59. ‘Wives and Daughters’ by Elizabeth Gaskell.

A wonderful book! and a special copy of it too. As you can see, Mum first read this in Australia in May 2005, when she was visiting me, and for a second time in September 2014. I’ve read it (for the third time!),  in my garden,  enjoying the glorious April sunshine we had during lockdown.

Mum and I had such a spree together – including a week in the Whitsundays on Hamilton Island, staying in a little thatched cabin, and including a day trip snorkelling on the Barrier Reef and swimming with turtles – Mum was in heaven! She loved swimming, and the warm waters of Queensland were a delight to her, I will never forget her look of absolute joy when we took a boat to Whitehaven Beach, jumping off and swimming in to the shore together, standing waist deep in crystal clear water with fish swimming around our legs! Happy days indeed, and some very special memories made.

To the book – I personally love Austen, but Elizabeth Gaskell out-Austen’s her, for me. First published as a book in 1866, but set in the time of Jane Austen, it is entrancing.  It had been published as a serial in the Cornhill Magazine from 1864, but is an un-finished work, Mrs. Gaskell died before she completed it. Thank goodness, she had got far enough that we know what is going to happen even without the notes from the original publisher which had come from her family.

Set in the English countryside before the arrival of the railways, the story centres on step-sisters Molly and Cynthia, brought together by the interesting match of the village Doctor, Molly’s father, with one of the best written characters in the book, his wife, Mrs Gibson/Clare/Hyacinth, who is laden with pretensions and hypocrisy but is also a skilled illustration of how difficult the life of a woman in her position would have been in those times.

The various layers of social strata are all there – spinsters and busy-bodies, aristocrats and farmers, social climbers and servants. The prose is wonderful – descriptive, insightful, and very dry and witty at times. We have secret marriages, love affairs, disappointments, intrigues.. all the necessary elements for a jolly good story. I thoroughly recommend it!