Friday, April 03, 2009

Fate is a cunning hussy...more W&D

Ever since I read Gaskell's bizarre story, Curious if True, I have been noticing her very frequent references to fairy tales and folk lore in her stories.

In chapter 5 of Wives and Daughters, "Calf Love," Mr. Gibson decides to send Molly to Hamley Hall and he explains his intentions to her by saying that
'There are three old ladies sitting somewhere, and thinking about you just at this very minute; one has a distaff in her hands, and is spinning a thread; she has come to a knot in it, and is puzzled what to do with it. Her sister has a great pair of scissors in her hands, and wants--as she always does, when any difficulty arises in the smoothness of the thread--to cut it off short; but the third, who has the most head of the three, plans how to undo the knot; and she it is who has decided that you are to go to the Fates have decreed that this visit is to be paid, there is nothing left for you and me but to submit.'

Molly correctly labels this nonsense, though, of course, she acquiesces. However, Gaskell has picked the right metaphor for showing the blindness and willful folly of Mr. Gibson. A difficulty has arisen in Mr. Gibson's smooth life--his daughter is becoming that most dangerous of all beings, an attractive woman--he thinks he is being clever and solving the problem of her sexuality by locking her in a tower (i.e., Hamley Hall), but with this action he is simply seizing the scissors and attempting to cut the knot instead of acknowledging that maybe the knot isn't an obstacle but an affirmation of life.

Chapter 7's opening paragraph picks up this theme again, with the lovely observation that "fate is a cunning hussy." Mr. Gibson recklessly tempted fate by attributing his desperate response to the fear of Molly's maturity to the Fates, but he had no idea what that 'cunning hussy' had in store for him. So much for hubris.

1 comment:

  1. How fascinating! I've only read "Cranford". although I have "Mary Barton" waiting to be read. I can see I will have to read more of Gaskell.