This is what I like about reading short stories as readers, like me, would have garden-like interpretations concerning the plots and the messages conveyed within.
There are five stories included herein: 1) One Checker Game; 2)The End of the Month; 3) The Bridge; 4) Not Guilty; and 5) Purple Haze. Some takes me more time to digest it because they quite nebulous and confused to me at first, some are provocative and overwhelming at once. I especially like the stories of One Checker Game, and The End of the Month. The former being the clever one, after experience the losing of a game, the protagonist gains an opponent; as regards the latter one, the man’s wasted life in reality is made complete through his illusory art and imagery in the extremity of the journey of hell,
The reality of the world could wait a few more hours until I would once again embark on my never-ending journey through hell on earth.
As the introduction has expounded, this book contains stories which projected by both sides of a coin through the same events that the characters would have gone through. It is quite enriching and inspirational in such ways.
“Many’s the poor devil whose life has been ruined because some women has, refused to marry him. Women have all the ‘power’ there, Dorothea. All the power of yea and nay.” – Michael O’Rourke (John Forster)
Questioning women’s status is the part I favour the most. Some lines are strong and intentional, and it is interesting to note that even the invincible Queen Victoria would dovetail with the commoners to be the fair weaker sex, and being submissive and paying all due respects to her Prince Consort.
“But does it not strike you as unfair, ma’am, that a simple question of one’s sex should condemn one for ever to a particular sphere? Your Majesty, so active and busy. You do not have to be satisfied with domestic matters alone.”
“Oh, we would willingly cede all matters of state to be a simple housewife in a crofter’s cottage!”…”But women’s true nature is not suited to high office. We are too much at the mercy of our feelings. Men, we find, have more concentration and are better able to think without the constraints of emotion….whether she be Queen or commoner, is that of wife and mother.”
“The Prince Consort met with the very same when he proposed the Great Exhibition. But, like your husband, the Prince would not be dissuaded. He was determined. And what a success that proved to be!”….
“Such dear people from all over the Empire! So many of our loyal subjects bringing so many wonderful artifacts! And the Crystal Palace itself! Was there ever such a structure?” Her voice breaks. She has tears in her eyes, and I realise she does not want to hear Alfred anymore. She wants to talk about her own husband…I nod while she expounds on the Prince’s achievements, his patience under travail, his devotion to his family.
After the conversations and meeting with Queen Victoria, Sissy, and Miss Ricketts as well as reflecting their situations with hers, Dorothea reached the equanimity of her own – all surrounding her are caged with the expectations of inherent values and not being able to reach beyond their true self. There was an observation deluged with her mind. Was there anything she could do to purge these rooted ideas?
“One little moment of power, very early on when we hardly know how to exercise it. But once we are married…well, we can’t say yes or no then, can we?”
This novel, is one of the most interesting novels I have read. I have some disappointments in the rearranging and omitting of the factual information on Dickens’s life concerning his family and social circles in author’s reinterpretations: the encounter of Alfred and Miss Ricketts (Dickens and Nelly Ternan), the inaccuracies in marriage of Kitty (no mentioning of Charles Allston Collins and Edward Perugini, but being replaced with a fearful profligate spender), and the omission of Wilkie Collins.
On the other hand, the essence and emotion of each character is captured well and transmitted perfectly on the page, and all the reasons is made more ostentatious, implicit and succinct: the forever-preoccupation of Dickens’s mind, the lassitude and indisposition of Catherine Dickens in anticipation, abandonment, hostility and separation with her husband in undeserving treatment, the questioning of social status in women (of all classes), it seems as if all characters come to life, especially the protagonist, Catherine Dickens, in giving her a name of justification and speculative confession, sprinkling with the finale of reconciliation and connection back to her own true self.
“Where another fellow would fall into a footbath of action or emotion, you fall into a mine. Where any other fellow would be a painted butterfly, you are a fiery dragon. Where another man would stake a sixpence, you stake your existence. If you were to go up in a balloon, you would make for Heaven; and if you were to dive into the depths of the earth, nothing short of the other place would content you.”- Wilkie Collins
Miss Ricketts (Nelly Ternan) met Alfred Gibson (Charles Dickens) in 1857. The foundation of love had already shambled between Dorothea (Catherine) and Alfred during that time: incompatibilities in temperament, battalion of children being too overwhelmed to be looked after, and indisposition to be a domestic goodness, in Alfred’s opinion, to say the least.
Incongruous with the biographies which usually depict the first encounter between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens through the playing of The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins on stage in Manchester, where there’s not much interaction on the characters they played; Miss Ricketts and Alfred met each other when performing Lord Royston. Miss Ricketts played Alma, and Alfred, in this case, was Lord Royston.
“Lord Royston loves Alma more than life itself, but in a fit of madness he casts her aside. However, she remains faithful and true to him, and at the end they reunited. Even through he is dying – shot through the heart – he is able to take her in his arms and beg forgiveness.”…
“He took his cues so naturally – speaking so fast and with such passion…Then, at the very end, when he had to die in my arms, he held me with such desperate force and looked at me with such intensity that I could not remember a single line of my response. Tears poured from my eyes, while all the cast stood dumbly around…” (I suppose Lord Royston is actually Dombey and Son?)
Here, the author of this novel, Gaynor Arnold plays a clever trick. She re-creates a similar scene as The Frozen Deep; Alfred was still the one giving out interactions as in Dickens with the heroine; whereas that princess, who was supposed to be the younger sister of Nelly Ternan (Maria), was replaced by Miss Ricketts. Besides, Gaynor amends the death of Miss Ricketts’s father who kicked the bucket a year ago (Nelly Ternan’s one passed away while she was 9) – resorting their relationship more conceivable / excusable? Moreover, the story is designated to be told in the form of a meeting shared by Miss Ricketts and Dorothea, and Gaynor Arnold makes it nebulous whether their relationship was of a platonic love of not.
(Dickens’s letter to Miss Coutts praising the unexceptional skills of Maria Ternan) – “I never saw anything like the distress and agitation of her face…it had a natural emotion in it which was quite a study of expression…the tears streamed out of her eyes into his mouth, down his beard, all over his rags – down his arms as he held her by the hair… at the same time she sobbed as if she were breaking her heart, and was quite convulsed with grief.”
Their romance kindled as exactly in the case of a paternal complex; and Miss Ricketts, in a meeting with Dorothea, stated the agitation in admiration of his talents as an actress, and entrapment of falling into Alfred’s passion and kindness in assisting her family financially. To my disappointment, not a single word of Staplehurst Rail Crash was exchanged.
Alfred confiding this secret of the affair and the status of his marriage to Michael O’Rourke (John Forster) – “He still maintained that I was in some ways the happier man because the ‘gilt of romance’ had never been rubber off my particular piece of gingerbread by the ‘slow attrition of dispute and disagreement.”
After the conversation, Dorothea tended to acquiesce the similarities of situation both she and Ricketts shared. There was restriction of freedom, the pretending and stricken consolation to the anticipation of reunion with Alfred after long hours of solitude (no matter Dorothea’s case, abandonment or not); most importantly, in the protection of Alfred to be prevailed against a sullied state to the public, they were admittedly bullied in their circumstances.
“Despise me by all means. But don’t envy me. To know his love and then lose it is a terrible thing: total darkness when one has been used to the brightest of light.”
“Lottie (Frances Dickens) a bright robin, Dorothea a gentle turtle-dove. The differences between them at first seemed immaterial, if not delightful; but later, when household chaos threatened to overwhelm us, I found myself wishing that the robin would deign to scuttle about and guide the turtle-dove a little in some active management of her duties…” – Alfred Gibson
Apart from the incompatibilities and different temperament which led to the downfall in the marriage of Alfred and Dorothea, and separation in 1858 (same year as The Great Stink – effluent discharged to The Thames making it reek in miasma), another grave matter, besides, was the powerlessness of women at the time. Here, as In Dorothea’s case, since the beginning of their marriage, it was her smattering of domestic management which embittered Alfred, whose opinion was that it was essential qualities while he busied in assiduous work and research and bemused the public. Later on, with agony of a house inundated with battalion of children conceived by Dorothea and the arrival of the younger sister Sissy’s (Georgia Hogarth) ministrations to the household, their relationship resulted in a breakdown and came to an irrevocably painstaking separation. Dorothea left Park House (Tavistock House) in 1860 and moved on living on her own, whilst the children were left in Alfred’s custody and Sissy’s care.
Although this novel does not mention the set-up of partition wall ordered by Alfred (Dickens) to the servants, it is still exceedingly poignant in showing the indisposed Dorothea’s powerlessness to the situation and the deprivation of freedom, feelings, and control of her life, so was left in a claustrophobic environment on her own. The relationship and reunion with Sissy with her arrival at Park House with the expectations of rapprochement only aggravated in encroachment. The affection and happiness she longed for when marrying Alfred led to misery, incompatibility and dishonesty.
So ironic comparing with the lines back to the beginning of Dorothea’s first encounter with Alfred, when the description of herself was given in the first chapters, “I was a blue silk Rapunzel locked up in my Chiswick Tower.” And now it would be that “on an instant of bedding their brides had become transformed into veritable Bluebeard.”
“I lay there alone in the cold, waiting for him – for the sound of the door opening, the weight and warmth of him as he dipped in beside me. That night and every other, I waited for him. But he never slept with me again.”
Having read Affinityby Sarah Waters, which mainly depicts the social conditions of Millbank Prison as well as the physical incarceration of women in the nineteenth century, I come across with another Neo-Victorian novel named Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold and experience a poignant heroine rapt with mental afflictions and anguish in living with her husband who is surrounded by huge success, fame, and much-loved admiration from the public. His name is widely known as Alfred Gibson, or Charles Dickens, whom this novel is largely based on. The heroine, Dorothea Millar, while overcoming Alfred’s death and seeking re-connection and reconciliation with new life, she finds herself being indulged with reminiscences of their first romantic encounter to incompatibilities and an inevitable and notorious separation.
“The One and Only. Yours Truly. The Great Original.”
The novel opens with the ending of Alfred’s life in 1870. Great details of the procession and mourning of the public during the funeral were recalled by their eldest daughter, Kitty. “There were shuffling, sighing, and doffing of hats. In Piccadilly, they actually pelted the carriages with flowers, at the corners of Pall-Mall they chanted his name and pressed his books to their hearts as if they were holy icons.” No means were to placate the public on this day, he had breathed and thrived with the Law and Life of England. He was the veritable man, being omnipresent in every spectrum around the Country, receiving unsullied and impeccable accreditation constructed by himself to the public.
“You would quench my light. You would silence my voice. You would claw me down to the commonplace.” – Alfred Gibson
Nevertheless, concerning his private life and home truths, it could be in no way unsullied. It was gravely experienced by his wife Dorothea, in this case their marriage which was once a primrose path ended in ruined roads of perdition. There were much to be pondered upon and contributed to the separation and hostility. First of all, it could be a matter of the incompatibility of the temperament between Alfred and Dorothea as they both admitted and stated publicly and personally. “Up until then I’d believed my Mama when she said that a sensible disposition was worth its weight in gold, but now I wished I were possessed of more fascinating arts.” In fact it could be crucial matters, as the difference in character and disposition would lead to jealousy and suspicion of feeling neglected, as a result, it was engraved in Dorothea’s mind while her husband was gregarious and belated with enjoyment of the world, the work and company of society, humankind and arts.
For instance, for the love of humankind and purity of the other sex, Alfred developed an emotion of fondness of Alice, the younger sister of Dorothea, once she moved to Channon Street (Doughty Street) when he and Dorothea were still newlyweds. After her unexpected death of fever, he preserved her lock of hair, a ring, and some manuscripts and novels written by himself with pinpricks of notes jotted down by Alice all in a treasure box. Dorothea’s jealousy was aroused but appeased with Alfred’s explanation.
In another case when Alfred grew fascinations with the practice of hypnotism, Dorothea was insinuated of the hours he spent with his ‘patient” Madame Bradt.
“It only took you minutes to cure my headache. Why were you so long with her?”
“Because, my dear wife, her symptoms are more complicated. Her pain is not a simple defects of the nerves. It stems from a kind of hysteria deep within.”
…”You are jealous – and jealousy and mistrust go together. It is mean-spirited. I am disappointed in you.”
Regarding his widely known philanthropy and charity work, Dorothea had another opinion of his diligent devotion to Utopia House (Urania Cottage) which he worked abreast with Amelia Brougham (Angela Burdett-Coutts).
“It was one thing to campaign for women of a certain sort to be brought from their ways, but I did not see why Alfred had to be involved in such detail with their daily lives…He’d come home and stand by the fender and poke the fire, and tell me how he’d encountered some new young inmate called Sal or Annie, as beautiful as though the very Sun of Heaven shone from her eyes.”
Although defeated by the statement and defence of the accusation from Alfred, Dorothea always was not wholly cpnvinced with the explanations at an afterthought, “His vision of the world was so powerful that it occluded any commonplace realities.” (Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion by Peter Ackroyd) It was never known whether Alfred, to her, was implacable or innocuous as in what he had said or done.
(Lord Ickenham, aka Uncle Fred, having conversation with Mr. James Schoonmaker on the subject of lovelorn Lady Constance)
But that way she has of drawing her breath in sharply and looking starry-eyed whenever your name is mentioned is enough to show me how things stand. The impression I received was of a woman wailing for her demon lover. Well, perhaps not actually wailing, but making quite a production number of it. I tell you I’ve seen her clench her hands till the knuckles stood out white under the strain, just because your name happened to come up in the course of conversation. I’m convinced that if you were to try the Ickenham system, you couldn’t fail.