She was left alone, lying on the sofa—
books near her, wood crackling and blazing,
wafts of wind bringing the beating rain against the window,
and so enhancing the sense of indoor comfort by the outdoor contrast.
This is just one example of the many lovely turns of phrase in Wives and Daughters, which is the story of a widowed doctor, Robert Gibson, and his seventeen year old daughter Molly. It tells of her struggles when her father remarries and her determination to think about her father's needs and not just her own. Though she is not always successful in subjugating her hurt feelings, Molly soldiers on, doing her best to love others unselfishly. Her selfless love is in sharp contrast to the shallow emotions of some of the more beautiful and sophisticated women in the book.
This book is somewhat like a Trollope novel in that you have to wade through a lot of pages (almost 600 on my Kindle version) to get to the happy ending, but I enjoyed how well each character was fleshed out and I liked the occasional literary references such as this one from page 234: "She had confessed with her English tongue that she loved him soundly with her French heart," which Gaskell's readers would have recognized as a quote from Shakespeare's Henry V.
Because I'm a fast reader, I stuck to my Kindle version for the most part, but whenever I was working in the kitchen, I switched to the lovely Librivox version. (25 Hours!) Elizabeth Klett does a terrific job with all the accents, but I especially enjoyed her soft Scottish burr for Mr.Gibson.
Two important caveats: The book contains a few unfortunate references to the lack of intelligence of "black folks" (Ethiopians). And Elizabeth Gaskell passed away before completing the book so although it's very clear how the story will end, it is lacking the final chapters. But please don't let that keep you from reading this gentle domestic drama, a true gem of the Victorian era.
The BBC DVD version is lovely too.