September 1, 2013
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
First published: 1865
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I was reading Wives and Daughters through the whole summer along with Unputdownables read-a-long. Not many people survived until the end, because the book is over 700 pages long and drags a bit in the middle, but I'm happy I read it to the end, because what happens on the last 150-200 pages is simply amazing. This is my first Gaskell, and I'm sure it will not be the last!
The novel tells about Molly Gibson, a straightforward, good girl, brought up by her father, a country doctor, alone, following her mother's death. Molly and her father have a wonderful trusting relationship, and are very happy together, until one day Mr. Gibson intercepts a letter from his student to Molly and realizes that she is already in an interesting age, and it's dangerous to leave her without a mother. So he marries again to Mrs. Kirkpatrick, also a widow, and with a daughter of Molly's age. The only problem is that the two families are so different in their moral principles and ways of life, that their new life together is bound to become... interesting.
But the reader not only has one house to peep into, the whole town of Hollingford is inhabited with curious characters, who constitute the social life of the Gibsons. There are the reach Cumnors in the Towers, who is looked up to by everybody and answer it with shameless interference in the private life of the townspeople. There is an old family at Hamley hall: squire Hamley, being a strict and harsh master and father, his weak and refined wife and his two sons, so different and sometimes troublesome to him. There is a wide variety of townspeople spending their days gossiping, playing cards in the evening, making visits and going to a local ball once in three years. And all this is written with such skill and loving care, that Hollingford becomes frightfully real for the reader.
What I liked most in the book is the characters. Molly is a darling, and her father is the best father ever, so it's easy to love them, but it is amazing how well Gaskell writes negative characters. The new Mrs. Gibson is such a wonderful hypocrite and schemer, who is always thinking only about herself, but pretends to be caring and helpful, that I wanted to kick her hard for the whole book, and I like it when I feel strongly about the characters. Her daughter Cynthia is also remarkable for her thoughtless flirtations, lack of character and down-to-earth view of the future.
For those who like good adaptations, I'd recommend watching 1999 BBC mini-series called Wives and Daughters, which is very close to the book and have a wonderful cast.
In my book:
It's an intricate and complex book in the best traditions of a 19th century novel. Gaskell writes masterfully, and although a bit too long in some places, the novel is a wonderful and unforgettable read.