Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (Book Review 4)

“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)

Crystal_Palace_-_Queen_Victoria_opens_the_Great_ExhibitionQuestioning 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.

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Wong Sarah

Making reading the essential part of my life

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