a tale of two daughters

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

My copy of Wives and Daughters rested on my shelf for years. Mostly, I was concerned that I would feel the sort of disappointment I felt when I read Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon. Would I come to love the characters and then feel a sense of unfulfillment when I reached an abrupt non-ending? I waffled on the decision to read it and just let it keep gathering dust; but last month, the Victorians group on Goodreads started a W&D reading challenge and I was finally tempted to dive in.

I initially wanted to write a section summary and reaction, like I did for Bleak House and Cecilia, but several life emergencies made it impossible for me to stick to the group’s reading schedule, much less post periodic updates on my reactions.

Because this is quite a tome, I feel a regular review can’t possibly do it justice, so I’m just going to focus on some of the things I most admired about the novel.

  • I loved the dynamic between Molly and Mr. Gibson in the first part of the novel, before he remarried. It so reminded me of the relationship between Maggie and Mr. Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss and really endeared me to the characters.
  • Mrs. Gibson’s flaws and views on society make for a great social commentary in the style of Jane Austen’s best social upstarts.
  • Actually, Gaskell’s epic domestic novel often reminded me of Austen and Eliot.
  • It’s a contradiction in terms to call it epic and domestic, but it’s the best phrase I can think of to describe the scope of a book on just about every aspect of country society.
  • While I did feel a bit let down by the missing conclusion, the novel felt nearly complete and clearly laid the foundation for a satisfying ending.
  • Some of Mrs. Gibson’s lines are fantastic. Like this one: “My dear, if you must have the last word, don’t let it be a truism.”

I regret not being able to take part in an active discussion on the book, as that was my main reason for taking part in the challenge, but feel quite a sense of accomplishment now that I’ve read it. I was also left with a burning desire to re-read The Mill on the Floss.

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