Lesley's Reviews > Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
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Aug 30, 09

Read in August, 2009

Lesser Austen, better than Barbara Cartland.

If you've ever wondered how the Bennett sisters' daughters might have turned out, you may find this interesting. Although written in 1866, it is set 30 years earlier, in a time when Austen's universe of landed gentry was undergoing serious challenges from industrialization, scientific discovery, and social mobility.All are themes in the novel, which centers around a brilliant Scottish physician who marries a dim-witted, self-absorbed ex governess and social climber. Dr Gibson is admired by the local gentry for his intellect and integrity, but his imprudent marriage has disastrous consequences for his daughter Molly,who is saddled with a highly unsuitable stepmother. However, Molly's love for her flighty stepsister Cynthia ultimately redeems them all, and her selfless devotion to the dilettetantish aristocrats, gruff landowners, and querulous maiden ladies in her neighborhood wins all hearts...especially that of Roger, the local squire's unexpectedly brilliant son.

Wives and Daughters will often remind you of other, better novels, (the tart relationship between Dr and Mrs Gibson echoes Mr. and Mrs Bennett, and the brooding, dissipated Osborne is pure Bronte), and I do wish Molly and Cynthia didn't weep quite so often.Yet I can't recall any other such novels where two of the heroes are men of science, or where the various social classes are presented with such clarity and overall sympathy. While not a great novel, the large well-drawn cast of characters and winning heroine makes this a worthwhile read.
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Anne I agree. I loved the people in this novel--cringeworthy Mrs. Gibson, the good old squire, mysterious Cynthia, Mrs. Goodenough, Lady Harriet, both Hamley boys, and Molly herself, getting pushed to the side by her father's marriage and her stunning stepsister. Not a whole lot happened, but it was beautifully drawn. I felt the same way about Cranford.


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