Book Review: Girl in a Blue Dress

Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens

Gaynor Arnold

Crown

432 pages

I have a penchant for fiction based on the lives of historical fiction.  I am not really a huge fan of Charles Dickens–I have only read A Tale of Two Cities and suffice it to say it was not my favorite book–but the fact that he is a major literary figure couples with the fact that the backdrop was Victorian England, I knew I would love it.  Not to mention it was longlisted for the Man Pooker prize in 2008. 

Girl in a Blue Dress starts off on the day of Aldred Gibon’s funeral.  Gibson is a celebrated author who cares more about his “Public” than the well-being of his family.  Dorothea “Dodo” Gibson is his spurned wife, and she is banished from the funeral, hidden away in her home as she had been for many years.

Dodo and Albert met when Dodo was still a teenager.  Instantly enamored, Dodo is falls in love with Alfred and is eventually able to marry him.  The young couple lead a happy life together for the next decade, with the exception of the death of Dodo’s sister.  However, Alfred’s love for Dodo takes a sudden turn.  Dodo is worn down by the constant succesion of pregnancies and children.  She is eventually forced to take a holiday to recover and returns home to find that her husband no longer wishes to act as a husband.  He is able to convince her to move to a home by herself, abandoning her children. 

Meanwhile, Gibson has a new paramour while Dodo continues to pine after him in her new home.  Abandoned by her husband and isolated from all but one of her children, Dodo spends the next few years living alone. 

Alfred Gibson is not a likeable man in the novel.  He cares little about his wife and her welfare, instead throwing her to the wolves in order to upold his own reputation with his precious public. Despite this, Alfred was not the most reprensible haracter in the book–that honor falls on Dodo.

Alfred was a petty, shallow man, but that was much more acceptable to me than Dodo’s character.  I understand that this is Victorian England we’re talking about and not 2010, but Dodo’s behavior was not something I could fathom.  She is completely forlorn over the desertion of her husband and mopes after him for years, even after he publicly denounces her.  She is like a spurned lapdog with very little self respect.  This is coupled by the fact that she abandoned her children because it was her husband’s will.  I could not see eye to eye with such a meek woman.  Instead, I felt only anger.

Regardless of the bad behavior of both Alfred and Dodo, this is one of the most enjoyably books I’ve read recently.  It is an epic story of the destruction of a marriage and I am not surprised at all it was considered for the Booker.  As far as I know, this is Gaynor Arnold’s only book, but if it is any indication of her talent, she is an author to be watched.  She was able to blend fiction and fact seamlessly.

Other Reviews:

Asylum

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Eve’s Alexandria

I borrowed this book from my local library.

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3 Responses

  1. This is a book I really want to read! Great review, I want to go out and get it now.

  2. Sounds marvelous. Love your thoughts on Dodo–it is exactly what I was thinking just from reading your synopsis of the book.

  3. I remember hearing about this book before it came out and being intrigued by it. It completely fell off my radar. Thanks for reminding me about it. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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