Monday, August 10, 2009

Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel by Gaynor Arnold

In Girl in a Blue Dress, Dorothea Gibson is grieving the death of her husband, the One and Only Alfred Gibson, a great novelist, despite the fact that she has been estranged from him for ten years. Not long after she gave birth to her youngest child, she was banished from the family home and spent the next ten years in near seclusion. Now that Alfred has died, she has been slighted again in that she has not been invited to his funeral and has not been adequately provided for in his will. In this novel, she looks back on her life from first meeting Alfred to reuniting with her children after his death.

Gaynor Arnold's inspiration for her novel was the life and marriage of Charles Dickens. Despite that, she maintains that this book is a work of fiction. In the author's note at the beginning of the book she addresses the changes she's made and liberties she's taken.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love books written in the first person and this one, written from Dorothea's point of view, is no exception. While I'm familiar with some of Dickens' stories, I haven't read any of them. Honestly, I didn't know very much about him. Nevertheless, I found this whole story fascinating and even if only bits of it mirror Dickens' own life, it was a intriguing life indeed.

Arnold's first novel is very well-written with an uncomplicated story line that's easy to follow. The only part that was a little confusing, at first, was the beginning where she alternates the narrative between Dodo (the young unmarried Dorothea) and the older Mrs. Dorothea Gibson. The one thing that struck me about this novel was that it relies heavily on dialogue, especially at the beginning. Later on, it evens out a bit, but to me the dialogue was still more prominent. Maybe it just seemed that way because it was written in the first person. Anyway, it's not a bad thing. It's just something I noticed.

As for the characters, I loved both Dorothea and Alfred. Dorothea did everything for her family and got tossed out. Because Alfred was so famous and their separation was not to be public she lived in near isolation until his death. I really felt sorry for her. Alfred was so full of himself as if the whole world revolved around him. I almost laughed out loud anytime he was referred to as "the One and Only". He seemed to be interested in all young women except his wife. I couldn't wait to see what he was going to do next. The story also featured a few notable minor characters that I loved reading about: Wilson, O'Rourke and even Queen Victoria.

I usually don't look up new words, however, in this story I ran across one that looked too interesting to ignore. New Word Alert: insouciance = impertinence, nerve, sauciness, rudeness. After stealing one of Alfred's notebooks, Dorothea says "...I am infused with a new spirit of insouciance."

Favourite quotes:
On page 162, O'Rourke says "Oh, Alfred does things by instinct. It wells up from the depths of his heart and passes by his head entirely, so although he writes what he knows, he doesn't always know what he writes." Another statement from O'Rourke on page 256 in talking to Kitty, daughter of Alfred and Dorothea, "...the Truth has many shades...".

Highly recommended. I'd love to read more of her work.

For more information regarding this book, please visit

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