Wives and Daughters (Wordsworth Classics)
ISBN: 1840224169 Global Overview for this book
2 journalers for this copy...
Wives and Daughters, while written on a wholly different scale, deals with some of the same issues of small town people having to deal with insidious social and economic change.
The Hamleys, representatives of an ancient and traditional England and its social order, are dealing with the remorseless decline in their wealth and social position while the Cumnors, a family recently ennobled but of obscure origin, represent the rise of the new aristocracy.
Forces of conservatism (Hamley's insistence that his wife give up all her own interests after their marriage and Dr Gibson's view that girls should not be educated) are ranged against those of progress and change (Roger Hamley's rise to prominence through science, assisted by young Lord Cumnor); and snobbery and social ambition, in the form of the second Mrs Gibson, formerly governess to the Cumnor children and already once married and widowed, permeates the novel, adding to the lighthearted and gently comic atmosphere.
The novel is essentially an exploration of various relationships and their effects on each other: Dr Gibson and Molly, Dr Gibson and his second wife, and Mrs Gibson and Molly; the effect of the idle, charming but passively flirtatious Cynthia on and her relationships with each of them, particularly her appalling mother; Squire Hamley's relationships with each of his sons, and their relationships with their invalid mother; Molly's relationships with the gossipy spinster sisters, the Miss Brownings; Molly's and Mrs Gibson's relationships with the Cumnor family. At the same time it is a study of a rural society which has emerged from the upheavals and uncertainties of the Napoleonic wars and now finds it must find a response to the social and economic changes set in motion by the industrial revolution.
I seem to have said much about the novel but little about its central character and heroine - Molly. Molly is a complex character, and in many ways a foreshadowing of the changes in the status of women which will occur in the next couple of generations. Although denied any meaningful education due to her father's conservatism towards women, Molly has an enquiring mind and spirit which struggles to express itself given all the social restrictions placed upon it. Hers is the forced passivity of the girl or woman in a society in which women were expected to be passive in all but household matters and not entirely free to act even there. Despite this, there are times when she comes across to the modern reader as too sweet, obliging and perfect, even priggish, even when her circumstances are taken into consideration.
This has been a satisfying and leisurely read, one in which to immerse oneself and take one's time over. Gaskell's North and South and Mary Barton are both already on my bookshelf awaiting attention.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Left in the ladies' loos.