This dazzling debut novel brings the spirit of Catherine Dickens--the cast-off wife of Charles Dickens--to life in the form of Dorothea “Dodo” Gibson, a woman who is doomed to live in the shadow of her husband, Alfred, the most celebrated author in the Victorian world.
Girl in a Blue Dress opens on the day of Alfred’s funeral. Dorothea is not among the throngs in attendance when The One and Only is laid to rest. Her mourning must take place within the walls of her modest apartment, a parting gift from Alfred as he ushered her out of their shared home and his life more than a decade earlier. Even her own children, save her outspoken daughter Kitty, are not there to offer her comfort--they were poisoned against her when Alfred publicly declared her an unfit wife and mother. Though she refuses to don the proper mourning attire, Dodo cannot bring herself to demonize her late husband, something that comes all too easily to Kitty.
Instead, she reflects on their time together: their clandestine and passionate courtship, when he was a force of nature and she a willing follower; and the salad days of their marriage, before too many children sapped her vitality and his interest. She uncovers the frighteningly hypnotic power of the celebrity author she married. Now liberated from his hold on her, Dodo finds the courage to face her adult children, the sister who betrayed her, and the charming actress who claimed her husband’s love and left her heart aching.
A sweeping tale of love and loss that was long-listed for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, Girl in a Blue Dress is both an intimate peek at the woman who was behind one of literature’s most esteemed men and a fascinating rumination on marriage that will resonate across centuries.
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.