“How easy it is to judge rightly after one sees what evil comes from judging wrongly.”
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Published 1865 by Smith, Elder & Co.
Format: e-book; 805 pages
Also From This Author: North and South, Cranford
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My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centres on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford.
This book was so hard to finish! Not only because I didn’t want it to end, but also because I knew beforehand that Mrs. Gaskell suddenly passed away a mere chapter or two before Wives and Daughters would have been completed. I absolutely loved the ending to North and South, and I so would have enjoyed reading Gaskell’s intended ending for this novel, but fortunately the editor does leave us with some closing remarks about how the author planned the ending. So even though the novel ended abruptly, at least there was a bit of closure.
The plot of Wives and Daughters is very long and may seem unending at times, but the characters are very interesting. I appreciated how Gaskell depicted real, disjointed families and in the midst of all the selfishness and scandals we have Miss Molly Gibson, who learns to grow up when her father unexpectedly decides to remarry. Some readers may find Molly a bit dull due to her high Victorian morals, but I love her all the more for them. Molly, similarly to Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, seems to be surrounded by friends and family who are selfish, unforgiving and at times harsh, and who gossip uncontrollably without considering the harm it inflicts upon others. Often at times my heart would break for Molly and her plights, but I knew I could count on Mrs. Gaskell to reward her heroine for it at the end.
While I hated Molly’s stepmother, the widowed Mrs. Kirkpatrick (she could give Mrs. Bennet some competition as Most Annoying Mother), I did care for her daughter Cynthia, who is arguably the most interesting character in the entire novel. Sometimes it felt as if Cynthia, and not Molly, was the main character. But I felt the most for Molly, especially when Roger Hamley, Molly’s dear friend and secret crush whom I had adored for the first half of the novel, practically ignores Molly during his quest for Cynthia’s favor (he begins to make up for it towards the end of the novel, however!). This is another reason why I likened Molly Gibson to Fanny Price, although the two big differences are that Cynthia Kirkpatrick, unlike Mary Crawford, honestly cares for Molly and is a genuine friend to her and Molly is also more confident of herself than Fanny Price (so for all you readers who dislike Mansfield Park and it’s “goodie-goodie” heroine, Wives and Daughters should be more agreeable to you. I for one happen to love both novels, but W&D touched my heart a lot more).
Read This Book If:
…you love Victorian Lit and its themes.
…you enjoy novels with both lovable and detestable characters.
…you’d be interested in seeing parallels between mid-19th century society and today (gossiping, secrets, love triangles).
…you’re looking for a novel that will make you “feel all the feels”, as I like to say.
I finished this novel a few days ago and I am still on a book hangover. I want more of Molly Gibson, her family, and the dear Hamleys. The more I think about it, the sadder I am that Gaskell passed away just before finishing Wives and Daughters. I really loved the ending to North and South, despite the fact that the miniseries ending is beautiful in its own way, and I wish I could read Mrs. Gaskell’s own intended happy ending for dear Molly. BUT, the BBC Wives and Daughters miniseries offers its own ending that I really enjoyed, despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly what Mrs. Gaskell would have penned herself. It’s still beautiful and fits the characters very well. I would encourage everyone who loves period dramas to give the miniseries a watch, and if you already have seen it (or if you don’t mind spoilers), I’ve shared the ending scene here because I love it so much and have watched it quite a few times (I’m not ashamed to admit it)!