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Wives and Daughters
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Archived Group Reads 2018 > W&D: Week 1 - Chapters I - VII

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message 1: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Jan 01, 2018 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Elizabeth Gaskell sets her story of Wives and Daughters in a town she names Hollingford and environs during the 1820s and 1830s . We meet Molly Gibson and her widowed father Mr. Gibson, the town doctor. In the course of these first seven chapters Molly, at twelve, gets to attend the yearly social event at the local gentry’s manor, the Lord and Lady Cumnor. During her visit she gets lost and falls asleep under a tree and is found by Mrs. Kirkpatrick who takes her back to the house and her room to rest. Mrs. Kirkpatrick promptly forgets the girl and so Molly misses the departure of all the guests. Her father later comes and picks her up.

A few years later, at age sixteen we meet Molly again. She turns the head of her father’s pupil, Mr. Coxe, and she is sent to stay for a few weeks at the Squire Hamley and his wife at their estate in Hamley seven miles from Hollingford. Mr. Gibson feels very much out of his depth when he realized that Molly is growing into a woman.

This is the short synopsis of the main characters. Yet there is so much else going on! For one, if my count is correct, we’ve been introduced to 32 different characters! I get reminded of George Eliot’s Middlemarch where one has to keep a spread sheet to keep everyone straight.

Underneath the bucolic setting Gaskell introduces us to the tensions present. We’ve barely finished the second page and we’re introduced to the politics of the landed gentry, Whigs (= liberal) and Tories (= conservative) and how the history of these families play into their allegiance. All other themes so far, education, social status, theology, and social engagement are subordinate to the overall theme as far as I can tell. I marvel at Gaskell’s courage for putting such hot topics into her novel.

Now I’ve left all the delicious details out on purpose. Let’s explore them!


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ConnieD (bookwithcat) | 36 comments There ARE a lot of characters to keep track of. I'm wondering if this will go the rom-com way of her ending up with the man she doesn't like at first, but there's a long way left in this book.


Robin | 162 comments Elizabeth Gaskell's subtle introduction of the benign dictatorship in the relationship between Molly and her father is superb. Molly is a loving daughter who accepts her father's controlling parenting as normal, as indeed it is in that period. At the same time, she manages to escape his desire to curtail her education by reading far more widely than her father decrees. The limited education which is imposed on her as a girl is undermined by Molly's access to the books she learns to read, so that although she is not well educated, she is more well informed than she would be otherwise. Although I agree class differences, as demonstrated by the political allegiances Gaskell writes about, are the major theme, there is plenty in these early pages about the discrimination against women in the period. Firstly, there is the expectation that Molly should not have a particularly fine education. Secondly, the sacking of the female servant who is but a bearer of a note to Molly is the hallmark of the importance with which Mr Coxe is regarded. The latter, an apprentice to Doctor Gibson, is the writer of the note. It is he who has persuaded the female servant to carry it to Molly. Coxe, is the writer and admirer and, in Gibson's view, a threat to Molly. However, Coxe is retained in his position - his place in the household is shown to be more powerful than that of the female servant. In contrast, her longer period of employment and her relationship to the cook bear little weight when Gibson decides to sack her. Although he has some regrets, he feels justified in taking this action. Molly is sent away also, another action Gibson regrets, but proceeds with. Ironically, by the end of this section the reader is aware that other young men, if interested in women, could become threats - Squire Hamley's Cambridge educated sons are due home. In this case, class is an issue in their father's desire to keep them away from Molly: she is only the doctor's daughter after all. Squire Hamley will want someone from his own class for his sons. The point about Gaskell's 'hot topics' is relevant to most of her novels, I think. In this, she is quite different from other writers of the time whose commentary on class differences was often very muted, if observed at all.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "Elizabeth Gaskell's subtle introduction of the benign dictatorship in the relationship between Molly and her father is superb. Molly is a loving daughter who accepts her father's controlling parent normal, as indeed it is in that period."

This is a great start! Let's take a closer look at Mr. Gibson.

Is Mr. Gibson fulfilling his role as provider and protector toward his daughter and the household he is responsible for?
Is he a loving father?
It is clear both father and daughter adore one another. Molly also understands that she is to obey her father. I understand this to mean that he is the ultimate authority in the family, who has the final say in matters, but not in an unbending, dictatorial way. I am hesitant to go this far this early in the narrative. Molly very much has the ability to have her input, and he indulges her. There is a reciprocity going on.
Having said this, Mr. Gibson is not in the habit of consulting or informing anyone in his household, including his daughter, of the decisions he is making, even if he has their best interests in mind. He simply presents them with the facts. Today we'd say he needs a little more communication skills, but back then, was this not expected of the head of a family?
How does the fact that he's been a widower for many years play into this?
How does his profession shape his decision making traits?


message 5: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Jan 02, 2018 07:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Robin wrote: " The limited education which is imposed on her as a girl is undermined by Molly's access to the books she learns to read, so that although she is not well educated, she is more well informed than she would be otherwise."

I had to mull this one over a bit too.
I was thinking in this direction: What is an education? A perennial question, which gets defined and re-defined from age to age. Are we talking a formal education or acquiring skill sets, both? What skill sets are required for a person to learn, including a formal education, in order to be prepared for adult life?

So from this perspective, what skill sets does Molly need to be adequately prepared for marriage and running a household - the most likely scenario? Mr. Gibson is not in favor of sending her to school, but he understands she needs to be literate.
Will the education he is allowing be sufficient for her to be able to manage her adult life?
What is lacking?

This brings me to follow-up questions:
What were English schools like in the 1820s?
Do we have a public school system?
Was it mandatory?
What conditions were present?
What I am trying to get at, does Mr. Gibson have a good reason not to send his daughter to school.

In this context it is interesting to note that Lord Hollingford, a widower himself, does send his boys to public school.
Is he the more progressive here, even though he has boys and not girls?
Or is it simply convenient for him and he doesn't have to hire a governess and/or private tutors?


LindaH | 499 comments Mr Gibson reminds me of the absentee father in Cranford. Both men are successful and preoccupied, not unloving. They just don’t wish to be involved in day to day care, and they are both without a wife. Gaskell herself was sent as a baby to live with aunts. Indeed, Cranford is based on Gaskell’s memories of those aunts.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
That's a good point LindaH. I hadn't even thought of this connection.


Joanne | 62 comments Lots and lots of questions. Wow! Am I the only one listening to this as an audio book on Librivox? The version I am listening to is wonderful The narrator does all the voices very well. It is quite evident to me listening to the voices of Molly and her father that their accents are not the same. Mr. Gibson speaks with a Scottish brogue. Molly speaks with a proper English accent just like the young ladies of the well to do families. It is pointed out that Molly does get an education but it does not include reading. Her education is more about sewing and etiquette and things a woman should know. That way, I suppose Molly does not speak like her father.

I will comment on a few things that were not commented on already. I noticed that when Molly was forgotten by Mrs. Kirkpatrick, nobody from that house offered to take her home. Despite her distress, they just maker her stay. Is that because of her social class? I was glad when her father came.

I think Molly's education will be sufficient for her taking into account for her social class.


message 9: by Kerstin, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Joanne wrote: "Mr. Gibson speaks with a Scottish brogue."

Did you notice that we don't really know where Mr. Gibson is from? Though his accent gives us a bit of direction. There is all this gossip floating around in the community.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
I got the impression that no one gave it much thought. Or even considered that someone should give it a thought.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Ooops. Wasn't finished...

I don't know if that's due to her social station of being sort of between classes or just because she doesn't "belong" to anyone there.


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Allie | 11 comments I agree with you, Joanne. Poor Molly is obviously distressed. Aren’t the genteel classes supposed to be, well, genteel? At least they didn’t kick her to the curb, I guess!


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
"Once a year she was condescending" p. 7
Lady Cumnor strikes me as thoroughly upper class. She had done her "condescending" duty for the year, and doing something extra for little Molly was too much bother.


Robin | 162 comments This scenario - Molly distressed but forced to remain, is Gaskell's continuation of her ideas about class in British society in that period. She is quite political and 'has a bee in her bonnet' when writing her novels. This is, she makes political points throughout, at the same time as ensuring that her work is accessible. There are numerous modern writers who do the same. They make their feminist points, concerns with domestic violence, antipathy to class differences within novels that are read widely, and sometimes become the basis for films or television dramas. e.g. Liane Moriarty's Little Big Lies. Gaskell's novels are great social commentary. Although i agree that Molly's education will suit her for marriage and home duties, Gaskell is making a point when she establishes conflict (although of a minor nature, Molly is very compliant) about Molly's reading. Limiting a person's access to written matter was an important part of keeping the working class in its place; here we see how it impacts on women - also keeping them in their place.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments It’s the first time I read Elisabeth Gaskell. For the moment, easy reading but a bit slow.
On one hand, it’s difficult for me to like the little Molly in the first two chapters, just a matter of character : I find it difficult to adhere to this kind of fragile and a bit soft natures who are incommoded by a hot English sun of June (hot? in June? in England?... Please, excuse me, English readers : I like England, I lived and worked there for two years… many years ago, and went back ther twice with husband and children, that’s why I know a little your « hot sun of June ! ») and who almost faints because it is eleven o'clock in the morning and because they haven’t eaten yet, all that yet while: the little girl is twelve years old, which means that she’s neither too little girl to be so fragile or too teenager to be so ninny! I think this doesn’t match the fact that Molly is able to "struck her pony, and urged him on as hard as he would go."
She is twelve years old and she acts like an evaporated young woman: Oh! Bring me my salts, my corset is too tight, I’m going to faint! I'm starving, but ... oh! I cannot swallow anything but one grape! Tell me, does anyone know children like this one?
On the other hand, I really like the description of the chatelains, lord and lady Cumnor, and the village gentlewomen’s mentalities; I really like these ladies of the village who make a point of honor to do the drudgery of the chatelaine: visit the school, and who are filled with pride at the idea of being invited for a day at the castle. Since we are here to give our opinion, here is mine: costumes change, manners change, but not human nature: one always gets what one wants with flattery. The fox will always get his cheese, as La Fontaine said !

By the way, I read Wives and Daughters in its French version, so, when I quote the original version, I copy it from the Gutenberg Project on Internet which is very nice because there are illustrations, lithographs from the 19th century, for those who like to see this…

In chapter 4, there are many good things as :
A very well writen portrait of Mr. Gibson,
A thought in which I recognize myself when I write literary articles for a French newspaper named Contrepoints : "Indeed, by-and-by, he began to send contributions of his own to the more scientific of the medical journals, and thus partly in receiving, partly in giving out information and accurate thought, a new zest was added to his life. "
On paragraph 4, there is one of the sentences I like to find in a book: "…and otherwise he made himself excessively uncomfortable in his attire…" It is very human and so well observed by the author.
This sentence : « He felt that his visits were a real pleasure and lightening of her growing and indescribable discomfort » reveals Dr. Gibson's intuitive and psychological implication in his patient's morale. It is astonishingly modern.
And the light and sympathetic Gaskell’s humour in doctor Gibson’s answer :
"Must my boy make pills himself, then?" asked the major, ruefully.
"To be sure. The youngest apprentice always does. It's not hard work. He'll have the comfort of thinking he won't have to swallow them himself…"

My personal conclusion about chapter 6? Ah! I pity those poor 19th century fathers who didn’t want to educate and warn their daughters against the mysteries and dangers of sex. But, once the little girls were grown up, the fathers would tear their hair out trying to protect their daughters from a danger they knew nothing about, by their fathers’ fault.

There is a very good passage from Gaskell nearly at the end of Chapter 7. It’s a conversation between Mrs. Hamlet and the Squire about how men (their sons, in this particular case) perceive women (Molly, here).


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments Robin wrote: "This scenario - Molly distressed but forced to remain, is Gaskell's continuation of her ideas about class in British society in that period. She is quite political and 'has a bee in her bonnet' whe..."

I totally agree, Robin, but... Molly is soft (I don't know if it is the exact word in English, but I don't know another one, and "Molly" sounds so much like "molle" wich means soft in French!)
Her father loves her, meanwhile he tries to prevent her from knowledge and men, he talks to her equal to equal. If Molly had more character, she could easily have opened all the books she wanted, instead of spending her time doing nearly nothing at home or visiting old ladies in the village, like the Browning sisters, which are, by the way, characters so well described!
Mr Gibson doesn't think his daughter could do more than being a good daughter and later a good wife, because, maybe, no one let him know the contrary. Molly could have done it and make him accept it with love.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments Joanne wrote: "Lots and lots of questions. Wow! Am I the only one listening to this as an audio book on Librivox? The version I am listening to is wonderful The narrator does all the voices very well. It is quite..."

I noticed too that when Molly was forgotten by Mrs. Kirkpatrick, nobody offered to take her home. But I think it had nothing to do with her social class or whatever. I think the author did it on purpose for Molly to stay at the castle and know its inhabitants, and be depressed and later happy to see her father again. Thus, through Molly, we learn the characters of the inhabitants, and all the love that Gibson has for his daughter, when he comes to fetch her late at night, in spite of his long day's work, in spite of his tiredness.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments Kerstin wrote: " "Once a year she was condescending" p. 7 Lady Cumnor strikes me as thoroughly upper class. She had done her "condescending" duty for the year, and doing something extra for little Molly was too mu..."

That's also very true, Kerstin.


message 19: by JJ (last edited Jan 04, 2018 05:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

JJ | 52 comments Robin wrote: " there is plenty in these early pages about the discrimination against women in the period. Firstly, there is the expectation that Molly should not have a particularly fine education. Secondly, the sacking of the female servant who is but a bearer of a note to Molly ..."

I don't believe Mr. Gibson fired the servant because she was a female. There were more chances of Molly (or the whole town) finding out Mr. Coxe's feelings because of the number of people that already knew about it. , Mr. Coxe and Mr. Gibson's other student knew about Coxe's feelings. The servant probably knew too because she was trying to hide the letter from Mr. Gibson. The other student was too busy with his own affairs and was almost done studying with Mr. Gibson. However, the servant worked close to Molly. Naturally there would be more chances of communicating between the servant and Molly.
Mr. Gibson was even going to send Mr. Coxe's away, if it were not for his personal relationship with his father. The servant was most likely young and if the servant was a young male then Mr. Gibson would probably send him away as well. I would say if Mr. Gibson's decision was made under any bias, it was not gender.


message 20: by JJ (last edited Jan 04, 2018 11:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

JJ | 52 comments I wonder the story behind Mr. Gibson's second love. Evidently there was another woman he was in love with before or after the death of his wife. Molly was ignorant about the possibility of having a step-mother until visiting the Hamleys. Molly is nearly a woman. I wonder how having a stepmother at her age could possibility be much influence to her. It would be different if Molly was just a little girl. Certainly, she is in need of a mother's guidance at this time: but, she has/had a governess that should already be of some help.

On different note, Gaskell writes with a lot of humor.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Was Bethia's dismissal justified?
Let's look a it from Mr. Gibson's perspective. He is her employer, and her position is to help in the kitchen and household. She has to answer to him. When she runs extracurricular errands that undermine the safety and morality of his daughter, then she has to go. Could he have given her a stern warning instead? Sure, but I think that during his long hours on his rounds he doesn't want to worry about her slipping up again. He has no wife who could monitor when he isn't home. His concern is to make sure this never happens again, and Bethia has lost his trust. So has Coxe, but as been mentioned above, there are mitigating circumstances why he can't send him packing. Ergo, Molly has to be removed from the situation too.
A little drastic? Perhaps, but I think Mr. Gibson is very well aware how innocent Molly is still and "all of a sudden" she has grown up.


message 22: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (kehalvor) | 21 comments What great conversation! Dr. Gibson is a pretty standard father of the time, loving for his ilk, not very progressive. So it is interesting to see Gaskell's mode of raising questions about his parenting style. It is done obliquely without necessarily criticizing him directly. He's unemotional, not physically affectionate, he does not provide a full education for her. It is interesting given that Gaskell was writing in the mid-1860s about people in the 1820s, so she has scope to make these points and assert (obliquely) that this is old-fashioned, we've moved beyond this (or should have...).


message 23: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Too many good ideas to comment on! Here’s what I’ve been thinking when reflecting on this section which may echo other’s thoughts.
While there are a lot of characters to keep track of, I think Gaskell succeeds in setting the broad scene of the story through the introduction of these characters, emphasizing the isolated and feudal nature of the society which would have been far different than the world her readers experienced. While class was still paramount in the later part of the century, the paternalism evidenced by the Lord and accepted by the people of Hollingford vanished with industrialization and urbanization. For me, Gaskell succeeds in creating characters who represent different class levels in the society, but at the same time specific personalities as well. Having Molly as the main character whose experiences take her to the Towers and to the Hamleys enables the reader to share her discoveries of life at the higher end of the social structure- so much different than her own. I think that Gaskell fashions her plot to examine and comment upon the various strata of society. Molly’s upsetting experience at the Towers leaves us with the impression that the Lord and Lady and their guests were totally self absorbed, not even able to empathize with Molly (the Lord having no clue Molly was not familiar with the fairy tales he was referring to) and realize that they should take responsibility to take her home that evening.
So far, Molly has been a very sympathetic character for me. While she and her father share a very close bond, she isn't spoiled or self-centered. To the contrary, she is conscious of not burdening her father, as evidenced by her wishing to go to the Towers festival only if it will not be a trouble for him. She does know how to manipulate her father a bit, as she successfully has him agree to adding French and drawing to her studies. At the Hamleys, she enjoys taking on the duties of a daughter as she increasingly becomes more comfortable in surroundings much different than her father’s house.
I do feel sorry for Mr. Gibson. He does feel overwhelmed by all the issues which come with raising a daughter, but tries to do his best for the daughter whom he loves. I agree that his choices of education for her just reflects the reality of the time and their standing in society. Obviously there is some secret hidden in his past which we have yet to discover. His firing of the servant who,delivered the note to Molly was the only instance where I also thought he was being unfair as Mr. Coxe was the perpetrator and his remaining in the house may only cause further difficulties.
I do see a complicated love relationship ahead for Molly, but with whom?


Catherine (catjackson) I think that Gaskell is making a comment on the ways women were perceived and treated and using Molly as part of her commentary. Molly's "softness" and lack of education are exaggerated to make this type of life for women look as silly as it was. Everything about Molly so far has been exaggerated as part of Gaskell's way to speak to her audience.


message 25: by Lois (last edited Jan 05, 2018 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lois | 186 comments There's lots of food for thought here and I don't quite exactly know how to address some of the points without typing out a mega post! So here goes...

Underneath the bucolic setting Gaskell introduces us to the tensions present. We’ve barely finished the second page and we’re introduced to the politics of the landed gentry, ...
Yes! I loved the little mentions of the "Reform Bill" and of an election, Kerstin.

You raised a lot of interesting talking point re education and the one Molly is receiving.

I think Molly has an adequate education because I think for that time-period (1830's), girls didn't really go to school per se; instead, they typically had a governess (well-to-do families) or like the Benett girls from "Pride & Prejudice" were self-taught if they couldn't afford one.

I believe a formal education for girls came much later (1870's I think) and at best I think were only of a short duration (upto the age of 10). There were Sunday schools and ragged schools for the poor but the grammer schools and public schools were for boys and mostly from wealthy families (like Lord Hollingford's sons). So in that respect, I think Mr Gibson, even if it was to mitigate Molly's presence alone with his pupils during "breakfasts and dinners" (chap 3) and to "keep her a child" (chap 3) still, hiring Miss Eyre was a wise-decision on his part, given how old-fashioned and head-strong as he was: it's rather a diluting of mother-wit, to my fancy; but, however, we must yield to the prejudices of society...

I also think being "too much educated" as Mr Gibson fears was actually a legitimate fear for a father in those days. Because, the idea was that if a girl learns to think for herself, she then cannot adequately play her role of subservient wife to her husband in her marriage - too much education would do her more harm than good.

Molly being able to read, write, do sums, sew, draw, dance and play the piano, and learn French(!) I believe, is as much as a girl of her status can achieve. Missing out on Latin and German perhaps isn't so bad! ;)


message 26: by Lois (last edited Jan 05, 2018 12:04PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lois | 186 comments Gabrielle wrote: "She is twelve years old and she acts like an evaporated young woman: Oh! Bring me my salts, my corset is too tight, I’m going to faint! I'm starving, but ... oh! I cannot swallow anything but one grape! Tell me, does anyone know children like this one?

LOL! I found this entire episode to be quite exasperating myself, but then she is a verrrrry naive 12-year old, not exposed to much or many in society. She knows not how to act or behave around the upper crust. And in her defence, children around the high and mighty Lords and Ladies were mostly of the "seen and not heard" variety ala "Downton Abbey".

Ah! I pity those poor 19th century fathers who didn’t want to educate and warn their daughters against the mysteries and dangers of sex. But, once the little girls were grown up, the fathers would tear their hair out trying to protect their daughters from a danger ...

There is a very good passage from Gaskell nearly at the end of Chapter 7. It’s a conversation between Mrs. Hamlet and the Squire about how men (their sons, in this particular case) perceive women (Molly, here).
I think you bring up a good point about overprotective fathers. As much as I can understand why Mr Gibson wants to "keep (Molly) a child", he realizes he won't be able to protect her from hormones and pheromones for long. She is 17 years old after all and legally of marriageable age.

And reading Mr Coxe's love-note must have brought back memories for Mr Gibson because after all, he does remember "Jeanie" , and he did marry his mentor's daughter! ;)

I think it is important to remember what he alludes to re a woman's reputation; that it would be the most harmed by the actions of a love-sick man, and not to the man's himself.

And with the prevalence of illegitimate children born to well-to-do sons out of wedlock, Sq Hamley too understands the prudence of limiting the exposure of a young woman to testosterone fueled young men for an extended period of time, especially when money and the inheriting of said money upon marriage was important in maintaining these old family estates. Like Robin mentioned above, well-to-do young men like Osbourne and Roger Hamley were expected to marry into money given their good education and status - marrying plain Molly Gibson, poor country doctor's daughter would definitely be out of the question.


message 27: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Jan 05, 2018 12:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
LOL! I get the German part - and I am a native :)

Here is another thought that has occurred to me in this context, the financial aspect. Women were expected to bring a dowry into marriage, whereas men inherited by birth rank. If you were a second son or after, you might inherit a vicarage or become a soldier. In other words, their future income was dependent on them making a living or their own fortune.
Could it be that providing a dowry and a formal education went beyond the capacity of most, except the most wealthy?


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Lois | 186 comments Kerstin wrote: "Was Bethia's dismissal justified?
Let's look a it from Mr. Gibson's perspective.
... She has to answer to him. When she runs extracurricular errands that undermine the safety and morality of his daughter, then she has to go. ... His concern is to make sure this never happens again, and Bethia has lost his trust."


Yes, that is how I see it too Kerstin. If someone whose allegiance is to him and his, behaves in a way that potentially could shame him and ruin the reputation of his daughter, then yes, he is justified in firing said employee regardless of the years employed or the fondness for this person in the household.

Besides, he ensured that she found another employement elsewhere and so I think he did right by her in the end.


message 29: by Lois (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lois | 186 comments Having read Gaskell's "North and South" in fairly some detail, I can't help compare the two female protagonists, Margaret Hale and Molly Gibson. Like Molly, Margaret too fringes between the various societal divides being a poor vicar's daughter - quite at ease with the poor in her village but having been sent to live with her wealthy aunt and cousin in London at a young age, with sufficient airs and graces about her. Her naivete, like Molly's, is quite exasperating to read but it best underlines how these girls strove to be less of a burden to their families and guardians in every waking moment of their lives.

The fact that a 17 year old Molly only now realizes that her father could always marry again, shows just how naive she really is. Her wish about tying a string around the two of them after that episode at the Towers was a little worrisome for me as a reader. She was lucky her father didn't marry straight away after that incident. What fate now awaits her I wonder.

Re Mrs Kirpatrick, I think the blame about forgetting little Molly lies solely with her and shows just how flouncy and silly a women she is and it really speaks to her character - all pretense and outward concern. She could have mentioned the little girl to the housekeeper in the least, if she really could be bothered. But her eating from the tray sent for Molly and changing in front of the child with no qualms about her shows her true nature away from the eyes of the ladies of the house.

I love how Molly who couldn't correct the false notion that she indulged in that lunch tray earlier, made it a point to approach Lady Cumner by the end when she heard Mrs K remark that she was “shy” and needed to accompany the child in her thank yous to the family. I thought Molly stood her ground there quite well.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments Kerstin wrote: "LOL! I get the German part - and I am a native :)

Here is another thought that has occurred to me in this context, the financial aspect. Women were expected to bring a dowry into marriage, whereas..."


Lois wrote: "Gabrielle wrote: "She is twelve years old and she acts like an evaporated young woman: Oh! Bring me my salts, my corset is too tight, I’m going to faint! I'm starving, but ... oh! I cannot swallow ..."

I agree, ladies.
I can't remember which one, but a famous French author from the 19th (Théophile Gautier, maybe?) said: With a dowry, a young girl was buying herself a husband!


message 31: by Lois (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lois | 186 comments Kerstin wrote: "If you were a second son or after, you might inherit a vicarage or become a soldier. In other words, their future income was dependent on them making a living or their own fortune." Yes, exactly!

And a lot of them would chose to marry a woman with a substantial fortune because upon marriage her fortune automatically becomes his(!) and from which their subsequent children's inheritance then depended on.

Again, I'm reminded of Austen's men, Col. Fitwilliam and Willoughby here for whom a "good" marriage was their only way to carry on. For these men mentioned above and the Hamley boys, marrying for love was well and good as long as it was to a someone rich! ;)


LindaH | 499 comments Great discussion! I just want to add mention of my own discomfort with Molly’s naïveté at 17. She is so eager to please, whether it’s by staying out of the way in order not to inconvenience anyone or by performing little childlike acts, like skipping through the house while singing, of which the Hamleys are fond. I think the Hamleys don’t want or expect her to grow up. She is quite “without the accessories” , as Mrs Hamley puts it. This comment suggests there is something amiss with her physical development.


Alicatte | 17 comments Hello, everyone. I've been away from Goodreads/reading for a while. Now I'm reading Wives & Daughters to get back into the swing. I may not comment much, but I'm very much enjoying reading everyone's insights. Thanks!


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Nina Clare | 135 comments Lots of interesting points being discussed!
I love Gaskell's deft characterisation skills, she creates a subtext between what characters say, and what they do or really think. Mr Gibson says he doesn't consider women worth educating, yet he accedes to Molly's requests for extra tuition, and she has the free range of his library. He speaks gruffly, yet acts tenderly. For me, his delightful dry humour, and deep love for Molly, offsets his chuavanism - fancy him telling the highly erudite Mrs Hamley that she talks 'just like a woman - all kindness and no common sense'!
Meanwhile, Clare, or Mrs Kirkpatrick, talks very kindly and sweetly, but the narrator lets us know that she acts out of selfish motives. She promises to wake Molly up, and then blames Molly for oversleeping when she forgets her promise. She furtively eats Molly's lunch and does not admit to it when Molly thinks she overhears herself being laughed at for gluttony. So many delightful nuances of character being shown.
I agree with others that Mr Gibson's dismissal of their young servant was heavy handed - but it serves to show us the high moral standards (esp. for the behaviour of women) of both Mr Gibson and of the small town in which the story is set, which provides important context for the romantic plot lines that will unfold.
I also agree that Molly seems incredibly young for a girl of 12, and still so at 17, but then why shouldn't she be when she has grown up in such a sheltered environment? I love her sweet nature combined with the loyalty she shows to her governess and father. It's clear that she is presented as a naif because this will be a coming of age story for her.


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Linda | 115 comments As some of the discussion has revolved around Molly’s education, I wanted to find out more about educational opportunities at the time when the novel takes place, which would be in the late Georgian period as Victoria became queen in 1837. I found an article on the Oxford Royale Academy website ((https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/artic...)
which summarizes the situation well. Here’s an excerpt-

“The Georgian period has been seen as a step back in the freedoms and education available to women in Britain. It was a time of some bright sparks in women’s education, such as the beginnings of the Bluestocking movement – a loose alliance of mostly upper-class women sharing educational pursuits – or the writings of thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft. However, this was also the time when the more equitable role of women in society began to give way to the ‘separate spheres’ theory, which held that men should be in charge outside the home, in the world of work, and women should be in charge within the home, in the world of childcare and household management.

While female literacy rates continued to increase, the separate spheres theory meant that wealthy families were no longer educating their daughters alongside their sons, and consequently teaching them much the same things. While boys might be sent to boarding schools, girls were sent to ‘dame schools’ or taught by governesses, and their education was tailored towards their role as wives and mothers. How to make delicate conversation, sew or manage servants was taught instead of anything more intellectually challenging; a restriction that many young women found chafing. Those who managed to get access to education despite the trends of the time accessed it in much the same way as their predecessors; usually by being taught by understanding parents or siblings, or teaching themselves from their libraries.” Progress was in evidence later in the century as within a span of twenty years, female illiteracy fell from 60% to 40%. However, it was not until the 1880 Education Act that education became compulsory for all children ages five through 10 with government funding available.

Molly was one of the fortunate girls who did have a governess. Her father’s choice of subjects for her to study makes sense within the context of serving for her future role as wife and mother. It could be seen as fairly progressive that the Cumnors set up a school for the children of the working class. It makes perfect sense that their studies would again reflect the skills necessary for their future roles in the working class.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Alicatte wrote: "Hello, everyone. I've been away from Goodreads/reading for a while. Now I'm reading Wives & Daughters to get back into the swing. I may not comment much, but I'm very much enjoying reading everyone..."

Welcome Alicatte! So glad you are joining us!


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 463 comments Linda wrote: "As some of the discussion has revolved around Molly’s education, I wanted to find out more about educational opportunities at the time when the novel takes place, which would be in the late Georgia..."

Very interesting, Linda, thank you.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Linda wrote: "As some of the discussion has revolved around Molly’s education, I wanted to find out more about educational opportunities at the time when the novel takes place, which would be in the late Georgia..."

Thank you Linda for this wonderful background on women's education in the UK! I had a hunch this topic wasn't as one-dimensional as it is often portrayed. The opportunities for women waxed and waned over the centuries. Though to be fair, it was mostly women of the upper or merchant classes whose families could afford to educate their daughters. We have the same thing with Molly here. Her father is educated, so he must come from a well-to-do family himself.
Educating the masses, now that's a different subject all-together! And we don't see that until the later part of the 19th century.

On the Continent the history must be a little different before wide-spread mandatory schooling emerged in the 19th century. My understanding of this is very sketchy, and I'd like to know more. I do know that Angela Merici (1474-1540) founded the first school for poor girls in Italy. Her order are the Ursulines, and they run schools world-wide to this day. In the 1720s the king of France sent Ursulines to New Orleans to open a school and a hospital, and the school still exists (don't know about the hospital).
There are others who followed in Merici's footsteps. Here in the US we have Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) and Katherine Drexel (1858-1955). Catholics venerate all three women as saints.

So girls' education over the centuries must be very much dependent on where and when opportunities were available to them.


Martin Olesh | 39 comments We need to be reminded that a public school in England is not at all what an American calls a public school. In England, the public school is an aristocratic institution private and exclusive in every way, where the aristocracy sends its boys to become gentlemen before they go to Oxford or Cambridge. Eton and Harrow are public schools. In that atmosphere in the early 19th century even an upper middle class son of a wealthy merchant or factory owner would have been scorned

As we see, class in England had very little to do with wealth or even rank. Squire Hamley was very poor compared to Lord Cumnor and lived much more modestly but his pedigree was immeasurably longer than the Lord and because of that, the Squire felt that if his sons were to marry, they must do better than marry into a parvenu family like Lord Cumnor’s whose pedigree might go back only a hundred years.

The relative value of the literary pursuits as opposed to the scientific pursuits in social circles is accurately portrayed. In the early 19th century, the education of a gentleman was focused on the liberal arts and humanities. Science was regarded as an eccentric pursuit for a gentleman, vaguely smelling of commerce and trade.

A doctor is a kind of tradesman and only because he is considered a Scotsman are more doors open to Gibson than to his predecessor Hall. Doctors go through the back door and eat in the servants quarters.

Young Coxe is not dismissed because his father is Gibson’s friend and Gibson pledged that he would take special care the son. It is not merely because he is a male that Gibson allows him to stay. In dismissing the servant girl, Gibson made sure she would have no problem with finding another position. On the other hand, in keeping Coxe, Gibson considered his pledge and the fact that Coxe had no one in England to turn to for help since his father was far away in India.


Camille (camillesbookishadventures) Hello everyone. I'm joining you all with my first group read.

Thank you for all the wonderful contributions to the discussion, there are so many things i hadn't evem thought about.
One thing that did cross my mind is whether Gaskell called the governess Miss Eyre after Brontë's Jane Eyre.


Joanne | 62 comments Have any of you thought of comparing Victorian times to today? As I was reading your comment, I tried to imagine what my father would have done if he found a note such as the one Coxe wrote. Most assuredly, I think my father would have fired Coxe. As I was growing up, my parents were also very protective. Perhaps not OVER protective, I don't know. But in our house, if the situation were to happen in current times, my parents would not have trusted Coxe to restrain his feelings. He would have had to go. Perhaps my father would have tried to find him a situation.


Martin Olesh | 39 comments I was struck that the author chose to name Molly’s governess Miss Eyre. So I did a little research. It turns out that Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte were close friends. In contrast to the immediate success of Gaskell’s first novel, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which was published about the same time, was poorly received. It was considered very radical and subversive. Bronte died in 1855 and Wives and Daughters was published in 1865. Clearly, Gaskell intended the naming of the character as a tribute to her late friend and her book. It would give Jane Eyre some public recognition in a novel that was going to be a best seller and might even spark some interest among critics.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Martin wrote: "As we see, class in England had very little to do with wealth or even rank. Squire Hamley was very poor compared to Lord Cumnor and lived much more modestly but his pedigree was immeasurably longer than the Lord and because of that, the Squire felt that if his sons were to marry, they must do better than marry into a parvenu family like Lord Cumnor’s whose pedigree might go back only a hundred years."

I am glad you brought this up, Martin. We haven't really talked about the landed gentry in Hollingford and Hamley.
How do these families see themselves?
How are they viewed by their peers?

Perhaps will find more information on how their tenants, servants and the villages see them as we keep reading.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Martin wrote: "A doctor is a kind of tradesman and only because he is considered a Scotsman are more doors open to Gibson than to his predecessor Hall. Doctors go through the back door and eat in the servants quarters."

He certainly belongs to the small middle class at the time. By the 1860s when Gaskell is writing this the middle class will have grown quite a bit. Still, he would be above a tenant farmer.

You mention he would be considered more of a tradesman. Would you say he is equal in line with merchants and tradesmen in the villages, such as the milliner, cobbler, blacksmith, etc.?

I find it interesting that Gaskell uses a doctor and his daughter to center her story around. By his profession he seamlessly moves between all the citizens of the area regardless of social standing.


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Kerstin | 619 comments Mod
Camille wrote: "Hello everyone. I'm joining you all with my first group read.

Thank you for all the wonderful contributions to the discussion, there are so many things i hadn't evem thought about.
One thing tha..."


Welcome Camille!
I had to chuckle when I read of Gaskell naming the governess Miss Eyre.


Martin Olesh | 39 comments The doctor’s place in the social hierarchy depended in part on his standing within the profession and on his personal social background. Dr. Hall only dined upstairs with the Cumnors when he was in the company of a more renowned physician brought in for consultation. Otherwise he ate in the housekeeper’s room downstairs. Not with the housekeeper herself, because it would not be proper to dine alone with an unmarried woman but not with the servants either whose status was beneath his. The doctor was not like the blacksmith who had no reason to ever set foot inside the manor house. He was more like the solicitor. So in that sense he was on a higher rung. But unless he was a younger son of the aristocracy, he would always be middle class.


Camille (camillesbookishadventures) Martin wrote: "The doctor’s place in the social hierarchy depended in part on his standing within the profession and on his personal social background. Dr. Hall only dined upstairs with the Cumnors when he was in..."

I wondee then if, in a way, hia status isn't similar to the status of a governess, stuck between spheres and not belonging to any in a way.


Camille (camillesbookishadventures) Martin wrote: "I was struck that the author chose to name Molly’s governess Miss Eyre. So I did a little research. It turns out that Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte were close friends. In contrast to the i..."

Thank you for this, Martin. I did want to research it but had no time to do so. I find it interesting that Jane Eyre was a flop at the time, while Gaskell's novels werw successful, and nowadays Jane Eyre is an absolute bestseller, but Gaskell has been quite forgotten. Obviously not completely forgotten but a lot of my family and friends haven't heard of her for example, and they are people qho read.


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Nina Clare | 135 comments Camille wrote: I wondee then if, in a way, hia status isn't similar to the status of a governess, stuck between spheres and not belonging to any in a way

Good point, Mr Gibson and Mrs Kirkpatrick are both 'between spheres', except a governess would have earned significantly less than a doctor. He could afford a comfortable home and his income was rising each year, while she struggled to make ends meet.



Martin Olesh | 39 comments Good point about comparing the doctor and the governess. The governess though had room and board which of course did not make up for the pittance of wages she was paid. The tutor might be a comparable male occupation though much more elastic in who could serve in that role. The nanny and the nurse occupied lower rungs.


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