Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Girl In A Blue Dress; Catherine Dickens

I spent a good many years reading mostly biographies. I wanted to find a common thread that would tell me what it was about the average joe or jane that gave them that 'umph,' that itch, that fortitude to stick with it, to push forward and gain fame (not necessarily fortune), to go down for all of history as the best of the best.

I'm not going to bother too much with the likes of such as Doris Duke because she and others like her received notoriety only because of the family into which they were born; I want to know more about the person who was born to a middle or lower class and who strove and who achieved greatness. Lets start with literary giants..Faulkner. Carson McCullers. Margaret Mitchell. And more modern writers..Updike. Styron. Capote. Garcia Marquez. And poets--Sexton. Plath. Ted Hughes. Millay. These are just some of the writers whose bios I have read.

Now I am just beginning to read a book called 'Girl in a Blue Dress' by Gaynor Arnold.

Over the last couple of years there has appeared on the scene a rather new genre, or at least one that is new to me, referred to as the 'true novel.' This strikes me as peculiar and I find it irritating because those two words are diametrically opposed. I first came across it when I read Jeannette Walls last book, 'Half Broke Horses,' amd now, here it is again. Ive determined what this means; it means conversations were included that are totally made up, tho the circumstances surrounding those conversations did, in all probability, exist. Now that I've straightened out that bit of business, lets get back to 'Girl in A Blue Dress.'

This is the loosely disguised story of Catherine Dickens, first wife to Charles. The book calls them Alfred and Dorothea Gibson. (As a little aside, I am not happy that Arnold has rechristened Catherine as Dorothea; Dorothea is the name of one of my favorite characters in all of literature, Dorothea Brooke, from George Eliot's 'Middlemarch.)
Dickens was not kind to Catherine; he scorned her for giving birth to each of his kids ..even tho he did have a part in that too.. and kicked her to the curb after she stuck with him through the lean years, only to be forgotten when he became famous and took up with this young actress named Ellen.

In short, Dickens was an ass.

But, boy, the man could write.

Catherine (Dorothea) had a special burden that only a few women have ever carried; she was deeply in love with a man who treated her badly but who was adored by most of the world.

Charles Dickens

Catherine Dickens

Ellen Ternan

'Girl in A Blue Dress' was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008.


  1. Lot's of good writers are asses, or seem to be, but have good points if you are close to them.

    If you want to read a good biography I'd like to suggest EINSTEIN, HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE. By Walter Isaacson.

    Heavy books like that is what I read.

  2. Hi Billy, yes, I read it when it first came out. In fact, I own a hardcover version of it.

    I think a lot of brilliant people act like asses. Its like they believe fame and talent excuse a lack of social grace.

  3. I think a lot of brilliant people act like asses. Its like they believe fame and talent excuse a lack of social grace.

    Oh come on, Einstein had a hell of a lot of class and social grace in public, he did enjoy insulting closer friends though but they wuz smart enough to face the challenge and not always be offended by it. And he could take it also.

    My version is a hard cover also, but I didn't buy it, a friend gave it to me because he recognizes that I'm as complex as he was. I'll never gain his fame but I don't care about that.

  4. The idiots that bug me are the ones in the entertainment fields that think they are special and should be treated as such.

  5. Oh yes, I agree, Billy. Thats why I didn't include them in my post. And to be honest, I don't even know who most of the celebrities are who get written up in the tabloids.

    One of my favorite Einstein stories is about a beautiful actress who went up to Einstein at a dinner party and told him they should marry because with his brains and her looks, their children would be outstanding. He asked her, "But what if they get my looks and your brains?" :)

  6. A friend of mine has long said 'Treat em mean and keep em keen'.

    I disagree...but that's just me.

    Apparently it worked for old Charlie eh?

    (If I behaved like that to Carol I wouldn't be blogging. I'd be dead)

  7. From what I'm reading, think 'Charliemania.' He was ADORED by the world. Know who Catherine reminds me of? Cynthia Lennon, John's wife pre-Yoko. Oh that reminds me; I HAVE read bios of celebrities..the Beatles, Bette Davis, Eric Clapton (his new autobio which was, surprisingly, very good.) and a few others.

    My first husband was absolutely brilliant and a writer for UPI and AP. And he was an ass too.

  8. "But what if they get my looks and your brains?"

    Ha ha ha ha, and I thought I'd seen everything he had said.

    Hey, have you read Surly You're Joking Mr. Feynman? It's a great book, I suppose you know of him, one of our last great thinkers.

  9. It's my favorite Einstein quote. LOL

    No I haven't read that, Billy, but I'll look it up at the bookstore in the morning. Thasnks for the reco.


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