Wives and Daughters (Wordsworth Classics)

by Elizabeth Gaskell, Dinny Thorold | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 1840224169 Global Overview for this book
Registered by Fellraven of Redditch, Worcestershire United Kingdom on 8/28/2005
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2 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by Fellraven from Redditch, Worcestershire United Kingdom on Sunday, August 28, 2005
Wordsworth Editions are cheap enough at the best of times at £1.50 each, but this was even cheaper - half price as the spine is slightly damaged. I only know Elizabeth Gaskell so far through her ghost stories so I thought it about time to give her novels a try.

Journal Entry 2 by Fellraven from Redditch, Worcestershire United Kingdom on Friday, March 21, 2008
My only previous experience of Gaskell's work, other than a couple of short ghost stories, was her short novel Cranford set in a small fictional town in Cheshire amid small-town people trying to keep up appearances in the face of encroaching and genteel poverty.

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.

Journal Entry 3 by Fellraven at The Winter Gardens in Harrogate, North Yorkshire United Kingdom on Saturday, March 22, 2008

Released 13 yrs ago (3/22/2008 UTC) at The Winter Gardens in Harrogate, North Yorkshire United Kingdom

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Left in the ladies' loos.

Journal Entry 4 by MeganBa from Bristol, not specified not specified on Monday, March 24, 2008
I found the book in the ladies toilets of Wetherspoons in Harrogate with a little pink post-it-note which said 'free book'. I haven't read it yet, but when I am finished I will place it in my favourite eatery in Bristol where several books are already stored on the shelves

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