Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars (My first Goodreads review posted in my blog. I didn’t know you could do that but hope to do it many more times in the future. If you are on goodreads and we aren’t friends please add me!)
Whenever I get bored with reading I go back and reread either Gaskell or Austen (with an occasional Elliott or Bronte thrown in the mix). They are my version of comfort food in book form. Wives and Daughters is a splendid book with humor, warmth, intrigue and of course romance. I probably read it and North and South 4-5 times a year if not more so.
The key to it is Molly Gibson. While North and South is my favorite Gaskell, Molly Gibson is my favorite character. She may be my favorite character in all of literature. Gaskell knew how to write women. I feel like she gets inside my head with her characters better than any other author.
Despite the prim and proper age which she lived she managed to always write women that are complex, dynamic and bold. Molly is a perfect example. She is one part intellect and one part frustratingly naive. She is thoughtful towards all but also slightly petty. Her heart is easily attached but she is by no means a push-over. She is insanely likable because we all can relate to some part of her personality.
All of Gaskell’s women are free with their opinion and feel remarkably modern. Molly and Margaret (North and South) are not waiting around to be useful or make an impact on society, as you see in the Austen books (I realize they were written in a different era but still).
The attribute I relate the most to in Molly is her deep and abiding love for others. She genuinely loves the Hamley’s and even finds a way to love the manipulative yet sympathetic Cynthia. Hyacinth is the only Gaskell character I can think of which borders on caricature, but even then you do see some perspective as to why she feels she must act in such a silly way.
Wives and Daughters is practically perfect- if only Gaskell had finished the last chapter before her death…Nevertheless, it will make you laugh, cry, smile and question your own behavior. It tells a love story in the best possible way- a meeting of the minds, of 2 kindred spirits that finally realize they are meant to be together. Who doesn’t love that? 🙂
(Molly actually reminds me a lot of my sister (minus the negative characteristics listed above!) who is so thoughtful, kind, inquisitive and forgiving.)
PS- I love how the main critique of this book is that it is long. Duh. You think you could tell that by looking at it.
Now the question is what do I read next?…I always ask that after reading Gaskell? Nothing else quite compares in my eyes. Christmas Carol will probably be next up!
The BBC Miniseries is excellent with wonderful performances. Michael Gambon is always superb in everything he is in and he gives a heart wrenchingly nuanced performance as Squire Hamley (a role that could be very cliched). Justine Waddell is very good as Molly Gibson.
The series also does a good job creating a pitch-perfect ending. I recommend reading the book first, develop your own ending and see how it compares with the series. It is currently a stream on Netflix. I wonder when Hollywood is going to get with it and create a regular movie version of Gaskell? They’ve done Austen to death. You think they’d be jumping at the chance to do Gaskell?