Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wives and Daughters: thoughts on earmarked pages

Another George du Maurier illustration for the Wives and Daughters, The Cornhill, 1864.

From Chapter 34, "A Lover's Mistake"
Molly chose a walk that had been a favourite with her ever since she was a child. Something or other had happened just before she left home that made her begin wondering how far it was right for the sake of domestic peace to pass over without comment the little deviations from right that people perceive in those whom they live with. Or, whether, as they are placed in families for distinct purposes, not by chance merely, there are not duties involved in this aspect of their lot in life, - whether by continually passing over failings, their own standard is not lowered, - the practical application of these thoughts being a dismal sort of perplexity on Molly's part as to whether her father was quite aware of her stepmother's perpetual lapses from truth; and whether his blindness was wilful or not.

From reading Uglow's bio of Gaskell, it seems that she herself sometimes fictionalized her own view of circumstances. I truly wonder how much of Mrs. Gibson is self-portrait. That's a bit harsh to say, because I dislike Mrs Gibson very much and I like Elizabeth Gaskell very much as an author and as a person, though she was tempermental, flighty, and sometimes absolutely insensitive to the needs and feelings of her daughters.

If there's a bit of Mrs. Gaskell in Mrs. Gibson, I wonder whether there's also a bit of her daughter Flossie in Cynthia.

Also from "A Lover's Mistake"...
Mrs Gibson was pouring out, unheard and unheeded, words of farewell; Cynthia was rearranging some flowers in a vase on the table, the defects in which had caught her artistic eye, without the consciousness penetrating to her mind. Molly stood, numb to the heart; neither glad nor sorry, nor anything but stunned. She felt the slackened touch of the warm grasping hand; she looked up - for till now her eyes had been downcast, as if there were heavy weights to their lids - and the place was empty where he had been ; his quick step was heard on the stair, the front door was opened and shut; and then as quick as lightning Molly ran up to the front attic - the lumber-room, whose window commanded the street down which he must pass. The window-clasp was unused and stiff, Molly tugged at it - unless it was open, and her head put out, that last chance would be gone.

I love this passage and consider it one of the best Elizabeth Gaskell ever wrote--it is very Persuasion-like in its depiction of the heat and chaos within Molly, as contrasted to the superficiality of Mrs Gibson and the cold passivity of Cynthia--it reminds me of Anne Eliot seeing Captain Wentworth again while all those around her are unaware of the turmoil within.


  1. I was happy to stumble across your blog today. Lovely posts on some of my favorite books!

  2. Thanks for stopping by and for the note, Hope. I enjoyed looking at your blog as well, and it was interesting to see how many of my 100 favorites are also on yours. I'd be curious to know what the something by Shakespeare is that you would choose. Having just seen my dear daughter in a production of Midsummer Night's Dream, that one is my current favorite and being a "glass is half full" person, I would have to go with a comedy over a tragedy, though there are truly masterpieces amongst the tragedies.