So yesterday I finished Wives and Daughters (warning – spoilers about the book ahead!). I pretty much spent the entire weekend reading it. I know, I was reminded why I generally try not to pick up books in the first place – I can’t put them down (alas, I’m getting behind in my crafting! P.s. I went into a fabric store this weekend to get Xmas decorations, totally blew my budget and have decided I’m like Martha Stewart on crack in any sort of craft/fabric store, and I actually need to be banned. But that is another story…).
I think Wives and Daughters is hailed as Gaskell’s great work – in fact the most gutting thing about this book is that it isn’t finished. She died while writing it. At least the book is far enough along that you generally have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to end. And in fact, I think it is the complexity of the characters that makes the book the most interesting. The villains aren’t truly villains. The stepmother is not evil, however she is selfish, vain, and jealous of both her daughter and her step-daughter. She also schemes in some less than desirable ways to snag her daughter a husband. But she isn’t really evil.
The step-sister, Cynthia, as well, is greatly loved by our heroine (Molly) despite being flawed. It is (in my humble opinion) the step-mother’s early (selfish) neglect of Cynthia that leaves her with her great fault – her desire to be liked by everyone (her mother likes her, but at the same time finds Cynthia as a hassle and often sends her away. So Cynthia seeks approval from everyone else). This desire to be “agreeable” is actually problematic and leaves her twice in the book being engaged to two different men at the same time.
Overally, the book was enjoyable due to the complexity of the characters. And of course, our heroine was unusually intelligent and interested in science (at least, she was portrayed as such for a woman of that time) – hence the appeal.
Of course, the general lack of an ending (some things are clear) does leave me wondering about a few of the supporting characters such as Lady Harriet, Mr. Preston, the Miss Brownings and of course how the step-mother and father get on after both the daughters are married and leave home. The interest the latter was particularly due to one of the final comments by the step-mother on how she wished she were born 30 years later, as she had been more beautiful than her daughter at that same age, that she would have been sure to get a husband so much more handsome and rich than she did. Talk about an insult to her current husband (who was a well-to-do and respected country doctor)! And again, the jealousy towards her own daughter’s good fortune.
I must say, overall I’m left with the impression to try and be honest, good and generous.
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Thoughts? Current reads? Suggestions for other classics?