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
    Aug 2010, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt

“And didn’t they?” My blood runs cold; all kinds of grotesquerie fill my mind. “For Heaven’s sake, child, what did they do?”

“They were like lunatics, Mama.” She takes an angry turn around the curio table, nearly knocking it over.

“Lunatics?” Surely that cannot be the case. Even the most cynical of his critics would not have begrudged him a decent funeral. “Do you mean there was no respect?”

She pauses, shrugs reluctantly. “Well, I suppose there was at first. When I looked out of the drawing room window, I even thought how patient they’d all been: men, women, and children standing six foot deep, even though it had been raining for hours. Everyone still and silent, save for the sound of the carriage wheels, and the shufflings and sighings and doffings of hats. But the moment we turned away from the park, some desperate wretch ran out and started pulling at the heads of the horses, crying, ‘No! No! Don’t leave us!’ And then it was as if a dam had burst, and the crowd was a great surge of water, flowing everywhere. It was terrifying, Mama! The horses were rearing, feathers floating in the air. I thought we’d be turned over and trampled to death. Trampled by his very own Public at his very own funeral—how fitting that would have been!” She glares around the room, as if daring the furniture to disagree with her.

So that is all; simply some overexuberance of the crowd. But she is not used to it, of course; she never had to run the gauntlet of the riotous masses in America all those years ago, when I’d had to cling to Alfred’s arm as he cleaved through them, smiling as if it were nothing in the world to be pulled about by strangers who thought you belonged to them, body and soul.“Poor Kitty,” I say. “How dreadful for you! And yet your most fervent wish is that I had been
there to witness it all.”

She looks a little chastened. “But it was your right, Mama,” she says, sniffing loudly. “You should have insisted. It is a matter of principle. You should not have allowed Sissy and the others to win again.”

As always, she sees life as a battle. But I am no longer interested in winning or losing, especially with my proud and pretty sister. It’s all too far in the past, and none of Kitty’s ridiculous raging will make one iota of difference now. I look at her sumptuous frock, her extravagant train, her acres of beading, and her very fine, long veil; only the mud around her hem spoils the theatrical effect. “But your clothes seem undamaged, Kitty. Surely the excitement of the Public cannot have been so very bad?”

“You think I exaggerate?” she exclaims, casting herself into the fireside chair. “Well, you can ask Michael. He was in the carriage with Alfie and me. If he ’d not kept hold of the door handle, we ’d have been pitched out on the road! And if I hadn’t clung to the curtains, I’d have cracked my head against the windows or been knocked to the floor! There was such a monstrous surging ahead of us that I would not have put it past them to have laid hands on the coffin itself.” She wipes her nose defiantly. “He would really have belonged to his blessed Public then!”

I am distressed at her ordeal, but there is something in me that wants to laugh, too. I see Alfred in my mind’s eye, throwing back his head and roaring with mirth, but poor Kitty sees only the disrespect. “I’m sure they did not intend to frighten you, Kitty,” I say. “They were simply expressing their grief.”

“Grief? Well, it was a strange kind, then! It seemed more—oh, I don’t know—as if they were some kind of savages and he were some sort of god! In Piccadilly they actually pelted the carriages with flowers; at the corner of Pall Mall they chanted his name and pressed his books to their hearts as if they were holy icons. Ladies fainted and had to be carried away by the dozen. Gentlemen lost hats and gloves—and even boots.” She shakes her head vehemently.

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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