A long time fan of the books of Charles Dickens I thought this book would be a nice introduction into what his life was like during his life of marriage and writing. “Girl in a Blue Dress” captivated me throughout the telling of Alfred Gibson’s life, detailing with vivid description of his quirks and antics to acquire the woman he desired to marry, which carried through to his writing and future success in literature, theatre and speaking engagements; and raising children. All the foregoing as told through the viewpoint of his estranged wife, Dorothea Gibson.
It brings to the forefront the difficulties women had during the Victorian era, their limitation of choice once they became married. Dorothea, or Dodo, as she is called by her family and Alfred, initially appreciates being with her sweetheart husband despite their meager lifestyle. When Alfred’s writing career takes off with great success, complete with social functions and lavish dinners held at his new house, Dodo begins to find herself overwhelmed with producing children on a yearly basis and a lack of private time with her husband. After being wife for twenty years she is ousted from the family home and placed into private lodgings. Scandal ensues with suspicions directed at Dodo’s sister, Sissy, who came to take care of the children and remained in the household; and at a young actress, Wilhelma Ricketts, whom Alfred takes as a mistress, and whom ends up with a share of his estate.
Ms Arnold describes in wonderful detailed characterizations of how everyone has an impact on each other complete with consequences of actions. It is a thrilling yet sad story, even tragic of how marriage and circumstances of those involved have far reaching effects. A mismatched marriage from the beginning: Dodo from a prosperous family with parents who disapproved of her suitor, to Alfred, an overambitious man working toward success to escape a childhood of poverty through his own parents’ mismanagement of money.
As to the true life story of Charles Dickens I am ignorant, except for his parents’ stint in debtors’ prison, and one of his sons joining the North-West Mounted Police after a naval career. However; “Girl in a Blue Dress” has raised a curiosity in me to look farther afield for more information.