Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters

“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.

Final Musings:

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)!

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell


“Looking back upon the year’s accumulated heap of troubles, Margaret wondered how they had been borne. If she could have anticipated them, how she would have shrunk away and hid herself from the coming time! And yet day by day had, of itself, and by itself, been very endurable–small, keen, bright little spots of positive enjoyment having come sparkling into the very middle of sorrows.”

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Published in 1858 by Chapman & Hall
Format: paperback; 424 pages
Also From This Author: Cranford, Wives and Daughters
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My Rating: 5/5


When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.


So, I adored this novel. It was such a wonderful surprise, because I had read the first third of it for a Victorian Lit & Technology seminar I took in college, but for various reasons I never finished it (the curse of assigned reading). This year, I decided to read it as part of my Classics Club and Back to the Classics lists, and now I keep thinking, “Why did I never read this book sooner?!”

North and South is a coming of age tale of sorts that follows Margaret Hale and her family as they move from their beloved country home of Helstone in the south of England to the industrial manufacturing city of Milton in the north. I identified with this novel in some particular ways, namely the fact that I have uprooted my life before and moved from what is known and comfortable to what is foreign and seemingly harsh. I’m sure most expats feel the same way: when you move to a new country and are unfamiliar with the language and culture, it can be very stressful and depressing for a while. But, if you try to assimilate and learn the ways of your new home, chances are you’ll absorb parts of the new culture and learn to embrace its differences from your mother culture. This is something I loved most about Margaret. She could have boxed herself up and refused to reach out to her new neighbors, but instead she intermingles with Milton inhabitants of all class ranks, and she grows to love them. And her eagerness to do so has a positive effect on her acquaintances as well.

Which brings me to Mr. John Thornton. Even though Margaret despises him from the start, I always had a soft regard for him (probably because of Gaskell’s descriptions of him, and because I already knew how this story would end from watching the miniseries). Thornton is viewed as a cruel and unkind master who has no compassion for his mill workers, which isn’t true, but this is attributed to Margaret’s misunderstanding of Thornton and Milton ways. By the end of the novel, Thornton learns as much from Margaret and his workers as Margaret learns from all of them in return. I loved that they all had faults and they all struggled to overcome them.

“I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine…”

Oh yeah, and I loved the romance :) It was one of the “bright spots” that relieved the moments of grief and suffering that take up most of this novel.

Read This Book If…:

• You love reading Victorian Lit that focuses on social injustices and “new” technology.
• You enjoyed Jane Eyre (there lies the same themes of human conscience, right vs. wrong, and compassion).
• You’re intrigued by Byronic heroes (Mr. Thornton has, in my opinion, qualities of both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester).
• You like endings that make you laugh, cry, and feel inspired <3

Final Musings:

North and South is not your typical period romance. It deals with some serious grief and suffering; but as Margaret Hale discovers, there is always some “bright spot” to make life enjoyable. Plus, there’s a Byronic romance that will make you swoon (and it even made me cry, happily and sadly). And if romance isn’t your thing, this novel still talks about social injustices that remain relevant today. Unlike some other similar novels, North and South will make you think and feel but it won’t leave you depressed (I’m looking at you, Wuthering Heights).

Stop by later this week to see my post on the BBC miniseries of North and South!