Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review

Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is one of those classics that I had been meaning to read forever, but never got around to.  And no surprise, because it is really long.  Annnnnd, it's not even finished!  I didn't know this, and I'm kind of glad, because I might not have read it otherwise.  Sure, there are some notes at the end that basically summarize Ms. Gaskell's plans for the conclusion, but that's not the same thing.  I'm not sure how there is a BBC miniseries of this either, if it's not finished.  Do all the actors just turn to the camera and shrug at the end of the written part?  Or does the director take artistic license and just sort of finish it off?  Now I guess I'll have to watch it.

I read this in ebook format, so I didn't have a fun cover to analyze first.  The one above is from the Barnes and Noble Classics collection.  These girls look miserable.  I'm going to assume the young lady on the couch is the heroine, Molly Gibson, because she is supposed to be brunette.  The blonde on the piano must by Cynthia.  Even she looks pretty bummed out.  I'm guessing they are really embarrassed about the animal rug under Cynthia's feet.

This image is from the BBC miniseries.  Cynthia and Molly are holding hands in the front.  I like to think they are looking at the viewer in a way that says, "Please save us from this crazy bitch."

Now, even though I've known about this book for years, I had no idea what the actual story was like.  Here is the Goodreads description:

Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centres on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly's quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, 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. 'No nineteenth-century novel contains a more devastating rejection than this of the Victorian male assumption of moral authority', writes Pam Morris in her introduction to this new edition, in which she explores the novel's main themes – the role of women, Darwinism and the concept of Englishness – and its literary and social context.

What that summary doesn't tell you is that, although Molly gains a lovable step-sister, she also gains an incredibly selfish and annoying step-mother.  Don't get me wrong, I realize that Cynthia commits some rather selfish acts over the course of the story, but at least she has the self-awareness to feel shitty about it.

Spoiler Warnings!
Character Relationships:

  • Molly Gibson and Cynthia Kirkpatrick- Now, this was not a relationship that I expected to thrive when I first started reading.  As soon as I heard Molly was going to have a much prettier and more sophisticated step-sister, I was sure there was going to be some jealousy and cat-fights.  There is some jealousy when it comes to the admiration of Roger Hamley, but there is NO cat-fighting.  Molly and Cynthia genuinely begin to love each other and are soon best friends.  Cynthia is always there to stand up for Molly when her mother is being an idiot (which is constantly) and Molly is definitely there for Cynthia while she tries to get out of an undesired engagement with Mr. Preston, who is the worst man in the history of ever.  What I love most about Molly is that she REFUSES to slut-shame Cynthia after the Mr. Preston fiasco, even though the rest of the town is.  Molly refuses to dignify all the nasty gossip by discussing it with anyone.  Even when the whole town thinks that it's MOLLY who is secretly engaged to that jerk, she won't acknowledge it.  She knows Cynthia made a mistake and, more importantly, she knows that CYNTHIA knows she made a mistake.  We should make t-shirts, you guys.  As big a thing as slut-shaming is these days, we need to remember Molly Gibson, who will not stand for that shit.

  • Cynthia Kirkpatrick and What's-his-name Preston - Good God, this guy is terrible.  I only wrote one note during my entire reading process, and that was "Mr. Preston = Rapist."  He starts off by tricking Cynthia into thinking she OWES him something, and then basically convinces her to pay him back in sexual favors (I assume they would be having sex once they were married).  Then he stalks her all over town, crashing parties and asking everyone about her and what she's doing.  Then, he makes her agree to secret meetings, and forcibly HOLDS HER HAND, which was third base in the 19th century.  Not only do I hate this guy because he is literally the worst, but also because my brother's name is Preston and I don't like this dick soiling my brother's good name!  My brother would never force-hold someone's hand!
  • Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley - I just love these guys.  They're both so smart and wonderful and his dad already loves her like a daughter... It's just meant to be.  And, although she's hurt that he has feelings for her sister first, she's totally supportive of their relationship; she just wants him to be happy.  Roger appreciates Molly for who she is.  He never belittles her, though she is much younger, and much less mature at the beginning of the novel.  He understands her feelings, and he is able to comfort her during her father's remarriage by acknowledging that her feelings are normal, and totally okay to have.  Both of them are able to grow as human beings independent of each other, which makes me believe that they will be that much better off when they finally wind up together.
  • Mr. Gibson and Hyacinth Clare/Kirkpatrick/Gibson - Talk about a marriage of convenience.  Do these two care about each other at all?  I guess they don't have much need to; Mr. Gibson is always off visiting patients and hardly has to see his wife.  I'm sure he's going to live to regret this marriage.  Especially when both the girls are married and Clare has no one but him to spout off all her stupid opinions to.
  • Osbourne Hamley and Squire Hamley - Was I the only one that thought the big secret was going to turn out to be that Osbourne was gay?  He was TOTALLY gay, right?  Notice how Molly gave up her crush on him pretty quickly after his arrival.  And the Squire was always comparing him to the mother.  Cynthia and Molly never suspected that Osbourne was interested in Cynthia; Molly because of his secret!wife, and Cynthia because she wasn't blind.  I felt like Squire Hamley was so angry with Osbourne because he just wanted Osbourne to come out already!  He would have been able to handle it.

Okay, now I'm looking at the IMDB page for Wives and Daughters and I love half these actors!  Guess what's going on my Netflix Queue!

Read more reviews for this book on LibraryThing.

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