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Wives and Daughters (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – 5 Nov 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions; New edition edition (5 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1840224169
  • ISBN-13: 978-1840224160
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 3.6 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 80,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

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.


'Wives and Daughters has plot, intrigue and romance' Guardian 'A masterpiece' - Andrew Davies --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
Wives and Daughters sees Gaskell preside (inhabiting some middle ground between Austen and Eliot) over a comic realist tale of family lives in rural England in the mid-nineteenth century. And it's not difficult to see why this novel is touted as the finest of her works despite the sad fact of her death (perhaps just one chapter) short of its completion. It's a brilliantly observed character-driven tale of social manners that manages to make the balancing act of its gravity and humour appear effortless.

Molly Gibson might be termed the heroine, a disarmingly honest and straightforward young woman, pretty but overshadowed by her more beautiful and coquettish step-sister Cynthia Kirkpatrick. And for all that the reader will adore Molly (who couldn't?), it is Cynthia who dazzles and provides the energy which drives the narrative; she's a highly nuanced character, capable of empathy and self-awareness at her best, conceit and capriciousness at her worst. She is, Gaskell suggests, her mother's daughter and Mrs Kirkpatrick is a model of shallow self-serving womanhood, sometimes exploited for comic effect, sometimes shockingly base in word and deed. The sensible if repressed Dr Gibson completes the family of four.

The Hamleys, young sons Osborne and Roger in particular, occupy the girls' attention and whilst the Hamleys dote on their eldest child, it is Roger who will become the main love interest. Squire Hamley, the father, owns a small and increasingly debt-ridden estate; his wife having submitted to him in spirit is consumed by ill-health. In contrast are the Cumnors, a family of wealthy landowners with accompanying eccentricities who are much beloved by the townsfolk regardless.
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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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