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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I smile to myself: urchins and pickpockets must have had a fine time.

“I don’t know how they had the gall—taking it upon themselves to wail and sob as if they were widows—when his real widow wasn’t even there!” She leans forward and sets about the fire, wielding the long poker as if she would stab the coals to death. She is all anger; but I can see that she has clearly relished the drama of the day. Why else is she so sumptuously decked out in all the finery of sorrow, the elaborate mourning she knows he hated so much?

“It doesn’t matter,” I say, taking the poker away from her. “The funeral was not for my benefit; it was for theirs. And you saw how much they loved him.”

She turns on me. “Only because they didn’t know him. So many times I wanted to push down the carriage window and shout out to them that he was a cruel, cruel man. Cruel to his wife, and cruel to his children! And yet you sit here so calm and docile! Aren’t you angry at the way he used you? Don’t you want to howl up to Heaven at the unfairness of it all?” She looks as though she will lift up her own head and howl, but instead she gets up and paces a path between the fireplace and the door, her train catching around the chair legs and the sofa ends as she turns and turns about.

I knew she would taunt me with complacency; it is her constant theme. Yet, God knows, I have been angry, and jealous, and sorry for myself. But such emotions only feed on themselves. It is not Alfred’s fault that things happened the way they did. “I will not speak ill of him,” I say. “And I trust you will not either. Especially today.”

“Well,” she says tartly, “I cannot promise that. After all, it’s such a relief to be free from him. I may find it impossible to hold myself back.”

“What do you mean—free?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean! Don’t say you don’t feel it, too—knowing we shan’t have to bow to his opinion on every blessed thing! Doesn’t it fill you with a wonderful sense of liberty?” She spreads her arms in a theatrical gesture, the beads along her bodice shivering in unison.

I cannot endure hearing her say those things, even though I know she doesn’t mean them. “What nonsense!” I say. “Your father was a wonderful man—one of the most wonderful men that ever lived—and you know it.”

“Oh, yes, I know it. We all know it. We couldn’t get away from the One and Only, Yours Truly, the Great Original.

She may speak sneeringly, but I feel the tears starting to my eyes as I hear those famous sobriquets and see his laughing face come before me again. I must keep steady, though; the poor child has had a wretched time. She ’s cold and muddy, and I need to see to her. I push the tea tray forward. “Have some tea to warm up, dearest. Have a little cake, too. Wilson went for it this morning; it’s very fresh.”

She hesitates; she is always tempted by food. She takes off her bonnet and veil, wipes her nose on the silk handkerchief, and pours herself some tea. Then she settles herself snugly on her favorite footstool by my chair. After a while, when the fire has warmed her, she speaks again. She is more composed now: “Every one of the shops closed early, you know. They had black curtains up too, in so many places. And the blinds drawn all along the route. Every man I saw had an armband.” She reaches to take a slice of cake.

“You see, he was a Great Man, Kitty. You should be proud of him.”

She doesn’t answer. But I know she is proud of him. Kitty was by far his favorite child. She munches away at the cake. “So, Mama, what will you do now?”

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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