Girl In A Blue Dress

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Girl In A Blue Dress

by Gaynor Arnold

McClelland & Stewart | July 6, 2010 | Trade Paperback

3.6667 out of 5 rating. 3 Reviews
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The celebrated debut novel inspired by the life and marriage of Charles Dickens

Alfred Gibson's funeral is taking place at Westminster Abbey, and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. The Great Man's will favours his children and a clandestine mistress over the woman he sent away when their youngest child was still an infant.

Dorothea hasn't left her small apartment for years, and accepts her exclusion - until an invitation to a private audience with Queen Victoria arrives. The exhilaration of finding that she has much in common with the most powerful woman in England spurs Dorothea to examine her own life more closely. Her recollections uncover deviousness and the frighteningly hypnotic power of the genius she married, but also raise questions about her own complicity in her unhappiness. Questions that finally compel her to face her grown-up children and the two women she has long felt stole her husband: her own younger sister, Sissy, and the charming actress, Miss Ricketts.

This remarkable debut is as wise in the ways of the human heart as it is witty and vivid in its depiction of the charismatic Alfred Gibson, and the habits, mores, and personalities of Victorian London.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 1.1 in

Published: July 6, 2010

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771007876

ISBN - 13: 9780771007873

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– More About This Product –

Girl In A Blue Dress

by Gaynor Arnold

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 1.1 in

Published: July 6, 2010

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771007876

ISBN - 13: 9780771007873

Read from the Book

1 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!”
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From the Publisher

The celebrated debut novel inspired by the life and marriage of Charles Dickens

Alfred Gibson's funeral is taking place at Westminster Abbey, and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. The Great Man's will favours his children and a clandestine mistress over the woman he sent away when their youngest child was still an infant.

Dorothea hasn't left her small apartment for years, and accepts her exclusion - until an invitation to a private audience with Queen Victoria arrives. The exhilaration of finding that she has much in common with the most powerful woman in England spurs Dorothea to examine her own life more closely. Her recollections uncover deviousness and the frighteningly hypnotic power of the genius she married, but also raise questions about her own complicity in her unhappiness. Questions that finally compel her to face her grown-up children and the two women she has long felt stole her husband: her own younger sister, Sissy, and the charming actress, Miss Ricketts.

This remarkable debut is as wise in the ways of the human heart as it is witty and vivid in its depiction of the charismatic Alfred Gibson, and the habits, mores, and personalities of Victorian London.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, Wales. She read English at St. Hilda''s College, Oxford, where she acted in many plays, notably at the Edinburgh Festival and in a tour of the U.S. She has two grown children and lives in Birmingham. Girl in a Blue Dress is her first novel.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“This juicy novel imagines the private life of a famous couple: Catherine and Charles Dickens…. Arnold sticks close to the Dickens’ life story but changes all the names…. Smart readers will connect the dots.” — People magazine “Wonderful…. Arnold''s knowledge of Dickens is impeccable…. Beautifully written, entirely satisfying.” — The Times “Fabulously indulgent Victoriana…. A lovely, rich evocation of the period [with] complex characterisation and silky prose.” — The Observer “Arnold''s portrayal of Gibson/Dickens is spot-on.” — The Guardian “Fascinating…. A moving story about the special burden of loving a universally adored man…. [What] Arnold handles so effectively, is portraying the intermingling of love and resentment, affection and pettiness, that renders any marriage mysterious to outsiders.” — Washington Post “Arnold picks apart domestic psychology as efficiently as a housemaid cleaning a coal stove…. The sections in which [Dodo] recollects their years together pulse with the excitement of a secret courtship and a highly erotic early married life, as well as the anxieties of a woman increasingly exhausted by the arrival of child after child…. Dickens aficionados will delight in winky references to his novels, as well as to his biography.” — New York Times Book Review “Arnold''s achievement, in con
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Bookclub Guide

1.

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?



2.

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?



3.

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?



4.

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



5.

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?



6.

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?



7.

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.



8.

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.)



9.

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?



10.

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 literature?



11.

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?



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