Wives and Daughters
Wives and Daughters
“Your husband this morning! Mine tonight!”
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel and widely considered her masterpiece, follows the fortunes of Molly Gibson – the doctor’s daughter in the provincial town of Hollingford.
Molly’s mother has been dead since her infancy, but otherwise she passes a happy childhood, loved by her father, and petted by the unmarried ladies of the town.
In her late teens her father marries again, this time to the pretty widow Hyacinth Kirkpatrick, who was formerly a governess at the local great house owned by Lord and Lady Cumnor.
In one fell swoop Molly is divided from her father, and gains both a stepmother and stepsister – the beautiful and universally admired Cynthia.
The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford.
Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society.
Gaskell vividly portrays the world of the late 1820 s and the forces of change within it, and her vision is always humane and progressive.
The story is full of acute observation and sympathetic character-study: the feudal squire clinging to old values, his naturalist son welcoming the new world of science, the local doctor and his scheming second wife, the two girls brought together by their parents’ marriage.
Gaskell has a lightness of touch that makes the most minor of characters believable and sympathetic, and so succeeds in drawing us into this society.
ELIZABETH GASKELL (1810–1865) one of the nineteenth century’s most significant novelists was widely held to be the social conscience of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Her fictions offered an accurate 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.