I finished Gaskell's Moorland Cottage yesterday. The parallels to Wives and Daughters didn't totally play out with regards to the plot, but I did find more characters that seemed early sketches of the W&D crew. Mr. Buxton had some shades of Squire Hamley, and Frank Buxton really seemed a composite of Osbourne and Roger Hamley. Frank had the promise of university prizes ala Osbourne and ended up disappointing his father in his choice of wife, but with regards to character, Frank had Roger's sweetness and earnestness in full. I kept on expecting Erminia to turn out like Cynthia, but thankfully she didn't and was a loyal friend to Maggie throughout.
Gaskell took another run at the brother who is lost at sea motif--this time, though, Maggie ultimately learns the truth about Edward's disappearance. Her own brother's disappearance at sea, naturally enough, haunted so many of her stories.
The ending is Victorian melodrama at its best. I was a bit confused with how Frank came to be on the same ship as Maggie and Edward, but then Gaskell explained it after the fact. I think the story would have been much stronger if she had told us some of what Frank was up to instead of having him appear like a ghost in the burning ship to save Maggie. Confession time...I couldn't help thinking of the ending of the Titanic movie when Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are in the water.
It's worth reading if you are studying Gaskell, want a good, sweet, typical Victorian story, or love Wives and Daughters so much that you want to see it in the prototype stage.