Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

A delightful reading... A wonderfully clever and romantic tale... on par with the best of 19th century classics... that's what comes to mind when I try to describe how I feel about Elizabeth Gaskell's final novel, Wives and Daughters.

Published in serial form from 1864 to 1866, Wives and Daughters is the story of Molly Gibson the seventeen-year old daughter of a widowed country doctor. Set in the English town of Hollingford, Mrs. Gaskell writes at her very best as she weaves a tale of romance, mystery, gossip and scandal, sorrow (including death), and just the day-t0-day life of the 1830s. Through the story the reader is introduced to so many unforgettably wonderful and varying characters.

The hardest part of this story is that at the very end... one chapter away from a beautiful "happily ever after" Austen-type ending, Mrs. Gaskell died. The last chapter (Chapter 60) leaves you with a hint of what was to come in the next chapter or conclusion, but sadly the reader doesn't have the joy of reading it in her words. Instead the conclusion is written by Gaskell's editor and he kindly lays out what the final chapter was to include as well as further insights into the characters in the story.

But even though you, the reader, are robbed the pleasure of reading the beautiful ending in Mrs. Gaskell's words, you do not lose the chance to find out exactly how the "happily ever after" was to play out, which as the editor said, "is what we are most concerned about."

I loved this story. It is a must read, especially for those fond of any 19th century classic. I first learned the story of Molly Gibson and her world when I watched the BBC adaptation last summer. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and decided that I must read the book. Unfortunately the length of the book (649 pages) and the fact that the story was published unfinished kept me from reading it. Of course only later did I discover that while "unfinished" the editor did include a conclusion (see above), which made me much happier at the thought of reading it.

And so when the mood struck I took Wives and Daughters from my bookshelf and dove in. I quickly found the story captivating and very difficult to put down, but of course due to its length it did take some time to read. Now that I've finished it I am only sorry I waited so long to read it! It is a delightful story and claims a top spot on my "Favorite Books" list.

Of course now that I've read it I must go back and re-watch the movie, which I am pleased to say was very true to the book. It was one of the best adaptations I've ever seen (on par with the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice). The only variation from the book is the ending -- the screenwriter kindly made a few alterations to the ending which allow the viewer to see what could have been included in the book had Mrs. Gaskell lived a few more weeks.

If you have not read this book add it to your list, you won't regret the time it takes to read it.

*As a postscript some may find it interesting -- I read that the title Wives and Daughters was a nod of sorts by Gaskell to the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I know little of the latter, but thought it an interesting little factoid.


Anonymous said...

This has been on my list for a while. I enjoyed the film earlier this year, and loved both the film and novel of "North and South." I found her characters so "real". I'll have to read this sooner than later!

Carrie said...

I was wandering around Borders the other day racking my brain tryign to think of what the title to this book was. I was going to pick it up on your recommendation but I didn't think to check back on your blog and so I was coming up with some creative titles but none so simple as this. Sheesh. At any rate, I really would like to read it and will do so once I remember the title while actually in the bookstore. =)

Sarah M. said...

LOL, yeah I've had that problem too. Why is it that your mind goes blank the moment you're surrounded by books? I've started to make little notes to myself on the note section of my cell phone.

Barbara H. said...

I loved this film -- I am sure I would love the book, too, though 600+ pages is daunting!

Queen of Carrots said...

To be honest, I started this one and never finished. I couldn't make myself like the main character--she was just too insipid and dim-witted. I like characters with more spunk.

Sarah M. said...

Really? Wow that surprises me. But then I didn't read the book until after I saw the movie so maybe that helped? I don't know -- I found Molly to be a very loyal and meek person, but wouldn't have said she was dim-witted or insipid. She certainly wasn't an Elizabeth Bennett, but I still liked her. I found her step sister far more irritating.