Jane's Reviews > Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
2679341
's review
Mar 20, 12

bookshelves: fiction, victorians-challenge
Read from March 08 to 20, 2012

Where I got the book: free on the Kindle. Although I think I should pick up an annotated edition one of these days.

It's not often I finish a book with a big smile on my face, despite the teasing ending (which had me seriously worried that my free Kindle version had something missing, but then I decided it was entirely consistent with the story). Update: Thanks to more informed friends, I now know that Mrs. Gaskell died before finishing the book, which is the biggest bummer I can possibly think of for a writer.

This was my first Mrs. Gaskell and I'm now wondering, where has she been all my life? I think I learned more about the social mores of small-town England in the early 19th century (1830s according to Wikipedia) than I would have done from any number of history books. Mrs. Gaskell paints her details with a fine brush, wrapped up in an entertaining story with an undercurrent of wry humor.

The narrative, for those who need reminding, tells the story of Molly Gibson, the daughter of the doctor in the aforesaid small town (or possibly large village). What's interesting to me is that the Gibsons, being of the professional class, occupy a kind of social gray area between the ordinary folk of the village and both the nobility, represented by the Earl of Cumnor's family, and the gentry, represented by the Hamleys. Not to forget a new class of Victorian gentleman ready to risk all in the name of exploration and Empire, given shape in Roger Hamley the squire's son. This means that Molly manages to achieve a degree of social mobility that would definitely have been quite startling at the time.

To drive home the point, Mr. (never Dr.) Gibson goes and marries a shallow, self-centered social climber with the wonderful name of Hyacinth (Bucket, anyone?) who brings along her daughter Cynthia. We then have a family split neatly down the middle between the honest, traditional values of Olde England and the nouveau riche pretensions of an up-and-coming class who see the established gentry as a target for marriage (if only they have money to back up their good name).

A nicely complicated plot ensues, with romance, secrets, scandals, and reconciliations. Really great stuff. I felt as if I should have been annoyed at Molly and Roger for being perfect to the point of saintly and the Embodiment of Honest English Virtues, but somehow I never was and found myself cheering them both on.

18 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Wives and Daughters.
sign in »

Reading Progress

03/08/2012 page 27
4.0% "All pages approximate as I'm on my Kindle."
03/09/2012 page 95
14.0% "Such a gentle, genteel story. How different life was when you didn't have to shop, prepare meals or clean your house!"
03/10/2012 page 176
26.0% "I'm really enjoying Mrs. Gaskell's careful observation of social standing. She's more informative than a history textbook!" 1 comment
03/12/2012 page 265
39.0% "I love the way Mrs. G. brings the servants and their feelings into the story. I'm in the story of the Hamley family after the loss of the mother now, and enjoy how the servants' morale matters almost as much as the family's."
03/14/2012 page 393
58.0% "The plot is thickening in very gratifying ways...most enjoyable. Really must read more Gaskell."
03/17/2012 page 502
74.0% "So now C's Big Secret (which I guessed a couple of hundred pages back) is out, but Mrs. G. goes to great lengths to make sure we understand she is not a bad person, it's just that she was not given the appropriate parental guidance. The villain of the piece is, of course, the ghastly Hyacinth."
03/18/2012 page 611
90.0% "It's striking how important a woman's character was to her. I think Mrs. G. Is unequalled for portraying the hidden details of women' s lives."

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Kate Hi, Jane. I "met" you via Paul's commentary and I very much liked your comments on religion. Delightful that you were named after Miss Eyre-- and I'm happy for you that you're reading "Wives and Daughters." It's great-- even surpasses Jane Austen, I think. More Gaskell is a fine plan.


Jane Hi Kate. Happy to see you again! Yes, Mrs. Gaskell is a revelation to me and I don't know why I never read her before. I'm looking forward to seeing what else this group gets me into reading.


message 3: by Misfit (new) - added it

Misfit I loved this book, unfinished or not. I also love Gaskell, she is so readable. You might like Margaret Oliphant as well, although you won't find as much on kindle just yet. Miss Marjorie Banks is great fun. Hester isn't exactly action packed, but I love her view of society and social mores.


Jane Oh, so it was literally unfinished...just read the Wikipedia article again. This is where a critical edition comes in handy; the Kindle falls down when it comes to texts that benefit from an explanatory footnote or seven.

I must watch the BBC version now - apparently they wrote in a happy ending, but I can forgive the BBC almost anything.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Be sure to add Gaskell's North and South to your tbr list, and then watch the BBC production with Richard Armitage. Or, just watch the BBC production, and then read the book (that's what I did.)


Petra X My favourite Mrs. Gaskell is Mary Barton but I loved Wives and Daughters almost as much. I watched a bit of Cranford on tv, but the book was so, so much better than the show I gave up on it. I wo0uld like to see Wives and Daughters on the tv though.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways May I recommend North and South as a next read?


B0nnie Petra X wrote: "My favourite Mrs. Gaskell is Mary Barton but I loved Wives and Daughters almost as much. I watched a bit of Cranford on tv, but the book was so, so much better than the show I gave up on it. I wo..."
I loved Mary Barton too. I guess I'd better read Wives and Daughters...


message 9: by Misfit (new) - added it

Misfit Jane wrote: "Oh, so it was literally unfinished...just read the Wikipedia article again. This is where a critical edition comes in handy; the Kindle falls down when it comes to texts that benefit from an explan..."

That's how I understood it. The version I had did have a lot of info on it, plus something from her personal notes as to how she might have finished it. I think, it has been a few years and memory fails.


message 10: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Nice review, Jane. I have this book on Mt TBR and plan to read it soon. I listened to a wonderful audiobook of North and South last year. It's a fab novel!


message 11: by Hana (new) - added it

Hana “Did I ever say an engagement was an elephant, madam?”

Any book that could include the above sentence deserves to be read at once!


back to top