Freshman novelist Gaynor Arnold exquisitely imbues a story that takes place more than 150 years ago with a ripped-from-today's-headlines texture, while simultaneously hurtling readers headlong into the heart and soul of Victorian womanhood. Using as inspiration letters written by Charles Dickens to his wife Catherine, Arnold riffs on a theme we see played out everyday in the 21st century. That is, how much does the family of a celebrity owe to the public and to posterity? Is any sacrifice too great when it comes to supporting a creative genius? To further complicate this dilemma, Arnold's novel takes place in an era of unyielding social standards and moral regulations, a time when many women struggle within the constraints of suffocating options. It is also a time when such raging celebrity as Dickens enjoyed is mostly unheard of.
So it's fitting that Arnold's fictionalized...
Beyond the Book
Birth Control and Childbirth in the 19th Century
Speaking of fathers, Dorothea Gibsons daughter-in-law says, "They do not become dissolved into parenthood the way we [women] do." Truer words may never have been spoken at least as far as the 19th Century was concerned.
Dissolved? Dorothea (Dodo) Gibson floundered under the toll of eight closely spaced children plus several miscarriages combined with the debilitating effects of near-continuous pregnancies. It seems safe to say the sum very nearly took her life. It certainly took her health and sanity even while her husband - tired of all the runny noses and hubbub - suggested indifferently that she "do something" about the situation. Certainly he was not alone in his time and gender to deem...