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Wives and Daughters

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Wives and Daughters is a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, first published in the Cornhill Magazine as a serial from August 1864 to January 1866. It was partly written whilst Gaskell was staying with the salon hostess Mary Elizabeth Mohl at her home on the Rue de Bac in Paris. When Mrs Gaskell died suddenly in 1865, it was not quite complete, and the last section was written by Frederick Greenwood.

679 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1866

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About the author

Elizabeth Gaskell

916 books3,300 followers
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson (29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs. Gaskell, was an English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and as such are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature.

Елізабет Гаскелл (Ukrainian)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,004 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
April 11, 2020
This 1865 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, who also wrote the lovely North and South, is a pleasant but rather leisurely and lengthy tale of the personalities that inhabit an English country town in about the 1830's. The novel centers around Molly Gibson, the quiet and somewhat passive, but deeply sensitive, daughter of a widowed country doctor.

We meet Molly and her father when she's an innocent 12 year old girl, about to spend the day visiting the estate of the local gentry, Lord and Lady Cumnor, so excited she can hardly sleep the night before. This visit won't turn out the way young Molly expected. These childhood scenes set the stage and introduce us to many of the characters who will play significant roles later on in the story.

When Molly is a teenager one of her father's medical students, who boards with the Gibsons, falls in love with her. Mr. Gibson intercepts the young man's letter confessing his love and promptly ships Molly off to visit another local family and sends the young man away. But doing that isn't enough to allay Mr. Gibson's concerns, so he turns around and promptly proposes marriage to an attractive local widow (who has a daughter Molly's age), thinking a new mum for Molly is the ticket. It might have been a good idea to get to know her better before proposing. Just sayin'.


Molly's new stepmother will prove a trial in her life (and in Molly's father's life as well, for that matter, although he's better able to deal with the disappointment, mostly by immersing himself further in his medical practice). Molly's new stepsister is much easier to get along with, but she'll also—eventually—end up bringing some serious complications to Molly's life.

The first two-thirds of this novel was mildly enjoyable but didn't really engage me; I set the book aside several times while I read other books, without feeling terribly anxious to get back to it. Molly is sweet and kind and innocent, but I was getting a little impatient and frustrated with her and the people in her life. I seriously thought that I was going to have to rate this book three stars, and all my literary GR friends would be disappointed with me and my lack of taste and discernment and probably unfriend me en masse.

Luckily for me, I really loved the last part of this book, enough to pull the overall rating up to four stars. The characters gradually became very real to me, with their quirks and failings described frankly, but with affectionate humor. Especially Mrs. Gibson, who sets new standards for bird-wittedness and vain self-absorption.
Lady Cumnor: "I was only speaking of the folly of people dressing above their station. — and what must the foolish woman do but begin to justify her own dress, as if I had been accusing her, or even thinking about her at all. Such nonsense! Really, Clare, your husband has spoilt you sadly, if you can't listen to any one without thinking they are alluding to you. People may flatter themselves just as much by thinking that their faults are always present to other people's minds, as if they believe that the world is always contemplating their individual charms and virtues."

"I was told, Lady Cumnor, that this silk was reduced in price. I bought it at Waterloo House after the season was over," said Mrs. Gibson, touching the very handsome gown she wore in deprecation of Lady Cumnor's angry voice, and blundering on to the very source of irritation.

"Again, Clare! How often must I tell you I had no thought of you or your gowns, or whether they cost much or little; your husband has to pay for them, and it is his concern if you spend more on your dress than you ought to do."

"It was only five guineas for the whole dress," pleaded Mrs. Gibson.
The strength of this book is in the keenly observed personalities that inhabit the town of Hollingford and this novel. It was rather slow in parts, but overall an enjoyable coming-of-age tale with a little romance, that explores relationships between family members and friends, and how people can hurt and help each other.

One more warning: Elizabeth Gaskell suddenly died just before finishing this novel, which was being published on a serial basis in a British magazine. There's an afterword by her publisher, explaining what was going to happen in the story, and anyway it's pretty clear where the main relationship is headed, but it still left me with an unsettled feeling—enough that I promptly went off on an online search to see if there's any decent fanfic of that last missing chapter. Sadly, I didn't find any. But watching a YouTube clip of the end of the W&D miniseries helped! Just be mentally ready for it when you read this book; otherwise it's a bit disconcerting.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 2 books2,956 followers
October 25, 2018
[Review on second reading]
I have no words for how much I love this book and how thoroughly impressed I was on this reread. It is an incredible, beautiful, poignant, subtle novel, and an absolute must-read.
[Review on third reading]
I have to say this is fast becoming one of my absolute favourite novels of all time. What a book.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
April 14, 2012
To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl…

Wives and Daughters reads like a fairytale and we are immediately enchanted by its gentle charm. Stepmother, prince, villain, woods, a ball, castle, climbing roses, birds and beasts. It's all there.

However, the stepmother is not evil - just annoying and shallow. The prince is but a squire, the villain merely ungentlemanly. The woods is a friendly lesson in botany, the ball disappointing, the castle entailed, its timber rotting. Roses get tossed into the fire,
'It is Mr. Preston,' said she, in answer to Molly. 'I shall not dance with him; and here go his flowers—'
Into the very middle of the embers, which she immediately stirred down upon the beautiful shrivelling petals as if she wished to annihilate them as soon as possible.
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell spins this long leisurely tale with such attention to detail, characters, and dialogue that you feel transported to another time and place. And bittersweet it is. Death, blackmail, secret promises, undisclosed marriages, politics, scandal, the worry of money are ever present.

Her 'wicked' characters are presented with enough sympathy that you enjoy them as much as the good ones. Take Hyacinth Gibson for example - she corresponds somewhat to Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Austen totally denied all sympathy to tedious Mrs. Bennet, but Gaskell makes sure we see Hyacinth as a person - selfish and shallow - but not uninteresting, and not incapable of sincere kindness.

And the good characters are flawed - sometimes you are not certain to which side they'll land. Or where you'll land, given the exasperating qualities some of them have. There is mystery too given to these people, hints dropped about things that are not revealed by the author.

I am completely in love with Wives and Daughters, so take my 5 stars you pretty little thing.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
530 reviews490 followers
June 5, 2022
Wives and Daughters is Elizabeth Gaskell's final novel which was interrupted in its completion due to the untimely death of the author. However incomplete it may be to the end, I found the book to be a completed work with beautiful writing, an interesting set of characters, and a good storyline. At a time when the "sensational" novels were at the peak of their popularity, Gaskell courageously took to writing this realist story which she called "An Everyday Story".

The story mainly revolves around three families: the Gibsons; the Hamleys; and the aristocratic Cumnors. Family relations are at the root of the story. The father-daughter/step-daughter, father-sons, and mother-daughter/step-daughter relationships are subtly and very touchingly portrayed. There is much warmth and sympathy in Gaskell's writing when she dwells on family relations.

There is also a love story, rather a love triangle between three main characters Roger, Cynthia, and Molly. While Cynthia wins Roge's love and affection at first, this is transferred to Molly when Roger realizes the error of his blind infatuation and discovers to whom his heart truly belongs. The future development of the story of the lovers was interrupted by the untimely demise of the author. But, a possible ending has been outlined by the editor of the Cornhill Magazine, in which the story was serialized, based on notes and an outline that the author has left behind for the unwritten chapters. It is unfortunate that we readers were not privileged to read the ending in her own florid writing.

In addition to family relationships and the love story, the book touches on a wider variety of concepts. The class difference is one. The old Hamley, whose ancestral roots run to a time before the Norman Conquest, views any alliance between his sons and the daughters of Dr. Gibson, a "medical man" with no worthy connection, as unsuitable. Gaskell emphasizes this point by showing that even though the old Hamley considers Molly Gibson almost as a daughter of his own, he dreads a union between her and any one of his sons. The strongly held political allegiance is another. Hamleys are Tories from time immemorial, and the Cumnors are Whigs. There is an interesting political rivalry penned by Gaskell between these two families. When Roger Hamley, a budding scientist was invited to the home of Lord Cumnor, old Hamley forces the son to decline it on the ground that it would be a disregard for family principles to have any intercourse with the Whigs. The extremity of this political rivalry was hilarious. Although these political rivalries and strongly held prejudices on class difference were later relaxed towards the end of the story, it was disturbing to learn the amount of discrimination that prevailed in British Society in the early 19th century.

Also, Gaskell has touched upon general themes such as women's position in society, their education, patriarchal dominance, and social values and conventions. And most interestingly, Gaskell has touched on future scientific developments. Through the character of Roger Hamley, who was said to have been modeled on the famous naturalist and her cousin Charles Darwin, Gaskell eagerly writes about the future scientific developments.

The story and its themes have been explored by Gaskell with the use of a very interesting set of characters. Molly Gibson is the author's heroine. She is strong, courageous, and kind, yet shy and timid. She is the epitome of goodness. There were certain resemblances of her to Margaret Hale in North and South, but Molly was, to me, the better heroine. Her stepsister Cynthia is pretty and charming but selfish, self-centered, and shallow. The author is very sympathetic towards this faulty character and alludes that her faults were due to neglectful parenting. Mrs. Gibson, the second wife of Dr. Gibson is a pretentious and mercenary woman. Her character provided the needed comic relief to the story while old Hamley too contributed to a certain degree. Mr. Gibson provided solidity to the story. Roger Hamley is our hero. He is goodhearted, selfless, and learned. He represents the generation of social, political reform, and scientific evolution, whereas old Hamley represents dying feudalism.

The beauty of this work lies in the story as well as in Gaskell's excellent writing. It is more polished and developed from her early writing days. And surprisingly, her writing is also satirical, which was a new development. Perhaps, Dickens's influence has played a vital role in expanding her writing style.

Wives and Daughters is undoubtedly a brilliant production by Elizabeth Gaskell and it was a sheer pleasure reading it.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
May 11, 2016
Do you like fairy tales? Well Gaskell certainly did:

"To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room - a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o'clock struck, when she wakened of herself 'as sure as clockwork', and left the household very little peace afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was full of sunny warmth and light.”

I do love a good Victorian novel. They’re plot driven and entertaining, sometimes even a little enchanting. They also depict the concerns of the age. At the heart of this a large social transition: the man of art, the man of poetry and romance, is being replaced by the new man of science, the new man of Darwinism and logic. Gaskell’s narrative suggests that the former is a dying breed; he is unsuccessful in the modernising world: he is outdated. Contrastingly, science prospers. Such can be seen with the Hamley brothers. Incidentally, Gaskell was a cousin of Darwin’s, and her acceptance of new thought can be seen: she clearly favours it.

Romance drove the plot forward; it was a powerful depiction of love that endures all the ridiculousness, and all the cunningness, of the other characters. But, it irked me how long it took the pair to realise it. Gaskell makes it painfully obvious to the reader that this pair should be together, and standard storytelling practically dictated that this is how the novel should end. The pair seems to be painfully unaware with what was in front of their faces for most of the story. Though I do suppose that was what Gaskell was going for; she wanted to anger the reader: she wanted to make them shout and rage about how these characters should be together. It annoyed me a little; these could have been together form the start and I wouldn’t have had to read 700+ pages of semi-dry narrative.

“.......he had never known her value, he thought, till now.”


And there’s the rub. (I’ve got to stop inserting Shakespeare quotes into reviews!) The novel was long winded. I mean it’s huge. I do like big novels. Sometimes a story is so long that it needs to be told properly. I get that, and I appreciate that. However, I found this to be awfully drawn out. There were so many scenes in which the characters had repetitive conversations and lamented over the same facts. There were so many parts that just didn’t add to the greater whole of the narrative. The story remained stationary for a long time. The wonderful Jane Austen (give her a round of applause please- she deserves it) can encompass so much more in so fewer words. Persuasion is a quarter of the length of this and that has so much more story than this, but it is told in the way it should be. Gaskell just droned on for much longer than her story was worth. It was a drag.

However, behind the book’s snail pace, drawn out plot, semi-mundane characters and the frustrating romance, there is a real deep exploration of Victorian society. The class systems, the complications, are very well illustrated. The problems of a patriarchal system that demands that women and men must exist in spate spheres are presented. Molly’s farther is taciturn and rigid, but he does, in his overly masculine way, love his daughter. In his naivety- perhaps not the best word, self-imposed restriction will work much better- he marries so his daughter can be taught and guided. He never even entertains the thought that perhaps he, as her farther, could deal with her himself. All she realistically needed was chaperone, he could have taught her himself. Indeed, his wife turns out to be a money grabbing shrew; she is a societal leech, and she almost ruins everything. Not a good match.


So in this, perhaps Gaskell suggests that these silly, silly, divides should be broken. Societies outward image is just something for the vain, things would work much better if men and women were less concerned with their “proper” places in society. This did have strong message, but it took far too many words to say it in even if the suggestions of fairy-tale were rather whimsical at the start.

Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
January 19, 2023
In this beautifully rendered Victorian novel we follow the lives of various characters living in a small English village near London. The language and dialogue is exquisite, moving and often hilarious. I adore Molly and her father. The love and trust between the two of them is thoroughly endearing. Then we have the Hamleys, father and two very different sons who take very different paths in life. The most flawed character is the one who brought humor to the novel. Then there is the self-centered and hypocritical Mrs. Hyacinath Gibson, step-mother to Molly. I don't recall enjoying and laughing so much at the ridiculousness of a character while reading a Victorian novel. She reminds me of many other Victorian characters but Gaskill outdid herself in the portrayal of a woman who was a product of the times in which she lived as well as the specific circumstances of her life. In those times, women had no power but that of their beauty and their charm. For the likes of Mrs. Gibson who strived to be accepted and have her own daughter, Cynthia, marry into the upper classes she believed that ingratiation, self-interest, manipulation and deception were necessary ploys for women, and probably they were within that world of distinct class and gender divisions. Much intrigue and mystery abound for two other characters adding yet another layer of interest to the story. I was so involved with the characters in this novel that it is difficult to leave them and their world behind. I feel sorry for the next book I attempt to read.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
June 20, 2020
2020 reread:

My Jane Austen book group is reading this book, a great excuse for a reread, as it is one of my favorites of all time. I also remain firm in my belief that it is one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. George Elliott certainly thought so--she admitted that this book was the inspiration for her great novel Middlemarch.

I do think that this book is in conversation with Jane Austen on a number of levels, first being that what women thought matters. All kinds of women, whatever their rank, age, or economic status.

On this reread, I noticed how much fun the narrative voice has with small town life whatever the rank. There is so much humor veining the sharp observations of human vagaries, underscoring how much Gaskell's writing had changed.

She always aimed for great things, though her earlier novels (and Dickens scolded her for daring to write beyond the female writer's "natural" sphere of domestic life) are problematical, rife as they are with popular Victorian cliche, such as long deathbed speeches. By this period she had begun to jettison the expected in favor of more subtle observations. The death beds are offstage; what we see is the profoundly realistic emotional drama of the aftermath. Illnesses don't ennoble, and "purity" is ignorance--something the female characters talk about.

This book could as easily have been called "sex lives of wives and daughters" (it would be, today--marketing departments would require it) because there is so much commentary about sex, but in completely g-rated language. And not all of it is done by the young and breathless: there is a telling conversation between some older women "four widows in the room, with six husbands between 'em" after a spinster has left the room upon having delivered a valedictory speech on what ought to be proper courtship.

At heart is Cynthia's trouble, preyed on by an older guy who became obsessed with her when she was fifteen, and she had no idea what she was doing. Gaskell gets into the emotional cost of raising girls to be ignorant, and the tension between society's rules (enforced not just by men but by other women) and communication, psychological insight and experience.

Not a lot happens in this book if you're looking for big ticket drama, but if you enjoy bricolage--the little things that resonate as real--give this a try. Oh, and bonus to Gaskell for a hero who is 100% geek: he's big, awkward, and can't help but yap about science!

Review from 2015 reread:

Great novels really are different books to different readers--and can vary for the same reader as well. But what really struck me when I reached that end was how this novel illustrates, like a nearly physical blow, the different between being told something and being shown. That is, when ‘show’ is done with Gaskell’s extraordinary skill. The reader hits that last chapter, and we’re told by the editor what will happen. We know how everyone ends up. But the effect is still a cold splash of old bathwater after the lingering, fragrant sunshine of the novel because we don’t know how these things will be achieved. The delicate humor, the amazing insight, the interleaved reactions--none of it’s there.

Another observation: how details add brilliance. Just the right details--ones that serve the mood, the mode, that illuminate character. We’ve all encountered writings in which research is stuck in clumps that cause the eye to start skidding down the page. Usually because these dumps of detail are neutral in affect, they don’t serve the story so much as exist parallel to it.

Miss Hornblower was going to travel by railroad for the first time; and Sally was very anxious, and sent her directions for her conduct; one piece of advice was not to sit on the boiler.


. . .looking with admiring eyes at a large miniature set round with pearls, which served as a shield to Miss Phoebe’s breast. ‘It is handsome,’ that lady replied. ‘It is a likeness of my dear mother; Sally has got my father on. The miniatures were both taken at the same time; and just about then my uncle died and left us a legacy of fifty pounds, which we agreed to spend on the setting of our miniatures. But because they are so valuable Sally always keeps them locked up with the best silver, and hides the box somewhere; she will never tell me where, because she says I’ve such weak nerves, and that if a burglar, with a loaded pistol at my head, were to ask me where we kept our plate and jewels, I should be sure to tell him…’

Then there are the wonderful details of psychological observations, in this case through image:

If Molly had not been so entirely loyal to her friend, she might have thought this constant brilliancy a little tiresome when brought into everyday life; it was not the sunshiny rest of a placid lake, it was rather the glitter of the pieces of a broken mirror, which confuses and bewilders.

The second thing that struck me on this reading was just how much Gaskell manages, in a completely g-rated novel centered around the required ‘good’ heroine, to explore the delights and the dangers of sexual attraction.

I’ve often thought that many of the great novels of the nineteenth century are not just examinations of relations between men and women, but dialogues between the great writers on that subject. Trollope, for example, seems determined to prove (parallel to? Or in spite of? the powerful writings of the Brontes and Elliott from the woman's POV) that once a woman falls in love, that’s it. She becomes shopworn goods if she falls out of love, and the acute observer can actually perceive this diminishment. The problem he never quite honestly addresses is that the young woman who has been properly raised in ignorance, excuse me, innocent purity, has no idea what love even is: at best, she might feel the quick flutter of attraction, and the enjoyment of attention. She loves his compliment on her new gown, without any notion that he wants to rip it off of her.

Gaskell, in this book, manages to make it clear for those with the experience to recognize the signals that innocent maidenhood is in fact a danger to the maiden, howevermuch the man likes control. (And he doesn’t always win her, either.) We get hints about Mr Preston being a bit of a rake (he is cruel in his very soul--tigerish, with his beautiful striped skin and relentless heart), having a Past, and his obsession with Cynthia is replete with his promises that if he can get her to wife, he can make her love him. Right. Married readers knew what that meant, even if young readers thought it a pretty sentiment.

Marriages in this novel are made between well-meaning people who have nothing in common, such as the Hamleys’--both wanting to do right by the other, but never understanding them, until one of them dwindles and dies.

This is a theme that Jane Austen explored, and Gaskell picks up. Austen suffices with dry wit and satire; Gaskell uses comedy to wonderful effect, but she writes as a mother, with compassion and insight into both sides.

Molly makes reference to fearing that being good means being like a candle snuffed out; Osborne is bewildered because he married a good woman, one he loves, but he cannot broach the invisible wall of rank to tell his beloved father. The doctor, for all his sharp observation, hooks up with a woman who slowly and relentlessly drives him out of the house with her continuous selfish pettiness; Roger Hamley, the other scientific eye, falls before a pretty face, without ever penetrating behind that pleasing manner until he finds himself dumped.

In this book the cost of ‘innocent purity’ goes both ways, it’s not just females as victims and men as predators. But men have the option of movement and experience on their side; the hemmed in woman does not, so who can blame Lady Harriet for not wanting to risk the comfortable life of a single woman for the dangerous waters of marriage?
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews512 followers
May 11, 2012

Why has it taken me so long to finally read this wonderful novel? I bought the Penguin edition when I was in my 20s, read a page or two, put it down and didn't pick it up again. The book sat on my shelf for years. For all I know, it could be there still. However, after university I went right off Victorian literature and it's only been in the last twelve months or so that I've felt the desire to tackle it again. And now I've fallen in love with Elizabeth Gaskell's writing.

In brief, the novel is set in the English Midlands in the 1830s and focuses on Molly Gibson, who lives in a small town with her widowed father, the local medical practitioner. Concerned to acquire an appropriate chaperone and guide for his teenage daughter, Mr Gibson re-marries the vain, self-absorbed and manipulative Hyacinth Kirkpatrick, who has a teenage daughter of her own, Cynthia. The story of Molly and Cynthia is a tale of love, friendship, secrets and scandal. Central to the narrative are the changes in English society, where class distinctions are slowly becoming blurred.

The best thing about this novel are its characters. There is kind, loving Molly, her sarcastic and undemonstrative but deeply caring father, her truly awful stepmother and the "fascinating, faulty" Cynthia, who is probably the most complex and interesting character in the novel. There is also the aristocratic Cumnor family, the conflicted family of Squire Hamley, and the chorus of ladies from the town. Gaskell breathed life into all of these characters. None are perfect - even the closest to perfect amongst them, Molly and Roger Hamley, demonstrate some flaws. None are mere caricatures, not even Hyacinth, in spite of her her quite breath-taking shallowness and the fact that she is the butt of much of Gaskell's highly-developed sense of irony.

This is a novel with plenty of wit and humour, as well as melodrama and pathos. First published in serial form between August 1864 and January 1866, Gaskell died before the novel was finished. The final section, said to have been written by journalist and editor Frederick Greenwood, explains how Gaskell meant to conclude the final chapter. While it is sad that Gaskell's death left the book unfinished, it's not difficult to see where the narrative was going even without the final section. The excellence of the novel is not diminished by it being unfinished.

I listened to an audiobook edition narrated by Josephine Bailey, who is truly superb. Every character is wonderfully realised, each with a distinct and appropriate voice.

All in all, listening to this novel has been a wonderful experience. I'm looking forward to going back to its world in the not too distant future. And of course, I now have the BBC television adaptation to look forward to.
Profile Image for Lucy Powrie.
Author 5 books5,584 followers
December 19, 2019
Whilst Wives and Daughters isn't my favourite Elizabeth Gaskell, I loved the insight in to 19th century domestic life, especially the customs, relationships and descriptions of rural living.

Our heroine, Molly Gibson, is unassuming and quiet, yet has an inner steely determination and steadfast values that I really appreciated. All the characters, in fact, feel like they have been drawn from life, and I particularly enjoyed the way that Mrs Gibson was characterised - she was highly irritating in places, yet I couldn't help but like her!

I believe I would have felt more positively about Wives and Daughters if the plot had been tighter in places and not so rambling, but I also appreciate that it was published posthumously and so possibly not revised to Gaskell's usual standards.

I'll definitely be revisiting this - especially as it is so revealing about the way in which people lived, which I always love reading about! Give me the mundane details any day; they're always the best.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews301 followers
April 22, 2015

I finished this 700 page book in less than four days, which of course means that by my rating system it's a five star, utterly compulsive read. But now having gulped the whole thing down I'm going back to re-read it at a more sedate, Victorian pace.

How could I not love a book that has lines like these:

“I won't say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn't me!”

“All sorts of thoughts cross one's mind—it depends upon whether one gives them harbour and encouragement”

“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.”

“Your husband this morning! Mine tonight! What do you take him for?'
'A man' smiled Cynthia. 'And therefore, if you won't let me call him changeable, I'll coin a word and call him consolable.”

There are so many terrific reviews of this classic that I doubt I can add much, except to say that I love Elizabeth Gaskell and I nearly cried as I turned that last page knowing it was the abrupt end, not just of an engrossing story filled with complex characters, humor, and thoughtful insights, but also because it was the last thing Mrs. Gaskell wrote--she died before she could pen the final chapter.

April 12 group read here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,550 reviews603 followers
November 2, 2020
[4.5] I am so so sorry to leave the comfort of this marvelous novel. Over the last several days I have become enthralled with Molly Gibson and the fascinatingly flawed characters that surround her. Gaskell captures Molly's world brilliantly. I had hoped the book would carry me through Election Day but I was compelled to listen to it for hours this weekend while cleaning two closets. Of course I wish that Gaskell had lived to finish it - and better yet add a few hundred more pages, but the ending was clear enough for me.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,081 followers
August 6, 2016
¡Me ha gustado muchísimo! Tanto como para convertirse en mi libro preferido de la Gaskell junto con 'Norte y Sur'.
Si conocéis los libros de la autora, diría que esta obra tiene lo mejor de 'Cranford' con lo mejor de 'Norte y Sur', todo junto. Y se nota muchísimo la madurez de la autora en su maravillosa manera de escribir.
En fin, otra novela que pasa a mi sección de predilectos :)
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,625 followers
May 3, 2016
4.5/5 stars.
This book was really really good! I even think it was better than "North & South" by the same author, which seems to be a lot of people's favourite.
What I love the most about this story is the characters which are so distinct and different from each other, but all yet so lovable. I loved how Elizabeth Gaskell has created such a variety of characters that you can't help but love, even though some of them are definitely meant to be annoying and impertinent (a new word that I learned when reading this story). I was rooting for everyone of them, and especially Molly and the Hamley brothers.
I also really like how Elizabeth Gaskell plays with your mind and makes you think that something really bad is going to happen, and then it turns out to be quite exaggerated. While I would have loved for a big twist to set in, I also very much appreciated how the story turned out.
Molly is a little bit too naive and weak at times which is one of the reasons why this book is not a 5-star-read for me, but in the end I can't really put my finger on anything bad about this story. Despite its 766 pages, Gaskell keeps it fresh and entertaining throughout, and I loved it for that!
212 reviews9 followers
October 22, 2008

This is, in every sense of the phrase, the never-ending story.

I had been wanting to see the BBC's film version of this book for years, but never got around to it. In a story too complicated to explain, I was not able to get the video, so decided I'd try to read the book instead.

The book is 60 chapters long. SIXTY. 650 pages. The first two slow chapters made me return the book to the library. But the story kept nagging at me, so a few months later, I tried again. The story definitely becomes more interesting after chapter two.

But about 150 pages into the story, I was finally able to watch the video... and it was wonderful. With 150 pages of reading already invested, I decided I'd keep going. The movie proved that the story was a good one, and I was looking forward to additional information that books always seem to contain.

So on I went. And nearing the last few paragraphs of the sixtieth chapter, I started wondering why the story wasn't anywhere near its finish.

Let "A Note on the Text" from the last pages of the (35 page!!!) introduction speak to this:

"Wives and Daughters was first published in eighteen monthly parts in the Cornhill Magazine from August 1864 to January 1866. The Cornhill publishers, Smith and Elder, issued the novel in two-volume form at the end of serialization, Elizabeth Gaskell having died in 1865, just BEFORE COMPLETING THE STORY." (Emphasis mine.)

The Cornhill editor kindly TELLS the reader of what Gaskell intended to write in the sixty-first and final chapter. But it just isn't the same.

Thank you BBC for just writing the rest of the story into the screenplay.

And AAAARRRRGH! to myself - because if 650 pages isn't enough to qualify something as the never-ending story, the missing sixty-first chapter certainly is.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
January 23, 2021
An absolutely delightful read. The author nails how people behave, back in the 1830s and still now today. Laughing and smiling is not what one expects with a book of realism. It is this in the writing that I find both intriguing and appealing.

The story is about Molly Gibson. She is twelve when the story starts. At the age of three her mother had died and so she had been raised by her loving father, Doctor Gibson of the provincial English town Hollingford. It is about a day’s journey from London. Father and daughter are very close. The father has two medical students boarding in his home. When one of them falls in love with the young, unsuspecting and naïve Molly, Dr. Gibson sends his daughter out of harm’s way--to the home of the neighboring squire at Hamley Hall, only Squire Hamley, he has two sons! Dr. Gibson decides he must remarry, and he does. He, being a widower, picks as his new wife a widow. She has a child, Cynthia, who is the same age as Molly. Cynthia and Molly may be equal in age but are completely different in temperament and worldliness. The story is of course a love story and about who will end up with whom. It is also a social commentary.

Elizabeth Gaskell has wit. She uses irony deliciously. It is what characters say to each other that is so marvelous. You must pay attention to the words when you read this book. The beauty of the book lies in its lines, not in the plot.

I have one more thing to say, and this is important. The book is one of character portrayal. Its charm lies in its ability to see people as they really are and at the same time with humor. Rather than getting annoyed at the stupidity and obtuseness of a character, readers find themselves laughing. Why? Because these very same characters are oblivious of their failings. Gaskell displays great talent in pulling this off.

Gaskell died just before completing the book. It had previously been published as a serial in the Cornhill Magazine from August 1864 to January 1866. I was curious to see how the lack of an ending would be handled. I was happy to see that a fake end had not been added. Instead, what we know is summarized in a few words and from this, obvious conclusions may be drawn. Gaskell had supposedly spoken to a friend concerning how she had intended to conclude the story. This we are told of too. I see this as the perfect way to end the book.

Nadia May narrates the audiobook. Her narration is wonderful, just perfect. Don’t pick a different narrator if you are going to listen to the audio version. Occasionally I have hesitated in choosing May, her accent is so very British, but here this fits perfectly. Each character is given an intonation that fits their personality. Men and women are intoned equally well. The speed is exactly as it should be, and I love how she pauses a few seconds at the end of a sentence. This gives the reader time to reflect on the Gaskells’ apt choice of words. The narration I have given five stars.

You simply must read this book. Why? To meet the characters. You won’t forget them. They are marvelous creations.


*Wives and Daughters 4 stars
*North and South 2 stars
*Cranford 2 stars
*Ruth TBR
*Cousin Phyllis TBR

*Mrs. Gaskell and Me: An Unconventional Love Story by Nell Stevens maybe. I think I am looking for a better biography.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 11 books844 followers
February 14, 2018
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.

Re-read 2017-2018: Damn, I wish she'd finished the novel. I was far more into the characters this time around and even though I knew I wasn't going to find out what happened in the end I really wanted to find out what happened in the end...she would definitely have thrown another obstacle or two to True Love into the road. What would they have been?
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
March 21, 2019
I loved sweet Molly Gibson and her father who is the village doctor. On the other hand, her stepmother and stepsister were something else! The only thing sad in this book is that Gaskell died before finishing it!
Profile Image for Michael.
266 reviews25 followers
March 1, 2018
My first time reading this Elizabeth Gaskell masterpiece and a masterpiece it truly is. To me, this author is a virtuoso at character development. The two main characters, Molly Gibson and her step-sister, Cynthia are brilliant creations. In fact, just about all the major characters presented are subtly drawn, imbued with both good and bad traits. They feel genuine, not like the caricatures or archetypes one sometimes finds in other Victorian period novels. As a reader you enjoy spending time with these people and sharing their experiences in this small, provincial world.

Another area where Ms. Gaskell excels is dialog. It is mainly a book about family relationships and, as such, much of the plot is driven by the many conversations which flow from these relationships. Again, the conversations feel authentic, capturing the essence of each speaker thus developing an even more intimate and moving relationship with the reader.

I look forward to reading more of Ms. Gaskell’s work.
Profile Image for Katie Ziegler (Life Between Words).
396 reviews962 followers
May 31, 2018
One of my favorite classics ever. This was just wonderful. I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. It's long, so I know it would be intimidating for folks who haven't read a lot of classics, but it really would be a great place to start because it was so readable and filled with beautiful characters. I loved every second.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book564 followers
March 25, 2017
Set in the 1830’s, at a time when society was in flux, but the separations between the gentry and the commoner still tightly drawn, Wives and Daughters is a captivating glimpse into the lives of two girls, thrown into a blended family. Our main heroine, Molly Gibson, is a simple and honest girl, brought up by her father, a physician, and raised without the influence of a mother. Upon her father’s remarriage, she is introduced not only to the restrictiveness of a shallow and grating step-mother but is also given a new sister exactly her age, Cynthia Kirkpatrick.

Molly is a lovely creation, that one cannot help admiring and liking very much, but Cynthia is one of the most interesting characters I have encountered for quite some time. She is so flawed, so in need of love and guidance (which she has certainly never received from her mother), so inconstant in her dealings with others and so terribly human. Yet, she is loveable and sweet and kind in so many ways, and her genuine love for Molly redeems her of being seen as unfeeling or conniving. Cynthia’s vacillation contrasts so starkly with Molly’s steady sureness. If ever you had a friend, you would wish it to someone of Molly’s ilk.

In parallel to this, Mrs. Gaskell weaves the stories of two brothers, Osbourne and Roger, of an ancient lineage and whose father has not quite made his way into the modern time in which he lives. The quality of character of these men is explored, as well, and they form an important part of the courting machinations that transpire. One cannot help thinking of Jane Austen when watching this ritual unfold that revolves far more in the mind of Mrs. Gibson than in any of the young people.

From the beginning of this novel, Elizabeth Gaskell had my full attention. The story moves rapidly despite its length and the various threads are all tied neatly together, so that even the minor characters fit into the puzzle in very pleasing ways. Unfortunately, Mrs. Gaskell died with the final chapter or two unwritten. So, while all the major plot lines are satisfied and you do not feel left hanging, there is still a sense of something unfinished at the end. I was not prepared for this and it felt quite more jarring than it might have had I realized it was an unfinished work. Even with this, I would not hesitate to recommend reading this novel. I think Elizabeth Gaskell deserves to be regarded perhaps a bit more highly than she has been and holds her own with her contemporaries, the Brontes.
Profile Image for Lori  Keeton.
485 reviews122 followers
May 28, 2021
Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters becomes my second novel by this author this year and continues a Victorian trend I began at the beginning of the year. Written as a serial and published over a period of 17 months beginning in 1864, Mrs. Gaskell died suddenly without finishing her masterpiece leaving the final chapter unwritten. With 60 chapters and 755 pages (in my version) the reader could deduce the ending she so desired but never got to read her words for themselves. How disappointing for her readers to be left without the ending they so yearned to read.

This is such a lovely story centering on innocent, 16 year old Molly Gibson who is brought up by her widowed father in a provincial English town called Hollingford in the 1830’s. Gaskell adeptly creates a perfect country town caught up in the proprieties and gossip of society at the time. Gaskell does such a great job of creating so many lively characters with personalities and traits that either endear or disenchant themselves to the reader. Molly is a lovely, wholesome, good-hearted young lady. When Molly’s father, the town doctor, announces that he is going to marry again, Molly is surprised and upset that her pleasant life with her father is about to be upended. Her new step-mother is Hyacinth “Clare” Kirkpatrick, a former governess to the Earl of Cumnor’s family who has an avid interest in advancing her social standing. She brings with her to their new family a daughter named Cynthia, 17 years old, and much more worldly and experienced than Molly. She is quite Molly’s opposite in many ways.

Clare Kirkpatrick Gibson finds making impressions upon others her daily regiment. She wants to impress and desires her way(and gets it) in most things. She is crafty in her speech with emphasis always on making herself look good. She is really a kind of show off and this is evident in the way she changes Molly’s clothes and room decor although Molly wants to stay the way she is. Being the lovely girl who only wants to please, Molly accedes to her new mamma. One thing about Molly that I adored about her was her blunt honesty. She is never afraid to tell her mind to whomever even if it goes against the social standards.

When charismatic Cynthia arrives from France where she has been in school, Molly learns to love her new step-sister. It’s not a very difficult thing as the two girls find in one another a friendship that neither had experienced until now. Cynthia has a certain way about her that is charming to men. She is beautiful and captivating but her one problem is not knowing how to love another although she desires being loved by others. She can easily see through her mother’s schemes but is very much like her in some ways.

Another family living nearby is the Hamely family. Molly forms a close bond with this family. There is the Squire and his invalid wife and their two grown sons, Osborne and Roger. Osborne is the first born and pride of his mother and father while Roger is often overlooked. Osborne is a poet and creative while Roger’s interests lie in science, math and the natural world. Osborne is sentimental and handsome. Roger is kind, principled and humble yet plain.

Gaskell also presents a host of other characters who enrich the story and provide humor and zest to the narrative. My favorite are the Miss Brownings, the spinster sisters who live together and are very like some of the ladies I met when I read Cranford. They are up on all of the town’s gossip and much of the Victorian proprieties are found in their dialogue. I especially loved this line from Miss Phoebe to her sister, Oh, don’t call them lies, it’s such a strong word. Please call them tallydiddles.

Yes, this is a story of romance but it is also about the sense of duty to loved ones. Molly demonstrates this quality in the way she helps and comforts those she loves when their happiness is in jeopardy. She is one of the most agreeable and caring heroines I’ve ever read.
Profile Image for Kate Howe.
267 reviews
August 23, 2022
if my house was burning down, I would grab my two boys and this book first.
Profile Image for Annie.
95 reviews
October 16, 2022
Upon finishing Wives and Daughters, I’m left with one idea – that Elizabeth Gaskell was truly masterful in her writing, and original in how she portrays human nature. It took me a long time to finish this novel, several months, but it was delightful to read because it really is an “everyday” story: there is nothing overly dramatic or stylized here, just the commonplace routines of the inhabitants of a small English town. What really strikes me is how Gaskell portrays character – there are no definite heroes or villains, because she presents such a complete picture of who her characters are and why they possess their faults and how they think. I felt for them all because they are well-developed and genuine in their faults as well as their virtues. I liked that almost all of the characters were trying to do the right thing and live their lives honestly, however they understood that to be, as well as acknowledging their failures in this. This is quite an endearing, touching novel and even though it was quite long, I think that I could have read another 700 pages of it. Some things that I will keep thinking about will be names and how they change in the novel, the title and the significance of female relationships, and how clever and simply funny Gaskell was in portraying Mrs. Gibson's vain absurdities. What a wonderful novel.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,679 followers
July 30, 2017
Wow. How did I not know about this book sooner? In fact, let's all pause to ponder why authors like the Brontes and Austen get so much love, so much fan fiction . . . where is the Gaskell Society? I mean, here is a mother not unlike Mrs. Bennet, just one step away from having "nerves" and "flutterings" and all the while deeply concerned with . . . well, herself . . . to the point where what her daughters do only matters in how it is an advantage to her. Here is a daughter who doesn't honestly care about love or marriage, but just cannot stop playing the coquette, and then complaining when men keep proposing to her! Here's sweet Molly, who cannot flirt to save her life, but has both a keen mind and a tender heart that makes her loved by all. Gaskell's writing is very clear and precise, with a sly, dry wit to it. This was her final work, and she died before it was finished. There is an editor's note that was written at the book's first publication indicating how matters would have ended (all that is lacking, really, is an epilogue).
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,110 reviews6,574 followers
February 18, 2017
At the moment this is sitting at a 3.5 stars from me. I definitely enjoyed it, but I didn't LOVE it, and there's the fact that this book isn't complete which is hella rude. How dare Elizabeth Gaskell die before finishing this book?!
Aaaaaanyway, I LOVED Roger, Mr Gibson & Squire Hamley and absolutely hATED Cynthia and her mother. They were unbelievably annoying.
I highly recommend watching the BBC mini series adaptation because the ending is delightful and it's a wonderful adaptation!
Profile Image for Hannah.
2,446 reviews1,337 followers
August 24, 2019
An epic novel of English country life in the 1830s. I loved Molly and most of the people around her. What a talented writer Gaskell was—the characters seem to practically come alive. I’ll definitely read more of her books in the future!
Profile Image for Dani.
72 reviews51 followers
December 4, 2021
Hay novelas que, más allá de una trama lineal que progresa a lo largo de la narración, han sido creadas para tratar conceptos universales que requieren de una gran complejidad y destreza para quedar reflejados en obras de ficción. Aquéllos que consiguen hablar del amor a través de un romance, de la muerte a través de una pérdida, o de la vida a través de un evento familiar (por poner algunos ejemplos), se convertirán en escritores capaces de producir, bajo mi punto de vista, lo que tan ampliamente se ha calificado como clásicos de la literatura.

En Hijas y esposas, Elizabeth Gaskell reúne toda su experiencia cosechada como escritora para narrar el crecimiento y aprendizaje de Molly Gibson, una joven que vive en un pueblo inglés junto con su padre viudo. A través de su mirada inocente, se presentarán todo tipo de personajes y situaciones que tambalearán la estabilidad que había conseguido en su pequeño entorno familiar.

Pocas veces he sentido una narración tan brillante, de una perfección incluso abrumadora. No importa si Gaskell te relata los entresijos de la sociedad inglesa, o las contraindicaciones de un prospecto farmacéutico, puesto que en ambas situaciones se esforzaría por dotar a sus textos de un estilo refinado, incluso pomposo en ciertas ocasiones. Y aquí radica la mayor discrepancia de la lectura: mientras que entiendo que a la novela se le puedan recortar ciertos fragmentos sin que ello varíe el estudio y la evolución de los personajes creados por la autora, tampoco me hubiese importado seguir leyendo páginas y páginas sobre sus relaciones familiares y sociales.

Precisamente estas interacciones entre sus personajes son la mayor virtud de la historia. Encontramos hijas que aún no han aprendido a distinguir la admiración del amor, y que son definidas por la sociedad mucho antes de que ellas tengan la oportunidad de autodescubrirse. También encontramos esposas que se convierten en el órgano principal de su núcleo familiar, pero sin embargo pierden relevancia en un ambiente social donde es difícil sobrepasar el racismo y el clasismo que imperaba en la época victoriana. Pero especialmente encontramos la inevitabilidad del paso de hija a esposa, que en muchas ocasiones se convertía en una transacción social y económica disfrazada de amor y futuro.

Hijas y esposas se presenta como una novela cargada de madurez, con espacio para la sátira y, por supuesto, el costumbrismo. La pura bondad y maldad están muy alejadas de los conceptos que se desprenden de su lectura: los personajes discuten, se frustran, dudan y cometen errores, pero en todo momento se guían por el noble deseo de convertirse en alguien.

Si se aceptan las reglas de juego de la autora y su templanza a la hora de narrar los sucesos, la historia de la pequeña Molly Gibson puede transformarse en una experiencia muy enriquecedora para el lector, que se sumergirá en un ambiente en el que las apariencias suelen ser más importantes que la realidad y en el que la justicia y la opinática se convierten en dos caras de la misma moneda.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,124 followers
November 26, 2017
To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into my cushions pretty much from the first words, so there wasn’t much of a chance this was going to be a negative review. But she really won me over as soon as she provided me with an excellent audience proxy for me to cast myself as early on- Lady Harriet ftw, am I right?- that reassured me that she and I were on the same side about what was happening. Then I could really get comfortable. Molly is goddamn adorable, Mr. Gibson can have wine at my house anytime, Roger should have all the nice things, and Clare shouldn’t, because she is the actual worst. I’m not sure, still, entirely, where I come down on Cynthia. She for sure needs extensive therapy and for sure will never do it, so she’ll probably either become a fragile, brittle, vain, increasingly silly alcoholic or she’s got a pretty dark night of the soul ahead of her if by some chance she does hit rock bottom and is ready to face some stuff. In my fanfic, she gets the second option, because I think she could turn it around, but because life is Victorian England life, it was probably the former. Some interesting stuff about land rights, entailment and day-to-day life (Gaskell was already explaining life a few decades previously to her readers in this one, so there’s more helpful explaining than you’d think for a 19th century audience). Oh, oh! Be warned: there’s no full ending on this one! Gaskell told her editors what she wanted the ending to be, for the most part, but she died a few chapters before she finished. So you do get to kind of Choose Your Own Adventure, so yay! But the ending is half an obituary, so kind of a downer a little bit? (And if any of you ding me for “spoilers”, are you kidding me, please re-read the previous sentences, there is no ending to spoil, get over yourself.) Anyway! Overall, this was kinda like reading a really smart, satirical middlebrow domestic novel, probably written for the same audience those are written for today. Some overly shlocky moments and overdone metaphors, but more than worth it in the end, waayyyyy better than North and South. So yeah, Lady Harriet and I will be over here in the corner drinking the tea, enjoying the show and standing up for Molly as required. Come join us!
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,738 reviews475 followers
May 14, 2021
"Wives and Daughters" was Elizabeth Gaskell's last novel which her editor finished with a final chapter after her death. It was published in monthly serial form by Cornhill Magazine before being released as a book. Written in the 1860s, the story depicts life in the 1820s and 1830s in an English small town. The book's original subtitle was "An Every-Day Story," and it shows life in an ordinary blended family.

Widower Mr Gibson is raising his thoughtful daughter, Molly, when he decides to remarry to provide a chaperone and stepmother to the teenage girl. The new Mrs Gibson is a snobbish comic figure who is constantly twisting things around in conversation. Sheltered Molly has a charming new stepsister, Cynthia, who is more worldly and very attractive to men. The Hamley family with two brothers are close friends of the Gibsons. Other family friends keep busy with their small-town gossip as the two sisters are coming of age. Mr Gibson is a respected doctor who provides another look into the lives of the people in town.

There are no big historic events occurring in the novel, although it is shown to be a time of prejudice against the French and Catholics. There are also strict gender roles and social values, and definite hierarchies in society. Some of the characters are interested in the new scientific thinking and African exploration, hinting of early Darwinism.

The father/daughter bond between Mr Gibson and Molly, and the sisterly affection between the Cynthia and Molly are at the heart of the story. This is an enjoyable book with complex characters. Although it slows a bit in the middle, it picks up again in the second half. I look forward to reading more of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels in the future.
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