On the surface, “Wives and Daughters” is no special than a story of a well-to-do orphan girl namely Molly Gibson going through her puberty years till growing up as a young lady. Her quiet life that is filled with a sole love from his papa, Mr. Gibson, significantly changes with the coming of a new stepmother, Clare Kirkpatrick and a new step sister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The fact that her friend, Roger Hamley, whom she falls in love with prefers her step sister exacerbates Molly’s condition. Then there is Mr. Preston to make things much more complicated. The gossiping nature among residents in Hollingford puts Molly as an innocent victim concerning the past relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston.
And all internal problems plaguing the house of Hamley adds more color to this book that eventually readers learn how precious the virtue of Molly is. The novel ends happily as Roger, a very good man, sends signals how he finally realize his love for Molly while Cynthia gets married with a lawyer namely Mr. Henderson.
If you think the 766-pages book is all about that then you may miss the point. The book which takes almost four months long to finish reading it goes way beyond the overall summary. The fact that Gaskell puts so many little stories here and then have got me to think what the novel is all about. That is why digesting each little story, putting my eyes as if I were in the novel are the tools that lead me to realize the values or changes in each and every character’s personality.
As I complete reading all the pages I learn that Molly grows from a tomboy, spoiled girl to a compassionate, understanding and very patient daughter. Her kindness becomes her very prominent value after has been tested in some hard moments.
Her father, Mr. Gibson, is probably the one who does not change a lot. He remains a firm, loving father who maintains his dignity in his profession. He can fairly share his love and attention for Molly, his wife and his stepdaughter. For Molly, he remains a closed papa who trusts her when others don’t. He keeps his head cool whenever his wife acts like a drama queen. His love does not undermine his assertiveness when it comes to professionalism. For instance, he gets so furious when Clare admits she overhears his conversation with his fellow doctor regarding the health of Osborne Hamley that leads her to gradually accept Roger Hamley as the future husband of Cynthia. While for Cynthia, Mr. Gibson’s opinions are the only things that worth obeyed. Mr. Gibson is the only person in the house that worth her respect, not even her mother.
It’s interesting to learn Mrs. Gibson’s changed personality. What was used to be an elegant, kind-hearted woman for Molly when she was a teenager has turned into an annoying and materialistic wife and mother although she is not a cruel one.
While Cynthia, you can hardly guess how moody she is. What was used to be a smart, sort of high-class woman has altered into a flirtatious, sarcastic and moody person. She is brutally honest to even her own mother in a way that she often argues with her or, you can say, she does not respect her mother as much as she does to her stepfather. She is an indecisive one when it comes to love. Despite her intelligence, she is powerless to solve her own problems with Mr. Preston that she needs Molly’s help. Cynthia is a nice, loving sister to Molly but I think her indecisiveness sort of taints her good image.
Roger Hamley,a kind of boy-next-door person; a good-hearted, introvert, slowly-but-surely learner, shy man who does not envy his brother, Osborne Hamley, for an unfair attention shown by their parents. You can find all good values in Roger; a devoted son, a very decent brother, a supportive fellow, a very faithful lover. One thing that is missing from his personality: his failure to see a golden beyond silvery things; he prefers Cynthia to Molly although he finally sets his heart to the latter after Cynthia annuls their engagement.
What makes analyzing the novel is difficult even without your own knowledge is understanding the alterations of each and every character through small events, reading the gestures, imagining his/her motions and finally learning their personalities through their actions and languages. And these are all presented in detailed moments, some are even trivial, that may fail catch your attention. On the surface, you read their talk about certain topics or debate on important decisions but actually you learn their personality. I think it is learning the characters’ shifted personalities is the main lesson that I draw from this book not a mere knowing the plot of the book.
As such, I enjoy witnessing the growing up process of Molly although, yes, it’s a tiring journey. As I have read ‘Mary Barton’, it’s fascinating how Gaskell paints a picture of a good character, who through errors and mistakes, she stands out from the crowd. Molly provides a good sample of this. If one asks me what makes me like the book I would say that I salute on Gaskell’s message of showing the good will come out as a winner in the end and gets what she wants no matter how, as I sometimes perceive, naive, stupid she is. It goes in parallel with Mary Barton, who rescues her love after putting him in danger because of her own mistake. After errors, losses, she eventually lives the life that she wants. In short, Gaskell crafts good stories about life through these novels; a life that is about ups and downs, good times and hard times, errors and remedies, losses and acceptance, and all that is grey in between.