Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, Wales. She read English at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, where she acted in many plays, notably at the Edinburgh Festival and in a tour of the U.S. She has two grown children and lives in Birmingham. Girl in a Blue Dress is her first novel.
Longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Arnold's accomplished debut is a fictionalized take on the tumultuous marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. On the day of famed writer Alfred Gibson's public funeral, his estranged widow, Dorothea (Dodo), sits alone in her small London apartment, reminiscing about "the One and Only." Although caring deeply about his public image as a family man, Alfred's actual relationship with his brood is fraught by his egomaniacal demands and philandering, his career eclipsing everything else. Dodo wishes she could climb onto the page, become one of her husband's protagonists and cajole him to pay attention to her. After years of marriage, Alfred casts Dodo out of the family home after taking up with a mistress, publicly shaming her, and admonishing their children not to visit her. After Alfred's death, Dodo grapples with the choice of emerging from her self-imposed exile or remaining in seclusion without facing the public who revered him. Arnold's impeccable research paints an entirely different portrait of Dickens than that assumed by readers of his fiction. (July) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
"From very early on in our marriage it seemed as though I could possess only what the world had left behind--the cuffs and coattails of his existence." In this impressive debut, Arnold explores the roles of marriage, motherhood, and celebrity in Victorian England. As the country mourns the passing of beloved writer Alfred Gibson, his wife remains secluded in her home, unwelcome at his funeral. Dorothea Gibson, who once traveled throughout Europe and America as her celebrated husband's muse, now lives the life of a recluse, long estranged from Alfred and most of her adult children. Dorothea begins to reflect on her life with the brilliant and charismatic but undeniably flawed artist and to contemplate the choices that pushed their relationship toward its decline. VERDICT Told in flashbacks, this debut by a middle-aged British social worker takes an intimate, unflinching look at a marriage, one that will leave readers shifting uncomfortably in their chairs even as their eyes remain riveted to the pages. Inspired by the life of Catherine Dickens, it was long-listed for the 2009 Man Booker Prize after its 2008 UK publication. [This was a pick at BookExpo 2009's Librarians' Book Shout and Share program.--Ed.]--Makiia Lucier, Moscow, ID Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
"Arnold's knowledge of Dickens is impeccable, and she uses fiction
to give Mrs. D. what she never had-a chance to interview her
husband's mistress and reclaim her beloved children. Beautifully
written, entirely satisfying."
--The Times (London)
"A fine work of imagination and compassion that offers up other
ways for us to understand a popular genius and those who loved
--Telegraph "Fabulously indulgent . . . a lovely, rich evocation of the period that rises above the faintly damning 'historical fiction' label with its complex characterization and silky prose. A neat rendering of a celebrity marriage with all the pressure and expectation that courting fame invites."
--The Observer "A fascinating portrait of a Victorian woman in the near-impossible position of maintaining a sense of self while married to a famous, difficult, and wildly charismatic genius."
--Metro "With his manic energy and flamboyant waistcoats, Gibson is a Dickensian character-and no wonder, for Arnold's inspiration for her wholly absorbing novel lies in the complex married life of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine."
--Daily Mail "I could not put down this compelling and beautifully written novel. A young girl falls wildly in love with a brilliant, sensual writer. As the years pass, he becomes a genius adored by all Victorian England though in his personal life he turns against her, banishing her from him and their children when he falls in love with someone younger. Slowly she calls upon the greater power of ordinary real love in the face of genius and moves forward to take back her life. I cheered for her on every page of this deeply touching story."
--Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart
"Arnold paints a vivid picture of the breakdown of a marriage, the selfish demands of creativity, the suffocating confines of Victorian society, and the complex bonds between men and women. Her compassion for all of her characters, no matter how flawed or unsympathetic, makes for utterly compelling reading."
--Elizabeth Hickey, author of The Wayward Muse