SUMMARY (from Goodreads): In Alfred Gibson the fierce energy and brilliance of the most famous of the Victorian novelists is recreated, in a heart-warming story of first love – of a cocky young writer smitten by a pretty girl in a blue dress.
Alfred Gibson's funeral has taken place at Westminster Abbey, and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. Her younger daughter Kitty comforts her, until an invitation for a private audience with Queen Victoria arrives, and she begins to examine her own life more closely. Uncovering the true deviousness and hypnotic power of her celebrity author husband, she'll now need to face her grown-up children – and worse – her redoubtable younger sister, Sissy and the charming actress, Miss Ricketts.
I’m not a Dickens fan as it is – I find him too depressing in a frustrating way, not in a relatable, making-me-sympathise-and-cry way – but Girl in a Blue Dress was recommended by a friend who also lent it to me, so I gave it a shot.
It didn’t make me like Dickens any more, but there were things I liked about it, as well as those I didn’t.
What I liked:
- sort of Victorian-novel-like writing style,
- the presentation of living situations of the middle and the upper-middle classes in the Victorian era,
- Dorothea shaking off her bonds and embracing life again at the end,
- Dorothea becoming more confident and aware of an unequal situation of women in the society and even advocating women’s rights, even though only in the familiar circle, but stating her opinion at last was a big step for her.
What I didn’t like:
- Alfred and the way he treated Dorothea and other women or, actually, all people
- Alfred being such a horrible self-centred man, always managing to spin the story the way it made him look good and everyone else at fault for whatever happened
- Dorothea being so passive and submissive, actually spineless, and worshipping Alfred despite the way he treated her
- and Dorothea blaming solely Miss Ricketts for stealing her man (whereas Miss Ricketts was actually Alfred’s victim herself, which at the end Dorothea recognised)
A little spoiler, perhaps, though not really:
So, among other things Alfred blamed Dorothea for was for how she was pregnant all the time and how they had too many children and that was finally his last excuse to distance himself from her. It filled me with such rage. Like it was all Dorothea’s fault (props to her that she did try to tell him he is just as responsible for that; of curse he didn’t listen to her).
The fact is that Dorothea was mostly ignorant, as it was usual for girls at that time, about how to prevent pregnancy (with whatever means and methods existing at the time), but she did try to inquire about a solution. She even learned about a few possible ways of contraception but couldn’t acquire them on her own, which really represents the powerlessness of women at the time.
However, what angered me greatly, was the sanctimonious attitude of Alfred’s, who, as a worldly man he was, surely had more knowledge about it and ways to ensure them taking precautions, but he chose to not pay any attention to the matter and just simply ascribe it to Dorothea as one more of her shortcomings.
(End of the little spoiler.)
All in all, Girl in a Blue Dress is not an outstanding book, but it has some enjoyable elements and some thought-provoking themes.
RECOMMENDATION: Victorian literature and Dickens lovers would probably like Girl in a Blue Dress.