Wives and Daughters – Review

“And she (Molly) had found her way into the library, and used to undo the heavy bars of the shutters if the housemaid had forgotten this duty, and mount the ladder, sitting on the steps, for an hour at a time, deep in some book of old English classics. The summer days were very short to this happy girl of seventeen.”

A coming of age story of sorts, we follow the life of Molly Gibson, young and happy living with her widowed father, Dr. Gibson. She’s cared for by longtime house cook, Betty and Molly’s governess, Miss Eyre (wonder if this was a homage of sorts to Gaskell’s friend Charlotte Brontë). A brief glimpse into Molly’s past at age 12 and fast forward to the coming of age portion of the story, when Gibson realizes a young apprentice, Coxe, has fallen in love with his dear Molly. Determined to discourage any intentions of marriage, Gibson sends Molly to stay with some friends, the Hamleys (the squire and his sickly wife) where Molly can be protected from a lover.

Molly’s mother died when she was young so she’s especially close to her father so we can imagine his desire to keep her close. During this time however, Gibson decides the best way he can help his Molly is to marry again, widowed governess, Hyacinth “Clare” Kirkpatrick. Molly is devastated at such news. Momentarily I felt some sympathy for Clare, but quickly her evil stepmother personality surfaces and we see Clare as a self centered and selfish woman.

Molly, genuine and kind hearted, is a loveable young lady. She’s been the center of her father’s life for so long but once Clare comes into the picture, poor Molly is vexed and in the face of this trial, life seems unbearable.

“It will be very dull when I shall have killed myself, as it were, and live only in trying to do, and to be, as other people like. I don’t see any end to it. I might as well never have lived. And as for the happiness you speak of, I shall never be happy again.”

Roger Hamley, the youngest son of the Hamleys, has befriended Molly and tries to comfort her. Molly takes the advice of Roger and does her best to think of her father’s happiness ahead of her own. Roger’s kindness and concern for Molly are well developed throughout the book. The Hamleys have two sons and a deceased daughter and they have come to view Molly as a sister and a daughter.

Clare, her stepmother, is insensitive to Molly’s feelings and seems to only be interested in appearances and buying pretty things now that she’s married, it’s a most natural thing, since she no longer has to worry about money. Having a husband who can earn a living to take care of a family, Clare is content to think of herself. She complains that Gibson runs about taking care of the sick, and in some instances, deceased patients. Clare doesn’t have much sympathy or fellow feeling for anyone. I was appalled by her attitude when Gibson would go see his patients; she does realize she married a doctor right?

Cynthia, Molly’s new stepsister arrives and I’m surprised at how well they get along. Cynthia admits that she’s never been loved or shown mush affection by her mother, who was and still seems to be interested in what other people think. Cynthia acts selfishly at times but I believe her relationship with her mother has impacted Cynthia’s outlook on life, her impulsive decisions and the way she treats others. But this scene between the two stepsisters is touching and one I’ve remembered long after finishing the book.

“The fire was growing very low, and the lights were waning. Cynthia came softly in, and taking Molly’s listless hand, that hung down by her side, sat at her feet on the rug, chafing her chilly fingers without speaking. The tender action thawed the tears that had been gathering heavily at Molly’s heart, and they came dropping down her cheeks.”

“Oh, how good you are Molly. I wonder, if I had been brought up like you, if I should have been as good. But I’ve been tossed about so.”

I enjoyed this book very much. Elizabeth Gaskell brings us into the everyday lives of the characters. Class, coming of age, marriage, life and love, the everyday happenings in families is brilliantly depicted. Wives and Daughters is another reminder of why Gaskell has become a favorite author for me.


Published by booksbythecup

Lover of good books and tea

14 thoughts on “Wives and Daughters – Review

  1. Every time I read a review of Elizabeth Gaskell, I wonder why I’ve read so little of her. This one sounds excellent – you’ve given a real flavour of it. I must remember to include her in my next Classics Club list…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m surprised I had never heard or read any of her books until a few years ago. Gaskell is underrated in my opinion but I’m looking forward to reading more of her books. This was (until I started reading this one) my only unread Gaskell but I picked up a few more of her books since finishing this…😂

      I think having some Gaskell on your next CC LIST is a great idea 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s my Gaskell wonderful? I think it’s hard to pick my favorite, Mary Barton was one I read earlier this year and I thought it was amazing, the plight of the characters just did so much with my heart. It’s somber but redemptive by the end I think. So it’s my favorite for that reason. But Wives and Daughters is a favorite because of the relationships and humor in day to day life. Is it possible to have 2 favorites? 😉


  2. Great review! I think you hit on Molly’s step relationships perfectly. I think of all the Gaskell’s we’ve read now, this is the most light and hopeful. Since this was Gaskell’s last novel, it makes me wonder if her writing was headed in a different direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to have read finally read this one. I feel like this is one of those books I could go on and on about. I wonder what else we might have seen in her writing. I am excited about reading some of her other books, I might try Cousin Phillis & Other stories or The Moorland Cottage next


  3. Hopping over from Classics Club!
    What a wonderful review of a wonderful novel! I just finished it a few days ago and adored it. I watched the 1999 BBC adaptation many years ago (along with their adaptations of Cranford and North & South, all of which were excellently done!) but it wasn’t until the past year that I finally read all three of these amazing classics!

    Here is my review of W&D, if interested! https://elle-alice.blogspot.com/2021/03/classics-club-wives-and-daughters.html


    1. Thanks for stopping by. I love the Classics Club & need to get a few reviews posted so I can complete my list. I enjoy Gaskell’s work & actually have a few more of her books to read. I’ve read Cranford, N&S as well. Have you read Mary Barton? It’s my favorite!


      1. I haven’t read Mary Barton yet! It’s on my list. I was planning on reading Ruth next, but maybe I’ll swap the two!


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