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2014/15 Group Reads - Archives > Wives and Daughters - Ch. 1-5

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message 1: by Silver (new)


message 2: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments Mrs. Fitzpatrick is a pip! Eating all poor Molly's lunch, then blaming her for "over-sleeping" after she'd forgotten to wake her! I don't like her one bit (or really anyone at the great house), but I suspect the Cumnors are going to try and matchmake with the widowed doctor.

“And now he's [ Mr. Fitzpatrick] dead, and left her a widow, and she is staying here; and we are racking our brains to find out some way of helping her to a livelihood without parting her from her child. She's somewhere about the grounds, if you like to renew your acquaintance with her.”

I just wonder whether Gaskell will use that for humor or mischief. I wasn't sure I was going to like this author based on the first two chapters. But once Molly was home again with her father, I began to enjoy the story. They are completely adorable together.

message 3: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments As are the young apprentices, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Coxe.

Although, I'm not sure why Molly, at 18 is described as so young and unformed and unsuited for courtship. From her father, certainly, it makes sense. He's her dad. But, the whole "calf love" affair seems to suggest a more modern opinion (ie. they're too young) than I expected.

One more thing... I still can't keep the Cumnors straight.

message 4: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Renee - I had the same thoughts from both your posts. I wasn't sure what to think after reading the first two chapters. I wasn't sure that I liked Gaskell's writing style. And couldn't keep the Cumnors straight either.

And I was also surprised that Molly's father said that she was too young for courtship. I think she is 17, not 18, but it still seems odd. I'll have to check to see when young girls came out into society in those days. But I do agree with her father that placing a young girl in the same house with two young unrelated men with little supervision is probably not the best of ideas.

I like the Hamley's already. The Squire seems all bluster and noise, but I think he's got a good heart underneath it all. But I wish his wife had a bit more spunk to stand up to him.

One problem that I am having is that I watched the BBC production a couple years ago. One, I know basically what is going to happen, and two, I see the mini-series actors when reading along instead of being able to imagine the characters myself. For example, as I read, I know that I would picture Molly differently than the Molly in the BBC mini-series. But the Molly from BBC keeps taking over my mind!

message 5: by Hedi (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:33AM) (new)

Hedi | 978 comments This novel started interesting and reminded me of Cranford, which I finished a couple of weeks ago, or actually rather the BBC series of it which combined Cranford and 2 other novels or novellas by Gaskell.
I was also confused by the Cunmors, the lady and lord, the different daughters (I guess all married and with different names).

I found the beginning / start of the novel quite like a fairy-tale, which continued by the allusion to fairy tales by the Lord towards Molly. I thought it was strange that she did not seem to know them. Is that a lack of education/ reading experience or was she just too scared to recognize them?

The Cunmors reminded me very much of the Lady Ludlow that was part of the Cranford BBC series. Sorry for mentioning this here, I just could not get those pictures out of my mind when reading these first chapters (Lynn, and I have not even watched "Wives and Daughters" yet, though I have already been tempted to do so).

Interesting is that the Cunmors (at least her Ladyship) care for their inferiors in a way that they never have a chance to climb the social ladder. They maintain a school for girls, but only to educate them as servants, not to make them wiser and able to achieve more in their lives. It still represents a certain level of feudalism.

With regards to education, I was pretty surprised that the Doctor does not care much about his daughter's education. He actually tells her "governess" not to teach her too much.

Generally speaking, I have the feeling that Hollingford is a similar place like Cranford and the characters will be shown in different ways. There is obviously some amount of gossiping to be seen at all the stories about Dr. Gibson's ancestors.
I am curious to see whether any important social topics will be discussed and brought to attention. One already mentioned in the discussion between Dr. Gibson and one of his apprentices is euthanasia in case of terrible illness, a still very controversial topic.

message 6: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
I read this some time ago, and like Lynn also saw the bbc production. One thing to keep in mind is the education of women was usually very limited. It would not have been unusual for a father to be concerned about a daughter being over educated. If she was considered too smart, she would have difficulty finding a husband.

message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver If I recall correctly in Middlemarch Dorthea at the age of 16 or 17 was viewed as being too young for marriage.

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the age of marriage for women/girls in the Victorian era, but it seems that 18-23 was generally considered to be the average age for a first marriage.

message 8: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Re: education - even though I know that women were only supposed to receive an education that fit the required tasks of maintaining a household, it still really irritated me when I read Mr. Gibbons thoughts on Molly's education. By bringing it up in this context, I'm sure (at least I hope) that Gaskell is making a comment about how unfortunate those ideas were.

message 9: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Silver wrote: "If I recall correctly in Middlemarch Dorthea at the age of 16 or 17 was viewed as being too young for marriage.

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the age of ma..."

Thanks for the info, Silver.

message 10: by Hedi (last edited Feb 04, 2014 11:58AM) (new)

Hedi | 978 comments Lynnm wrote: "Re: education - even though I know that women were only supposed to receive an education that fit the required tasks of maintaining a household, it still really irritated me when I read Mr. Gibbons..."

Lynn, that was what I meant when I said I was surprised about his reaction. I think I have never read this so explicitly by a doctor/ educated and respected person towards his child in a Victorian novel. I thought an educated widower whose only child is a girl would spoil her more with regards to education. Agnes Wickham in David Copperfield did not get a huge amount of education herself, but she read a lot and still learned a lot and nobody would have told her that she should not learn too much.

Maybe Gaskell wanted to make a point with this. We will see...

message 11: by Hedi (last edited Feb 04, 2014 11:53AM) (new)

Hedi | 978 comments Silver wrote: "If I recall correctly in Middlemarch Dorthea at the age of 16 or 17 was viewed as being too young for marriage.

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the age of ma..."

Re: age for marriage
This might also depend on the personal relations. In this case I think the father is also protective of his daughter, his only child whom he probably would not want to lose to a man so quickly.
Was not Lydia in Pride and Prejudice about 15 when she got involved with men which her mother rather supported? So it depends probably also on the families and environments.

message 12: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments I first read Wives and Daughters about 25 years ago and am so glad that I've been prodded into reading it again. Dipping into the first few chapters has felt like stepping outside into a tranquil summer garden.

Regarding Dr Gibson's attitude to Molly: I think Hedi's right, and that he doesn't want to lose his only child too soon - and in fact may wish to keep her a child for as long as he can.

I'm interested that Elizabeth Gaskell gave Molly's governess the name "Miss Eyre." Given that she was such a close friend of Charlotte Bronte and that Jane Eyre was published almost 20 years previously, I wonder what this indicates? (if anything.) Miss Eyre is mild-mannered and well-meaning, but very different from Jane Eyre. Perhaps her use of the name was just a small tribute from Elizabeth Gaskell to her friend.

message 13: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments I noticed the same, Emma, but didn't know these two writers were friends. I would totally do that! Throw in little nods to my friends just to make them smile. :)

message 14: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 978 comments Good point about Miss Eyre.
I had noticed that as well, but did not think of the "gift to a friend", even though I remember Gaskell having a connection to Charlotte Brontë.

message 15: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments It's been confusing with the two Miss Eyres. I noticed it the first time, and then when Molly mentioned her again, I forgot and thought, is she reading Jane Eyre? Then, I quickly remembered.

And thanks for the information that Gaskell was friends with Bronte. Didn't know that...

message 16: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
Gaskell actually wrote the first biography of Charlotte Bronte.

message 17: by Denise (new)

Denise (dulcinea3) | 269 comments And it was Charlotte's father who requested that Gaskell write the biography. It has been criticised as being too complimentary, but I think that is to be expected when a Victorian woman is writing about her friend.

message 18: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments I was amused (in chapter 3) by the reactions of the village to the arrival of Mr Gibson as their new doctor. The picture of all these supposedly genteel "elderly maiden ladies of Hollingford" busily concocting theories that their new doctor was the illegitimate son of a Scotch duke is a very funny one, and I thought, rather reminiscent of Cranford. The two Miss Brownings could easily belong there too.

message 19: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1869 comments Mod
Once again, I am late to the discussion!

2 additional things that stood out for me-Molly's reaction to the beautiful house and grounds at the towers reminds me that in the absence of television or travel, a gentleman's daughter could grow up never having seen how the Aristocracy lived or have any idea what their estates would look like-it really reinforced to me how set apart the "1 percent" of the time in England were from the rest of the country. I was also struck in the later chapters by the nature of the conversation between Molly and Mr Gibson-he might not have wanted her educated (which also surprised me-given the lack of intellectual equals for him in Hollingford, I would have assumed he would have talked to his daughter/educated his daughter to be more of a companion to him) but there certainly seemed to be a lot of gently teasing repartee between them, and I liked them both the better for it.

message 20: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments Hmmm. Maybe it's because there are so few people with whom he can really converse. It would have been even more daunting for a woman to find her educated equal among her peers. (Unfortunately) And, there's so much social snobbery, that he may be trying to keep her from being not only unable to find a husband, but without any companions.

message 21: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments Gaskell makes the point that the Hamley's aren't aristocracy though when she describes Molly's first view of the house across a meadow: ' was no aristocratic deerpark ...but a red brick hall not three hundred yards from the high road...' Mr Hamley was a country squire, not an aristocrat; a 'respectable servant' stood at the door and he had not sent a footman with the carriage.

message 22: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 1 comments I think I listened to the end of ch 4 and to ch 5 at least three times. This is such funny sarcastic stuff! The author is very witty indeed!

message 23: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 220 comments Response to message 5: I have an annotated version of the book on my Kindle, and it confirms some of your suspicions. Hollingford appears to be based on the same town Cranford was based on. Also, there is a note to the effect that whether to expose children to fairytales or stories like the three bears was a little controversial, so it would not be surprising for Molly to be unfamiliar with them. Finally, Molly's age at the time of "calf love" is 16 and 3/4, about 6 weeks away from turning 17.

message 24: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (inanimategrace) I've been reading quickly to catch up and have dozens of thoughts.

First, I find it interesting that while the book was written in the early 1860s, it ias actually set much earlier in the century -- the first chapter talks about "five and forty years ago," and later on it mentions that this is the decade after the end of the continental wars, so these chapters are set sometime between 1815-1825. Thus while the novel was written during the Victorian period, the setting is earlier, and the social mores different; imagine a novel written in the 1950s set in the early 1920s. I am curious to see to what extent Gaskell represents Molly as a Victorian girl vs. a girl of that actual time period -- which was considered by about 1850 to have been rather scandalous.

Then, on the question of marriage -- as Silver said, there is a lot of conflicting information on marriage ages in the 19th century. But certainly by the time Gaskell is writing, middle-class women were not expected to marry until at least 18 or considerably later, as their prospective husband was expected to be able to support them in something like the style of their father's homes. And this was complicated by the (to my mind) utterly bizarre Victorian ideas of women & love. Molly is too young for love not just because she is 16 3/4, but because there was a common belief (or perhaps just ideal) that a young girl feels absolutely no romantic interest until her feelings are awakened by a declaration by a man -- and then, if she responds to him, she is in love and that is more or less that, her heart will never be "whole" again. If one accepts this odd view of human affections, Mr. Coxe, being in no position to support Molly, is behaving very badly indeed; if she had read his letter and responded to it, then she would be in love with someone without her father's permission (very dire) who could not possibly marry her for a long time (at least 7 years, Mr. Gibson said), and she's lost her chances of making any other match.

This has gotten long, so I will write about the education issue separately. I am enjoying this very much; it reminds me of Charlotte Yonge but much less didactic.

message 25: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (inanimategrace) On the topic of education -- I am finding this the most interesting part of the book so far. I think Mrs. Hamley has been introduced in part to demonstrate what it is that Mr. Gibson wishes to avoid for Molly -- the intelligent, educated, sensitive lady who pines away for want of anyone to share her interests and ends up dying. As a (lower) middle-class girl in a small town, Molly is not going to need to speak French or be well-read in order to support her husband, who is unlikely to be very well educated himself, and there was a definite belief that educating people outside of their station made for misery. I do think Gaskell sees the nuances of this; it is interesting that Molly has an inquiring mind and is hungry for knowledge, and that she is reading everything she can despite her father's belief she should not be too educated.

Betty's view, that Molly would be better off playing outdoors, reminds me very much of contemporary debates about education & how much time children should spend studying.

message 26: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1869 comments Mod
Madge-I was thinking of Molly's reaction to "The Towers" i.e. the Earl's home in the first chapter, rather than to the Hamley's home, where she appears to be quite comfortable.

Cassandra-I take your point about educating someone beyond their station-I think there is also a sense of bringing up young people in general with an expectation of living in richer surroundings than their background would merit-we see that with Hyacinth/Clare in the next section,and it reminds me of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park or even Mary in David Copperfield.

message 27: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Cassandra makes some interesting points about education and I think she's right that this is a major theme of the novel. You can see it throughout the Hamley family. Squire Hamley's life has been constricted by his lack of education after he failed at Oxford University, and his awareness of this makes him awkward in society and a poor, though caring, companion for his well-read wife. However, he's an interesting character, with his bluntness and "natural shrewdness" - he clearly doesn't lack intelligence. He's thrown all his hopes into Osborne as if he hopes to make up for his deficiencies in education through his brilliant elder son. In contrast, Roger, who's "good but dull", isn't expected to shine at anything; but the Squire makes sure he gets a good education in any case despite the cost (which would have been considerable.)

message 28: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments I also think it's interesting that Osborne, the poet, is the petted son. While Roger, the scientist, is considered less intellectually impressive. As though, the sciences were too pedestrian for notice. I wonder if this is Hambly's prejudice ( the finer studies were more aristocratic) or a common attitude of the time. Science and medicine as we know them were in their infancy. (And doctors seemed to be just above tradesmen in the social hierarchy.) Perhaps the pursuit of science was considered a quirky hobby rather than an intellectual pursuit. (If true, then we moderns have pretty much turned these attitudes on their heads. Majoring in art or lit means studying "other people's hobbies" to echo a quote from my past.)

message 29: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (inanimategrace) Renee,

I think it is interesting to note that while you & I might call Roger a scientist, the term itself did not exist until 1834. The sort of education that Squire Hamley missed out on, and wishes for his son, would most likely not have included much that we would recognise as science or mathematics, but instead be very heavily focused on classical languages & literatures (Greek & Latin), ancient history, and theology. Looking online I was not able to find a good summary, but I did find a copy of the "Oxford University Calendar for 1815" on Google Books, which lists the requirements for various degrees. A BA (which is what Osborne seems likely to be attempting) involved oral exams in Classics, Logic, and Euclid's Elements of Geometry, and (to my astonishment) may be conducted in either English or Latin. Then later on there were examinations in Religion, the Humanities (focusing on Classics, Logic, and "Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy, as drawn from the Greek and Roman writers"), and some basic mathematics and physics. I was curious about the math and so looked at some examination papers from the era, and the mathematics is about what is expected here in the US around the beginning of high school -- basic algebra (including word problems), geometry, and trigonometry.

For anyone interested, here is the University Calendar:

And here is the book of Cambridge mathematics exams:

Of course this, too, is heavily dependent upon class -- Osborne is going to inherit the land and the money, and thus he is being given the more gentlemanly education, so that he can run his estate well and mix with others in his position who would have been similarly educated in the classical languages and ancient history. Roger, as the second son, will have very little money and must find a profession -- the typical ones being either the law or the church, of course, but as he is considered unintelligent, his mother thinks "anything practical -- such as a civil engineer -- would be more the kind of life for him." But that is not something one would study at university, but rather one would apprentice to someone in the profession and learn it from them -- and to have a profession at all, much less a practical one, is to put yourself solidly into the middle classes.

As for whether or not we moderns have turned it around, I think that varies much depending upon your location. Where I am in the US the parents tend to work with the schools to provide arts & music education, but science is left to itself as a distasteful necessity, and children who wish extra time to spend on math or such things are encouraged to get private tutors. And at the high school level, students are not allowed to double up on the science tracks, they are told to wait until college, whereas humanities & arts students are encouraged to focus and begin practising now. Thus the dearth of professionals in the sciences in the US. It is very odd.

message 30: by Elsbeth (new)

Elsbeth (elsbethgm) Emma wrote: "I first read Wives and Daughters about 25 years ago and am so glad that I've been prodded into reading it again. Dipping into the first few chapters has felt like stepping outside into a tranquil s..."

That was what I was thinking, too (about Miss/Jane Eyre)!

message 31: by Alex (new)

Alex Mesman | 5 comments Thank you Cassandra. While I'm reading these easy to read, meandering chapters, I don't think twice upon all these things, but while reading all these comments things fall in to place. All these small details must have been put in deliberately by Mrs Gaskell to help us form our opinions of the characters she describes. Those details were, of course, easier to understand for readers in Mrs Gaskell's time than they are for us nowadays. One of my teachers once told me to read every novel I study twice. The second time immediately after the first. Then you can see how you've been manipulated (in a good sense) by the author. I don't know if i can manage that in time for this book tho'.

message 32: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 751 comments Alex,

What your teacher said is true even if the reread is not immediate. I find that I am better able to see the writers craft and key details when I am reading Something a second time. The first time, I am always too caught up in the story and wondering what will happen next.

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