Saturday, January 23, 2021

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (novel #171)

…he had got an idea that all young men were wolves in chase of his one ewe-lamb. ~ Mr. Gibson, Molly’s father

 

I did not know until I finished the last chapter, that this is an Unfinished Novel. That turned out to be a happy oversight. I might not have read it, had I known, but I ended up liking it in spite of the lack of complete closure. 

 

Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly when the novel was nearly complete; some speculate there was but one chapter remaining. My disappointment at the “unfinished” aspect was minimal for two factors: Gaskell’s publisher revealed the intended ending that she had apparently confided to him; and more importantly, Gaskell had already tied off the minor loose ends, and only the major dilemma remained. It was clear where Gaskell was heading, so all that is missing is her artful narrative of the happy outcome the reader is hoping for (confirmed by the publisher).

 

Wives and Daughters is a Victorian era novel about Molly Gibson, the only daughter of a widowed country doctor. In many ways, it is a typical of Victorian Romance with gossip, intrigue, misalliances, jilted lovers, hopeless love, heroes and villains. But Gaskell sets her story apart with characters who are just a half shade off what we might expect. The villain, is himself a wronged man, the fickle, beautiful flirt has a heart of gold, the stepmother has genuine affection for her stepdaughter, and the nobility are indeed, at times, noble. Even the Whigs of Cumnor Towers, and the Tories of Hamley Hall, manage to find common ground (impossible today, I know). 

 

As example: One of my favorite characters, though a minor role, Lady Harriet, daughter of Lord and Lady Cumnor – the ranking family of the county. Lady Harriet seems to wink at her family’s airs, playfully provokes her kind but officious mother, takes a liking to Molly and champions her cause when occasion arises without destroying anyone in the process.

 

This was my first time reading Elizabeth Gaskell. I’ll definitely read more, and of course since this was her final work, anything else I read should be finished. What did you think? Do you find Gaskell more or less, like Austen, Brontës, Thackeray, Eliot, etc?

 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


 

This novel satisfies A 19thCentury classic for the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge.


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15 comments:

  1. This is on my TBR shelves, as I really enjoy Gaskell's North and South. I think she's like a less-satirical Austen, so more like Eliot?

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  2. Gaskell is one of my favourite writers. My favourite of hers is Ruth because of the aspects of forgiveness and redemption in it. But all her works are good and I think Wives and Daughters is the only one I haven't read yet ...?? Oh no, wait! I haven't read Mary Barton either which I hope to remedy this year. I would agree with Hamlette: Gaskell is more Eliot yet she is not Eliot, if that makes sense. In any case, I look forward to your thoughts on your next Gaskell read!

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    1. You might have persuaded me to make Ruth my next Gaskell. It'll be a while though.

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  3. I haven't read this, BUT I am reading Ruth right now, and I'm happy to say I am really enjoying her storytelling and writing style (which are both very important to me). I guess I'm really happy about it bc I read North and South some time ago, and I did not care for it. It was kinda long winded and slow in some parts. I think I had a problem with the protagonist. I preferred the movie.

    But anyway, if Ruth finishes well, I may be interested in trying Wives and Daughters.

    And to answer your questions, I'm not sure I remember enough (from N&S) to compare or contrast her style w/ Austen or Brontes, etc. Not confidently, anyway.

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    1. And I'll probably read Ruth, for my next Gaskell...well, I'll wait for your review first.

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    2. and yes, my only complaint (except the unfinished part, that she really couldn't help), I thought W&D was longer than necessary.

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  4. I really enjoyed reading her novel, "North and South". I read it after enjoying the BBC production of "North and South" starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. I do believe your daughter also really liked the "North and South" miniseries.

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    1. Yes...my whole family liked North and South.

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  5. Oh, I didn't know that W&D is an unfinished novel!
    North & South was my first Gaskell, which wasn't impressed me much. I heard praises on W&D< and so hope it'd be more of my liking.
    I think she's more like Eliot than Austen or Bronte, but again, I've only read one...

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    1. I wouldn't let the unfinished part stop you. I't very nearly finished.

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  6. It's a beautiful novel, showcasing many aspects of the Victorian era, including the exciting inroads into the world of natural science. As you say, it's such a shame about the end being incomplete, as I would have loved to read the final scenes she had in mind between Molly and Roger. However, we can imagine what it must have been like. Have you seen the mini series? They had a pretty decent go at figuring it out.

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    1. I've got the mini-series on order from the library. Looking forward to it.

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  7. I really want to read Wives and Daughters. Therefore I have not. (Once I read it I will have READ it, which is not as fun as anticipating reading it, SAYS MY BACKWARDS MIND.)

    Meanwhile, you are reading John Adams. *shakes your hand and sweeps off her top hat merrily*

    I own that one just so I can revisit because JOHN AND ABIGAIL.

    *performs a jig*

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    1. You should read W&D. JA is a reread for me. So VERY good. Yes, YES! JA and AA were extraordinary people and a beautiful relationship.

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