Excerpt from Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Girl in a Blue Dress

A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens

by Gaynor Arnold

Girl in a Blue Dress
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2009, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt

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!” she cries, almost knocking Gyp from my lap with the force of her embrace. “It’s completely insupportable that you were not!”

I pat whatever part of her I can feel beneath the heavy folds of crepe and bombazine. I try to calm her, though now she is here—so strung up and full of grief, so pregnant with desire to tell me all—I am far from being calm myself. My heart jitters and jumps like a mad thing. I dread to hear what she has to say, but I know of old that she will not be stopped. She is near to stifling me, too; her arms are tight, her veil is across my mouth. “Please, Kitty,” I gasp, “You will suffocate us both! Sit down and gather yourself a little.”

But she does not sit down. On the contrary, she stands up, starts to wrench off her gloves. “Sit down, Mama? How can I sit down after all I have been through? Oh, he might almost have done it on purpose!”

“On purpose? Who? Your father?” I look at her with amazement. What can she mean? What can Alfred possibly have done now? What mayhem could he possibly have caused from beyond the grave? Yet at the same time, my heart quickens with dismay. Alfred always hated funerals, and would not be averse to undermining his own in some preposterous way.

“Oh, Mama!” She throws her mangled gloves on the table. “As if it’s not enough that we ’ve had to share every scrap of him with his Public for all these years, but no, they had to be center stage even today, as if it were their father—or their husband—who had been taken from them!” She lifts her veil, revealing reddened eyes and cheeks puffed with weeping.

So it is only his Public she inveighs against; nothing more sinister.

“Oh, Kitty,” I say. “It is hard, I know, but you must allow his readers their hour of grief.”

“Must I? Really, Mama, must I?” She takes out her handkerchief. It is silk with a black lace border and I cannot help thinking that she must have outspent her housekeeping with all this ostentation. She dabs at her eyes as violently as if she would poke them out. “You’d have expected, wouldn’t you, that after giving them every ounce of his blood every day of his existence, at least they’d let him have some peace and dignity at the end?”

Excerpted from Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold Copyright © 2009 by Gaynor Arnold. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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