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.