Book Review: Wives and Daugters

wives-and-daughters Ah, the joys of diving into a long Victorian novel.  I splurged, as I must on occasion, and read Elizabeth Gaskell’s romantic novel Wives and Daughters.  At 644 pages, it was a bit of a sacrifice for my book a week reading goal, but it was well worth the effort.

I’ve never read anything by Gaskell before, so I was excited to meet a new female Victorian writer, hoping that I’d find a new author to read en masse.  And, thank goodness, I wasn’t disappointed.

Wives and Daughters has a slower pace than Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters’ books.  I compare it more with George Elliot’s work in its concern with character development and particularly the importance of the relationships between the characters.  In this book, as the title suggests, the relationships in focus are those of daughters (step-daughters, to be precise), step-mothers, and wives. 

Molly Gibson is the fresh faced, doe eyed main character, who is almost TOO good.  I admit, I had a hard time believing how good she was, just like Beth in Little Women…a little too good.  But in Alcott’s book, Beth isn’t the main character. Rebellious and badly behaved Joe is the main character, so Beth’s goodness is a little easier to take.  Same goes for Pride and Prejudice.  Jane is a little too good as well, but we have Lizzy to make it all even.But, Molly’s strength lies in her faithfulness and devotion to those she loves.  She’s not out to impress anyone, and she’s genuine.  Those are certainly amiable qualities.

Molly lives with her widowed father, the local doctor.  I loved all the details about country medicine, so that was a wonderful surprise in the book.  Molly has that Heidi-like country freshness about her.  She and her father are thick as thieves, and Molly roams wild about the countryside.

The plot gets going when Molly’s father decides to marry, mainly for Molly’s sake.  The woman he chooses is good on paper, but in reality, isn’t necessarily the best choice.  Clare is selfish and bossy and much more immature than the girl she is supposed to be raising, an irony that Gaskill continually points out.

Of course, there are love interests, in the form of Roger Hamley, a member of the wealthy landowning class, far removed from Molly’s prospect in marriage.  But, of course, there are 600 pages worth of experiences that throw these lovebirds in each other’s way, with the complication that Roger falls in love with Clare’s daughter (Molly’s stepsister) Cynthia. 

Imagine my surprise when I got to the end of the book to find it uncompleted.  Gaskill died before she finished it, and nobody bothered to tell me this.  I suppose I could have learned it if I’d have bothered to read the introduction, but sometimes, those spoil the endings. 

Other editions have added alternate endings.  And we pretty much know where the story is going.  Gaskill has wrapped up most of the plot lines.

However, that was a new experience for me, one that I’m not sure I want to repeat unawares.  I accidentally woke Dan up with my protestations when I was up late finishing the book and came upon that “ending.” 

Don’t let that dissuade you from reading the book though, especially if there’s one with the completed ending.  I also hear that there are some good BBC versions out there, for those of you who enjoy watching period dramas.  I’m assuming that the BBC added an ending to avoid annoying their viewers.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have Wives and Daughters, but haven’t read it yet. (So many to-read books on my shelves!) I didn’t know about it being incomplete. :-/ I’ll read it anyway someday.

    AL: It was sitting on my shelf for awhile too, with it being such a long book and all. Sort of got prioritized behind all the shorter books. It’s not one you can read a little of an put aside for awhile, though. You need to set aside the time to devote to it.

  2. I read this book just last fall. I agree with you it had a slower start. I didn’t enjoy the book on the whole just because I didn’t get the point of it. I hear the BBC video series is quite lovely though. I kept a Reader’s Diary of my reading, if you are interested:

    http://www.readingtoknow.com/2008/09/readers-diary-wives-daughters.html

    AL: Thanks for sharing your diary. I thought some of your critiques were right on. I had a more positive outlook on the book, overall, though. I think I found the plot a little more captivating. The relationships were enough to propel it along for me.

  3. Several of my friends are diehard Gaskill fans…and I feel guilty whenever I see them and have still not at least seen the BBC version of the book.

    The friends are all quality readers. I just need more time to enjoy their recommendations. And now here you are saying what they are saying.

    It must be a conspiracy to get me into Gaskill’s thrall.

    PS: Are you going to review the vampire version of Jane Austen? Or did I miss that?

    AL: Oh, I’m planning on reading the vampire atrocity. heheh. I can’t bring myself to purchase a copy, so I”m on the surprisingly long library waiting list. Whenever I get my hands on it, I’ll eventually review it. But I’m not expecting great things…

  4. No ending to the book!

    My favorite non-ending book of all time was “Jaws” in which Benchley wrote the last twenty pages in a taxi cab on the way to the printer. But this book, unlike “Jaws”, actually goes 644 pages and has no printed ending.

    Hmm! Maybe there’s hope for some of my unfinished books after all.

    And as usual, I enjoyed the review.

    AL: I didn’t know that about Jaws! That’s great! Sounds a bit like the romanticized vision I have of J.K. Rowling writing her first Harry Potter books while commuting as a single mom on a bus.


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