Sunday, June 23, 2019

Wives And Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

“To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl;”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

Elizabeth Gaskell’s fifth and final novel, Wives And Daughters begins in the small English town of Hollingford in the early 1820/30s and focuses primarily on the bright and loving Molly Gibson. It was first released in serial form in the Cornhill Magazine from August 1964 to January 1866 and released as a book in 1866 by Smith, Elder And Company.

The Cornhill Magazine was a monthly literary journal which peaked in circulation under editor William Makepeace Thackery in the 1860s. It specialized in serializations of new and current novels and articles of interest on many differing subjects to interest the Victorian reader of the time and was a rival publication of Dickens’ All The Year Round. Works included in The Cornhill Magazine included such important novels as Washington Square by Henry James, Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and Wives And Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I won't say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it was not me.” 
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

The town of Hollingford was richly representative of a common country community and was based upon the real life town of Knutsford in Cheshire where Elizabeth Gaskell spent her childhood. Knutsford was a place that had provided a wealth of stories and characters for Elizabeth Gaskell, including her much beloved Cransford stories - Mr. Harrison’s Confessions, Cranford, Round The Sofa and My Lady Ludlow.

Gaskell’s Hollingford has a large caste of characters - its respected resident aristocracy in Earl & Countess Cumnor, its respected country doctor, its conservative spinsters and its small shops where news is exchanged and not-so-current fashion items are purchased. The rural life lives closely and comfortably with town life and everyone moves on with the secure sense that others have lived just so for many years before. In Hollingford we have a wonderfully deep and accurate sense of small town life during Victorian times - the old ways versus encroaching change and the class system and its changing sensibilities.

“How easy it is to judge rightly after one sees what evil comes from judging wrongly.”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

There is also much to enjoy in Molly’s story - banter between herself and her country doctor father, her affectionate relationship as a motherless young woman with Mrs. Hamley, the squire’s wife and her eager anticipation of a relationship with a new step-sister. There are also the many moments in life for her that challenge her temper and her best feelings of kindness. This book may be set almost 200 years in the past - but people ring true and current. The language may be more formal. Social mores may be more strict. But there are the same fears and hopes that are familiar to us all. And the pitfalls that beset them are not all that different.

“But fate is a cunning hussy, and builds up her plans as imperceptibly as a bird builds her nest; and with the same kind of unconsidered trifles.” 
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

Elizabeth Gaskell does what she does best in Wives And Daughters. We have a fertile storyline that touches on the joy of the common person and presents both the kindnesses and oblivious selfishness of the upper class aristocracy and the inter-house competitiveness that they held for each other.

“All sorts of thoughts cross one's mind—it depends upon whether one gives them harbour and encouragement”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

While writing Wives And Daughters, Gaskell passed away suddenly in 1865 after suffering a heart attack land so she left her last novel as an incomplete work. Gaskell’s editor, Frederick Greenwood - knowing what Gaskell was planning to write - completed the novel. 

There is much to discuss in the lengthy but enjoyable Wives And Daughters. Start reading now! We will meet to discuss this last work of Elizabeth Gaskell on Saturday, July 20th, 2019 over an early Summer Book Lunch.

“Pooh! away with love! Nay, my dear, we loved each other so dearly we should never have been happy with any one else; but that's a different thing. People aren't like what they were when we were young. All the love nowadays is just silly fancy, and sentimental romance, as far as I can see.”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives And Daughters

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Persuasion by Jane Austen

"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
—Anne Elliot, Persuasion

Next to the greatly beloved Pride And Prejudice, I believe that Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. It tugs at my heart and draws my empathy in a way that not even Pride And Prejudice — with its emotional moments, masterful pacing and plot pivots can do.

Anne Elliot’s heart, hopes and history have a place in all of us. Wonderful possibilities that have slipped through our fingers. Misplaced counsel from a beloved friend. The feeling of being left out in a world that seems moving forward without us. A past love that we cannot seem to relinquish, but who lives on in our hearts, however impossibly.

Powerful second chances rarely come. But the question is - what if they do?

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.
—Anne Elliot, Persuasion

The first edition of Persuasion was co-published with Northanger Abbey in December of 1817, just six months after the death of Jane Austen. It was her last fully completed work and although short, has been declared by many fans over the years to be her strongest and most powerful novel.

Setting plays an important role in Persuasion. There are four - Kellynch, Uppercross, Bath and Lyme Regis - but it’s the Lyme Regis setting that is the most memorable. The famous Cobb becomes a significant place in this work - so famous in reference to Jane Austen’s Persuasion that it is said that when Alfred, Lord Tennyson visited Lyme in 1867, he insisted on visiting the Cobb first off to be shown the steps “from which Louisa Musgrove fell”.

There is no explanation for why the harbor structure of Lyme Regis is called the Cobb but it is thought to date back to at least 1313. A half-moon-shaped breakwater protecting the town of Lyme Regis and creating an artificial harbor, it played an important part in the development and flourishing of the town through its early years. The Austens vacationed at various seaside resorts in Devon and Dorset and Lyme was certainly among the places visited. Jane herself walked the Cobb, bathed in the sea and gathered a wealth of inspirations and fertile descriptions from the area.

The first time that I read Persuasion, I was appalled at how little consideration Anne’s own family members had for her. I inwardly rolled my eyes and gave the occasional long sigh in exasperation, wondering when Anne was going to reach the end of her tether and push back on the selfish attitudes that beleaguered her. But there is a long-enduring patience to Anne's character and a deep and matured willingness to be kind and helpful that prevails over all of her relationships. She may have had an ineffectual early start to her life — buffeted by winds of prejudice or ill-advice — but she has grown in her perspective as our novel starts.

"When pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure."
—Anne Elliot, Persuasion

An enduring response to Anne Elliot and Persuasion continues to be her oppressive restriction within social class, gender, manners & social requirements. The world in which she lives, breathes and feels is small and restricted. The snobbish restrictions of her family — who resist the upward movement of prosperous members of commerce and the navy into better stations of life and more advantageous positions — are stymied in the social significance of their class. Anne’s father studies the baronetage publications and believes himself superior despite the fact he has cannot manage the estate’s remaining finances and fails to value the superior qualities of the best people in his life.

It was a heartiness, and a warmth, and a sincerity which Anne delighted in the more, from the sad want of such blessings at home.
—Narrator, Persuasion

We continue with our beloved Jane Austen with our Spring Book Breakfast choice of Persuasion. by Jane Austen.  We will be discussing this book on Saturday, April 27th, 2019.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.
—Captain Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion