“And it is hard to live on when one can no longer hope.”
“My heart is breaking, my heart is breaking.”
“I sometimes think there’s two sides to the commandment; and that we may say, Let others do unto you, as you would do unto them, for pride often prevents our giving others a great deal of pleasure, in not letting them be kind, when their hearts are longing to help; and when we ourselves should wish to do just the same, if we were in their place. Oh! how often I’ve been hurt, by being coldly told by persons not to trouble myself about their care, or sorrow, when I saw them in great grief, and wanted to be of comfort. Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister to Him, for he knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another. It’s the happiest work on earth.”
Despite the many devastating events throughout this book, Gaskell’s characters come to life and set before us circumstances and situations true to life then and relevant now.
Gaskell’s raw depiction of the plagues of poverty, starvation, illness and death of the poor working class; their struggle to make ends meet, to have enough food for the day, and something to help their fellow neighbor, to love others, to find love and be loved. A firm resolution based on a strong home anchors many of these beautiful characters, Mary, Margaret, and Jem to name a few.
John Barton’s character exemplified the struggle to understand the injustices that abound in our world. He struggled with this chasm between the haves and the have nots in many parts of the book. “John Barton’s overpowering thought, which was to work out his fate on earth, was rich and poor; why are they so separate, so distinct, when God has made them all? It is not His will they their interests are so far apart. Whose doing is it?”
This book took me through a full gambit of emotions, and now as I reflect on my experience with each person in this book, I think about the lessons Gaskell leaves for every person who reads this book. The complexity of my feelings, stirred by Gaskell, has made it possible for me to examine the motives and feelings of the characters presented, especially John Barton and Mr Carson. As the book concluded, I felt as if a weight carried by one for so long, finally, was understood by one who had forgotten tragedy because of circumstances, and was forced to confront who he once was, and allowed himself the opportunity to remember, and finally, to be able to express compassion and forgiveness. Gaskell has become one of my favorite authors at this moment.
Have you read any of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books?