Friday, February 15, 2008

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Who ever heard of an audio book that you couldn’t put down?! I’ve had my iPod stuck in my ears non-stop for the last two days so I could finish the last thirty chapters of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters . It was a thoroughly enjoyable book and I kept wondering why Gaskell didn’t survive like other writers of classic literature. Could it be that her writing is creative and pleasant without being “spectacular”? None of her phrases took my breath away (as in the book I read last week), but it was a very well-written book. She paints some fascinating characters, one of whom is Molly’s stepmother, the most odious “nice” person that I’ve ever encountered in a book! Mrs. Gibson was completely self-absorbed all the while actually believing that she cared about other people.

Her daughter, Cynthia, was more complex. Having been brought up without a loving, affirming mother or a father (he died when she was young), she lived for male approval. Unlike her mother, she was aware of other people’s feelings and even of her own heartlessness. Gaskell succeeds in making you like her in spite of yourself. She and the main female character of the book, Molly Gibson, are polar opposites since Molly is one of those old-fashioned heroines who is “without guile”. Her frank and affectionate nature shines through in every chapter.

I agonized for Molly as she struggled with the loss of her father after his remarriage (emotionally speaking), with Cynthia’s careless treatment of Roger, and with the hateful gossip that was falsely circulated about her. She suffered with a patience and dignity that transform her from the mousy (albeit sweet) character she was in the book’s first chapters to the lovely, dignified young woman she was in the final pages. I must admit I was shocked to learn that Gaskell died before just before finishing this book. But the intended outcome was so obvious anyone could have guessed it without the final chapter. Still, I would have liked to have read it in Gaskell’s own gentle, charming language.

(All 61 chapters available for free download at


Karen G. said...

I just started listening to this on Librivox! I'm only up to chapter 6 or 7, so I've a long way to go. I've a couple of Elizabeth Gaskell's other books, but I've heard this is her best. Your review makes me want to hurry through it, but I listen when I have to could be a while!

Anonymous said...

I have seen the DVD of this and would love to read the book.

Carrie said...

Someone else reviewed this book a few weeks back and I thought it sounded intriguing. I appreciated finding your review of it as well. You make me want to try harder to find a copy!

Carol in Oregon said...

I have had a chorus of friends urging me to watch the BBC series. As a rule, I read the book first. So Wives and Daughters is near the bottom of my tottering stack.

I'm a huge fan of Librivox and didn't think to check if this book had been done.

Thanks for the review and the nudge to "listen" to this book.

I haven't read any more Gaskell but have been collecting books by her with the expectation that she will be worth reading.

A book I read about literature written in 1909 spoke glowingly of "Mrs. Gaskell" and barely mentioned Jane Austen. Clearly, Gaskell was more in favor at that time.

Heidi said...

I loved this book up until the ending! Not quite the closure I needed. Why didn't anyone tell me the author died before she could finish it?!

The movie was very well done and worth watching, although I prefer North and South (also a Gaskell novel).