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 Librivox.org)