Sylvia's Lovers is Elizabeth Gaskell's last completed novel. “The saddest story I ever wrote,” Mrs. Gaskell said of Sylvia’s Lovers, published in 1863, the absorbing tale of an ordinary girl's tragic passion for a man who disappears after being forcibly pressed into military service. Sylvia’s unrequited love results in tragic and painful consequences.
The trail of destruction starts there: within a few years Sylvia has lost a lover, a father, a home, a mother and her husband.
Partly because of its vivid historical background, its success in setting the story of five individual lives against the dramatic backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and the tyranny of the press gang operations in seafaring towns at the end of the 18th century.
Mrs. Gaskell based much of the detail on actual events: researching at the British Museum, she studied the details of the Whitby Riot of 1793 and of an old man accused of inciting the rioters who was later hanged.
The plot is simple: Philip adores Sylvia but she cannot return his love as she has fallen in love with the dashing but unreliable Charley Kinraid.
The two declare their love but not long after Charley is seized and forcibly pressed into military service leaving Sylvia not knowing why he has disappeared.
Set in a fictional Whitby at the end of the eighteenth century, the novel is a modern revenge tragedy in which well-intentioned actions have terrible human consequences.
ELIZABETH GASKELL (1810–1865) was an English novelist and short story writer. Her fictions offered a meticulous portrait of Victorian society. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published in 1848. Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, was the first biography about Brontë. Some of Gaskell's best-known novels are Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.