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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