Thursday, March 11, 2010
Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold
I love writing book reviews but I find it particularly taxing when the book invoked so many feelings and thoughts that I can't seem to keep them all straight, let alone remember them. I had to take notes as I was reading it! I apologize if my thoughts are scattered and confusing.
On the cover of this book, it says "A Novel Inspired by the Life & Marriage of Charles Dickens". Before the story begins, there is a note by the author. She says that this is a work of fiction, that she's added conversations, characters, places and events that she has added of her own accord. This makes me wonder what was real about her story, how much of it was what she got from learning of Charles Dickens and his marriage. If I were to go by the gist of this story, I'd say Charles Dickens is not a man I would like.
The story is told by the main character, Mrs. Dorothy Gibson, estranged wife of the famous author Alfred Gibson. It's the time of her husband's funeral and she has not been invited. She goes back through her memories of being wooed and courted by this man, and how her parents were against them getting married but she does it anyway. As the years go by, she bears one child after another, totalling eight, yet her husband's affections towards her become less and less. She has fits of jealousy, understandably so, as her husband has always been drawn to and is flirtatious with the younger of her sex. After she loses her last child to death, her husband sends her away to a spa in hopes of her regaining her health. But when she returns, she finds she is not needed and finds her husband has moved out of their bedroom. She believes he's having an affair with her sister, who's basically taken over as mistress of the house and he denies it and says he feels they should live apart because their marriage has failed. So she moves out. He blames her for this. He publishes a notice in the paper stating that it's her fault, that she was an unfit mother and a bad wife. She then learns gradually of a young actress he's shown particular interest in and puts the pieces together in her mind. After 10 years of banishment, her husband dies. The will is read and she receives less than this actress, even though technically she is still his wife. She now learns that her children were told they could contact her, but would never be welcome in their father's home again if they did so, which is why she never heard from them over the 10 years. She faces the mistress, who claims she was a victim of her husband's influence, which, after getting to know his character, one can easily believe. She also claims there was never any physical relationship between them, but that they did love each other. Dorothy meets the Queen and finds they have much in common. She ventures out into the world after 10 years of seclusion and finds she has the will to live, to be herself, to rely on her own intelligence and abilities.
I do not do this book justice, there is simply too much to tell. If you want to know the whole story, you must read it yourself. I highly recommend it. What I can tell you, are the feelings it brought to mind while reading it. How unfair to be treated the way she was. She finds in the end he never really loved her, that she was basically a rebound from his last failed relationship, yet he stuck with her to "do his duty". She was made to look like she was not right in her mind because of the lies he told people, lies he came to believe were true in his own mind. Even her children were more or less forced to stay away from her because of the things their father said. She had to go 10 years alone, without contact of her friends, save one, and all of her children, all because of her husband, who always blamed her and said she was at fault. She's stuck all this time in a marriage that she is the only one willing to fight for. She sticks by him and always is made to feel like she's the one in err when she questions him about the young ladies he flirts with. Everyone thinks he is so great, but in the end, after he dies, they all come forth to voice how they saw his faults, too, and that they felt bad for her and that he treated her wrongly. I don't like how she's made to question her own part in this tragedy of a marriage, how she wonders if it really was her fault, if she really had gone mad, all because of how good this man was at twisting words. I love how she faces the mistress. I have to wonder, though, being in that situation, who would I be more angry with? The mistress? Or my loser husband? I'd say loser husband. What I find really interesting, is how, even in the end, after going over everything he's done to her and how miserable she was, she never denies her love for him. Wow. The author says at the beginning that Charles Dickens wife wanted all of his letters to her kept to prove to the world that he really did love her once.
If you want to read a story that makes you feel things and see things differently, or even help you realize things about yourself, as it has for me, I say read it. It's a very good book.
My favorite quote, that sums up what I got out of it: "Is it so singularly amusing for a woman to have ideas of her own? To wish to be a person as well as a mother?" All too often I feel like that. She was talking with the Queen in part of this book and it said something along the lines of a woman is basically stripped of herself when she becomes a wife and mother, that we live for the man and the children and not for ourselves. I say we have to live for ourselves first, if we are to have anything to even offer those we love most. How sad that this woman bore so much grief before her husband died, and only upon his death realized that she was capable of happiness without him.