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Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, 2009, Oxford World Classics (originally published 1866) Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a Victorian writer with an agenda of social criticism. She was very aware of the Victorian “Age of Progress” and was especially interested in the declining power of the aristocracy, the rise of the middle class, and how the two social groups were forced to interact. In Wives and Daughters, our heroine is young Molly Gibson. Molly’s contented life with her widowed doctor father suddenly gets more interesting when Molly meets the Hamleys, a proud, upper-class family that has fallen on hard times. Then Molly’s father suddenly remarries, turning her world on end. Molly’s life soon becomes intertwined with that of her flighty stepsister Cynthia, and with the two equally charming Hamley sons Osborne and Roger. Jane Austen fans will see shades of the Fanny-Edmund relationship in Mansfield Park and the Elinor-Marianne relationship in Sense and Sensibility. But Gaskell’s novel takes a much wider scope than any of Austen’s, involving characters of all classes and more politics than Austen. Still, the charm of Wives and Daughters comes almost entirely from the central character of Molly, who is modest and direct, pretty and intelligent, lovable and a heroine worth rooting for.
posted Jun 28, 2009 at 2:27PM
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