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Wives and Daughters (BBC) Paperback – 4 Nov 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Film & TV Tie-in ed edition (4 Nov 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140272666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140272666
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 4.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,324,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Wives and Daughters is set in the mid-19th century in the small village of Hollingford, in rural England. The Industrial Revolution hasn't yet thrown the country into turmoil, and the railway is just beginning to cut a swathe through the land. It sounds old-fashioned, (and there are themes in the novel which date it) but Gaskell's witty, warm tale of love and longing is surprisingly contemporary. Much of the fun in Wives And Daughters comes from Gaskell's sprightly characterisation, and willful insistence on the unconventional hero and heroine, both worthy, principled, and a little tedious. Molly Gibson, the doctor's daughter, is intelligent, spiritedly dutiful and given to much silent endurance. The object of her affections is Squire Hamley's younger son "Good Roger! Kind Roger! Dear Roger!", a sort of duller Darwin. The course of true love doesn't run smooth, thanks in the main, to the scintillating Cynthia, Molly's step sister. Cynthia is a glorious creation, willful, sinful and incredibly attractive, who, with her French education, strolls through the novel with "the free stately step of some wild animal of the forest"--moving almost, as it were, to the continual sound of music. Cynthia's mother, the epitome of snobbery and self-deceit, whose "words were ready-made clothes, and never fitted individual thoughts" adds to the piquant entertainment. The novel revolves around the trails and tribulations, the questionable reputations of the inhabitants of Hollingford. It was Gaskell's last and most mature work, powerful and engrossing in structure and unfinished. As her daughter reported, in January 1866, Elizabeth Gaskell died: "quite suddenly, without a moments warning, in the midst of a sentence" leaving the last chapter incomplete. Wives and Daughters is just a few pages short of an all embracing happy ending.--Eithne Farry --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"She was a pioneer, multi-tasking mother... Gaskell's work will always be one of the adornments of liberal Britain" Guardian "My dear Scheherazade...I am sure your powers of narrative can never be exhausted in a single night, but must be good for at least a thousand nights and one" -- Charles Dickens "Her stories are wonderfully funny, but the ridiculous is bathed in a poignant, dreamlike mood found nowhere else in fiction, and profound ideas and strong values sleep beneath everyday details of bonnets and cakes" -- Jenny Uglow "People who read her always come away surprised at how modern she sounds. You don't have to think yourself into her century in order to sympathise, since her guiding principle was no more or less than a sense of practical, day-today justice, totally outside the abiding gentleman-lady-peasant-donkey-peasant's wife hierarchy which surrounded her" -- Zoe Williams Evening Standard "Pah! to Dickens. Eat your heart out, Little Nell. That Elizabeth Gaskell could write a death scene to make your socks melt" Scotsman

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Jun 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is mostly a character-driven story, but that's not to undermine the skill employed to carry the plot along. Like a finely crafted tapestry, if you imagine each event being a carefully placed stich, leading on to the next stich and the next, until you get the bigger picture.
Each event, no matter how seemingly insignificant, turns out to be vital to move the story along, and shape the fate of its characters. If Mr.Gibson's apprentice, young Mr.Coxe, hadn't have been infatuated with his daughter, would she have been sent to the Hamley's or would her father have remarried at all? So each subtle device is used to great effect, with little wastage.
Even though I knew the plot, vaguely, from the TV series, knew what was going to happen, I still felt emotionally unprepared for the one or two tragedies. It's fair to say that it brought tears to my eyes. Nor was I prepared for the humour in the story.
Gaskell's triumph, above all, must lay in the skilled portrayal of her characters. Cynthia, in particular, is not an easy character to analyse, yet Gaskell has managed to create this girl; beautiful but deeply flawed, that despite all her failings, we still care about.
The great tragedy is that Gaskell died before the novel's completion. We know what is about to happen, some of the loose ends have already been tied up, but the main one, the one we all yearn for is the final chapter that is missing. In it's way, this immortalises the novel like the untimely death of a rock star. The publisher's moving notes at the end, explaining how Gaskell intended the novel to finish are a fitting tribute and finish to the book. The book carries you tantalisingly to the conclusion, we can only dream and use our imaginations as to how Gaskell would have expressed it.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Star_Sea on 10 Jan 2006
Format: Paperback
If you've seen the adaptation of this neglected classic, then you'll already know the storyline. Suffice to say that the book is even better, because it fleshes out more of the secondary characters, such as Lady Harriet, the Squire and Lady Hamley. What makes the book such a delight to read is Gaskell's knowledge of human nature. One feels that Gaskell is a little like Roger, putting each character under the microscope, but analysing each fault kindly. The only character who doesn't get much sympathy is Mr. Preston, which is not surprising after what he does.
The relationships between family are what really power this book, especially that between Cynthia and Molly, the two opposites. Cynthia is inconstant and immoral, but she knows it, and also knows that's how she will always be: this is what makes her modern. One of the best speeches in the book is when she says to Molly "Don't you see that I've gone beyond the realm of 'ought' and 'shan't'...? Love me as I am, sweet one, for I shall never be better." Molly, in contrast, is totally unaware and has to learn to recognise herself and her feelings. But I don't think you can find her boring: anyone who has ever felt shy or been ignored in favour of someone who is better at adapting to society will sympathise with Molly. She endures her stepmother's meddling as best she can, and even when the town turns against her, she keeps her head high. It is a shame that Gaskell died before writing Molly's natural reward, but we have the television series for that.
I would recommend this for anyone who likes a study of human nature: Gaskell is as insightful as Austen and Hardy, but far more tolerant.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. D. J. Smith VINE VOICE on 29 Mar 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've now read W&D several times, and it has become one of my favourite books. There's something about it that reminds me a little of both 'Emma' and 'Mansfield Park'. Molly Gibson is a sympathetic heroine, generally quiet and modest, devoted to her father, but not afraid to stand up for herself when required. The book is set nearly 200 years ago, but the characters are so beautifully drawn and you feel you know people like Cynthia Kirkpatrick and Mr and Mrs Gibson in real life. Not wishing to give too much away, but the plot revolves around Molly Gibson and the second marriage of her father to Hyacinth Kirkpatrick (nee Clare), which brings Molly a dazzling step-sister in the shape of Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The fortunes of the family are tied up with not only the town of Hollingford in which they live and which is inhabited by the spinster sisters, the Miss Brownings and twice-widowed Mrs Goodenough, but the Earl and Countess and Lady Harriet at Cumnor Towers and the family of Hamley at Hamley Hall.
If there is a disappointment in W&D it is that it is unfortunately unfinished. Another chapter would probably have done it, but unfortunately Mrs Gaskell died before its completion. You can pretty much guess at what is going to happen, and the note from the editor of Cornhill magazine enlarged upon Mrs Gaskell's plans. If you are truly unsatisfied with the abrupt breaking off of the story, could I point you in the direction of the BBC TV version? It's very faithful too the book, although I think Osborne Hamley is made more sympathetic, and gives a satisfactory conclusion to the piece, even if not quite what may have been intended.
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