant waistcoats, Gibson is a Dickensian character–and no wonder, for Arnold’s inspiration for her wholly absorbing novel lies in the complex married life of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine.”
Daily Mail

“I could not put down this compelling and beautifully written novel. A young girl falls wildly in love with a brilliant, sensual writer. As the years pass, he becomes a genius adored by all Victorian England though in his personal life he turns against her, banishing her from him and their children when he falls in love with someone younger. Slowly she calls upon the greater power of ordinary real love in the face of genius and moves forward to take back her life. I cheered for her on every page of this deeply touching story.”
—Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart

"Arnold paints a vivid picture of the breakdown of a marriage, the selfish demands of creativity, the suffocating confines of Victorian society, and the complex bonds between men and women. Her compassion for all of her characters, no matter how flawed or unsympathetic, makes for utterly compelling reading."
—Elizabeth Hickey, author of The Wayward Muse

Customer Reviews

I've been trying to think of the reasons I didn't love this book, and I'm coming up empty-handed.
In this exceptionally well-written novel, author Gaynor Arnold has captured the Victorian era, insights into Dicken's life and a story of a marriage of its time.
Alice Simpson
I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to read a fascinating book, although I would not have been as forgiving as the protagonist in this book.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
He was the greatest Victorian author in all of British literature. Charles Dickens was a brilliant author of such masterpieces as David Copperfield; Hard Times; Bleak House; A Tale of Two Cities; Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit; Oliver Twist and many others. Yet little is known about his longsuffering wife Catherine Dickens.
In this new first time novel British author Gaynor Arnold recreates the domestic life of Dickens and Catherine. She calls the author "Alfred Gibbons" and his wife Dorothea. Dody is a buxom beauty who is wed to the young energetic Gibbons. He rises to fame with his genius while she stays home giving birth to many children. The famous and spoiled author has an affair with an actress, leaves his wife taking his children with him and condemning her to ten years of living alone is a small London flat.
The novel begins on the day of the author's funeral. We hear Dodo tell her story as she remembers the high and low points of her life with the fascinating but unfaithful author. Arnold has done her homework allowing the reader inside the home of a celebrity and his family. Dickens was childish and selfish but loved his wife. He was easily infatuated by a pretty face and fell into a long romance with a young actress name Wilhemine. She and Dodo confront each other following his funeral. This is the most dramatic scene in the novel.
Arnold has done a good job in her first venture into novel writing. The book was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Arnold's research is commendable and her discussion of adultery is tasteful rather than prurient. Her book will win legions of admirers in book clubs across the English speaking world.
As a longtime Dickensian I was already familiar with much of what Arnold tells us.
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Format: Hardcover
Arnold's depiction of a Victorian marriage is painfully accurate, a fictional biography of a prolific English writer, Alfred Gibson and his wife, Dorothea, a thinly-veiled account of the marriage of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine. Names and events have been changed, of course, but it is certainly reasonable to extrapolate a sense of the marriage and how difficult a life with such a man could be. From the bright days of early marriage to a struggling writer who will capture the imaginations of countless fans, "Dodo" exemplifies the Victorian wife, subservient, gracious and self-sacrificing. But as Alfred's creative genius expands, his self-importance multiplies in equal measure. At the same time, whatever the complex psychological constructs of this man, it becomes his mission to denigrate and belittle his wife, as though to grow his own stature it is necessary to diminish hers: hence the years of humiliation, criticism and finally rejection.

Arnold's challenge is to cast Alfred in the true colors of his nature, while imbuing Dodo's character with compassion, humility and the debilitating burden of petty jealousy justified by her husband's outrageous appetites. For all her suffering, the lonely years of childbearing and Alfred's barbed attacks, her figure lost to the rigors of too many births and an excess of laudanum, Dodo fulfills her wifely duty at the cost of her soul. Rationalizing Alfred's behavior, justifying his misdeeds, Dodo temporizes, apologizes, crumbles under the weight of her husband's demands. Instead of a spirited, brave lady married to a demanding, domineering man, Dodo becomes his victim.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on December 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
The thinly-disguised story of Catherine Dickens, wife of the famous author, is at the heart of this unpretentious, unassuming novel.The celebrated author Alfred Gibson 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, the Victorian era is a strange place--all those customs regarding mourning, for example, 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.
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